The former location of The Complete Bookseller. This is just one of many empty storefronts on High Street.
Photo by Liv Kittel

By Katie Tabeling
Opinion Editor

I was fortunate enough to get a few jobs through Washington College and even luckier to live on campus this past summer. I couldn’t help but notice a change in the businesses downtown. Shops that had been around before my time were closing down left and right. Primitive Finds closed their doors for good after having major clearance sales in July. The Compleat Bookseller and Pride & Joy followed suit shortly after in August. In addition, Twigs & Teacups announced that they will put their place up for sale in December. Other notable changes around town include Sam’s being up for sale, the short-lived East Coast Skates is also closed for business, and some older students are still mourning the loss of The Village Bakery after its closing.

It’s a little disconcerting when familiar businesses close, but seven in the past year in a small town? That alone is something to make me nervous. However in an interview last June, Mayor Margot Bailey said “Businesses change and things happen,” claiming that she has seen many stores come and go in the years past. “Don’t worry and don’t panic,” she advised Chestertown residents.

I’m sure Mayor Bailey is right in some aspects. The economy is still in flux, and businesses come and go in the blink of an eye. It’s a little more noticeable when businesses close in a place where everyone seems to know everyone by first name. And while seven seems a lot, it probably means nothing in larger cities.

The closing businesses is concerning, but what really disturbs me is the common factor in the closing businesses. Three of the stores going out of business are specifically marketed towards younger consumers, and other businesses such as Primitive Finds offered low prices that were perfect for a student on a budget.

Chestertown is a unique town in the way that it seems like it can be divided in two categories: the older generation that come here to live, and the adults that come here to raise their children in a small town. But from September to May, there’s a third kind of group: the WC students that are looking for fun. And when you look downtown, you have to wonder if Chestertown completely forgets about this demographic.

While students can find plenty to do on campus, there isn’t much in town. I’m a bit of an old soul and enjoy art galleries and old bookstores, but even I notice the severe lack of “fresh” businesses downtown. Sometimes, we just want to hang out, buy some really cool stuff, and look at pretty clothes- and maybe even afford them.

In that same interview, Mayor Bailey discussed her plans for Chestertown. “I’ve had a group of people get together. Some from the college, some from businesses, some from retail, some from the arts to look at the changing face in retail. A few key people got together and formed Chestertown Renewal Initiative to look at key points and see what they can do to improve them.”

The Mayor seems to be on the right track. Hopefully, they’ll realize that it’s not just about providing WC students with something to do. It’s the fact that students have money and are looking for ways to spend it- and we’re lazy. Sometimes hopping in a car and driving for an hour won’t cut it. If the town finally welcomes the college kids with open arms and some fresh businesses, the fight for Chestertown will be an easier battle to win.

The Elm

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