By Emily Harris
Washington College students and Chestertown residents alike have their favorite downtown spots to visit, whether they’re in search of a good cup of coffee or a unique gift. There are a host of new faces around campus at the beginning of each semester, but students who have ventured into town during the first few weeks may notice some new faces at their go-to shops and restaurants as well.
Twigs and Teacups, the popular store on Cross Street, welcomed a new family of owners in July of this year. Paul and Jayne Heckles, along with their daughter Erin, had their first experience with Twigs when they moved to Chestertown in 2011. Erin was a teacher in Portland, Ore. until this summer.
“As soon as we were here, you know, you have to come into Twigs” said Paul. “Then a year later we saw the for sale sign…It went on for a year and it still was for sale.”
The family began to seriously consider purchasing the shop in December of last year. Erin said, “It started off as a little pipe dream…[we] did all [the] research, figured out that we could do it, so we did it.”
Former owners of Twigs and Teacups April and Eugenia Marshall, as well as realtor Richard Button, all met with the Heckles numerous times before the change in ownership became official on July 24. April and Eugenia, who owned the shop for 23 years, have stayed on to help the new owners adjust to the business and the community. “There were a lot of little things that came together at the right time,” said Jayne.
Although Paul had some business experience as a chemical engineer at Colgate Palmolive, none of the family had extensive knowledge of what running a small retail store entailed. Without the help of the former owners, the family said the change would have been much more difficult. “It’s been great that not only April and Eugenia stayed, but the staff stayed. And they’re teaching us,” said Paul.
“They’ve been amazing” said Erin. “I think that was also part of it, that we wouldn’t want to do this by ourselves…we’ve never done any retail. It’s been great, without them it would have been so much harder.”
While the staff remains and the Marshalls are present as well, the transition is still ongoing. “We’re all just trying to find our niche,” said Jayne.
The family plans to maintain much of the same merchandise that Twigs has become known for, while incorporating more items for men. They also hope to install a computer system to keep track of orders and inventory.
Right across the street from Twigs and Teacups, Play It Again Sam is another popular Chestertown establishment with a new owner at the helm. Earlier this year, Carolyn Kalbfus took over the coffee shop.
Taking over iconic establishments such as these two seems like a daunting prospect, but Chestertown’s newest business owners feel welcomed. “Mostly I’ve seen the town residents, it’s been positive. I think they’re all really relieved that Twigs isn’t closing for one thing. I think everyone has been excited and happy,” Erin said of residents’ response to the change in ownership.
Her father Paul agreed. “Everyone has said that they’re glad it’s here, that it’s going to continue.”
Kalbfus echoed the Heckles’ impressions of customers’ reactions to the change, and said, “It’s all been positive.”
Returning students are likely familiar with what Chestertown has to offer, but the Heckles are hoping to draw more students from the College to the downtown area. Jayne said, “The whole downtown community is starting to talk about…possibly maybe one night a week of extended hours, so that after classes kids could get down here more.”
Erin and her parents also plan to stock more items college students could use to decorate their dorm rooms. She noted that students and their families were frequent visitors to downtown during orientation weekend in August, and she sees the influx of college students as an opportunity. “Fun lights…things that make your dorm room feel cozy, already that’s in the back of my mind for next year,” she said.
New owners aren’t the only change that downtown Chestertown has seen in recent months. Bloomin’ Wild, a flower shop, as well as Coco’s Pet Center have both opened on High Street, while the Christian Bookstore closed its doors on Aug. 28 of this year. With all of the turnover that has occurred this year, there is likely something new for students to discover in the downtown area, whatever they may be looking for.