Hot Idea for Small Biz: “HotDesks”

As technology advances, its impact on the business world has been felt in the ways people work and the spaces in which they work. The term Hot Desks initially referred to spaces in corporate work environments where employees would share the same desks on alternating work schedules. The term evolved, referring to open think-tank spaces at high tech companies, where “computer geeks” and other creative thinkers would hang out in large open rooms with communal tables and comfortable seating to brainstorm and bounce ideas off one another.

This new work-space concept evolved once again into urban co-working spaces for independent self-employed people to have a place for sharing ideas, networking and getting out of the social and mental isolation of home offices–without the distractions and limitations of the café scene.

Some of the pioneer versions include San Francisco’s loft living/work space The Hat Factory and Citizen Space. One can now find co-working spaces of all sorts in any large city around the world, especially London and across Europe. For-profit companies such as DaVinci and Link, have hundreds of these “virtual offices” around the country, including DC, Baltimore and Annapolis.

Mike Thielke, executive director of the non-profit Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center (ESEC) in Easton has brought this new creative concept to the Eastern Shore, but at an affordable rate for small businesses and entrepreneurs, along with the addition of various educational and support services geared to the start-up entrepreneur.

The co-working concept is just one of many new ideas Thielke has brought to the Eastern Shore business community. (ESEC) is a nonprofit organization working to “help entrepreneurs venture ahead through incubator programs and initiatives and to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that results in personal wealth creation, which in turn adds to the growth of community resources and services.”

ESEC targets its resources to help business owners and entrepreneurs succeed by creating greater access to capital through loan programs and monetary awards for its annual business plan competition, offering programs that develop entrepreneurial skills and knowledge, and hosting an annual entrepreneur conference.

ESEC’s “HotDesks” co-working space is located in the Tri-County Office Complex just off Rt. 50 near Wor-Wic Community College in Salisbury, and is one of several such spaces Thielke envisions for the Eastern Shore. He hopes to find donated space in Easton and Chestertown as well.

The Salisbury HotDesks space features a large room with tables and desks, an enormous white board for brainstorming, high-speed wifi, a kitchenette providing coffee and snacks, three conference rooms, use of a printer/copier/scanner, and receipt of mail or package deliveries.
Says Thielke, “Co-working, at its core is about reciprocity – the giving and exchanging of information. It’s the most collaborative, encouraging, authentic type of networking that you can engage your business in.”

Thielke considers his HotDesks environment to be more than just a co-working space; it’s also a business incubator. Business incubators are programs designed to support the successful development of start-up and early stage entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services. According to Wikipedia, successful completion of a business incubation program increases the likelihood that a startup will stay in business for the long term; some studies found 87% of incubator “graduates” stayed in business, in contrast to 44% of all start up companies.

“Business support events are structured in such a way that you can come in and get a modest amount of work done, get your burning business questions answered, learn about a new tool that can streamline your business, make a new friend who could potentially become a project partner or introduce you to a client, and most importantly – have a genuine, engaged conversation with other local entrepreneurs and share about your business.   It’s a casual environment, worlds away from walking into a giant room filled with people you don’t know, and trying to explain what you do in an elevator speech.”

“Just come over, grab some coffee, open up your laptop, get some work done and make some new friends who are doing all sorts of interesting things in their businesses.”

Membership options range from $50 for one day-a-week membership to $150 per month for full-time, seven-day-a-week membership, or $25 for a one-time drop-in visit. Members use magnetic card access to the space, and can be there day or night, 24-hours-a-day.

Danny Flexner is a Salisbury graphic artist, web designer and game developer for his own company Radiant Impulse (with partner Mike Astarb).  Several months ago, he became a member of Hot Desks, after finding out about it from a fellow computer tech.

“This facility is a wonderful opportunity to meet other people who you can collaborate with, a good place for a collision of ideas, a way to meet those who can oftentimes give input and valuable insight with problem projects.”

Flexner also finds it a great networking place to find additional clients. “Sometimes there’s a situation where there are other developers working on something and they need graphics from me.”

He also finds the environment conducive to new thoughts and ideas.

“The large space is wonderful, one of my favorite things is the giant whiteboard for mind mapping, brainstorming, or fleshing out ideas. There aren’t a lot of places for ambitious entrepreneurs or someone with ideas who doesn’t know what to do with them. When I’m there I can really focus on my work without distractions, day or night. “

Flexner says that the more people become members, the better the environment is for everyone. “It’s the people who really make the space worthwhile.

Jeremy Heslop is the owner of the computer technology business OmniTech and the chair of the Tech Members Group of the Wicomico Chamber of Commerce. For nine years, he’s run his business from a home office in Eden, but recently joined HotDesks this past summer.

Heslop often finds it distracting to work at home with young kids who want attention, even with a separate office space. “And cafes are way too distracting and limited in the work space.”

At HotDesks, he has found the ideal environment, a place free of distractions yet a place he can find camaraderie, support and a free exchange of ideas as well as business connections and referrals.

“I especially appreciate the private separate room for making and receiving phone calls, so it’s not distracting even when others are there. It makes for a better experience for getting the work done than going to a cafe or home. And as you get to know people, there are more business opportunities. It’s a great place, and will only get better as there are more participants.”

There are plans for future events to be hosted at the site, which may be open to the public, such as the recent workshop on 3D printing for those interested in learning more about 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing and networking with experts in the field.

“We are also talking about simple events like Meetups, to more elaborate events like Business Startup Weekends or a NASA Space Apps Challenge,” adds Thielke. All HotDesks members are eligible to attend scheduled events or activities at HotDesks locations free of charge in the event there is a fee for the public.

Go to HotDesks.org for more info.

–Elizabeth Alexander

Berlin: The Making of Small Town “Cool” on the Eastern Shore

Recently the Eastern Shore town of Berlin, MD, won Budget Travel Magazine’s 9th annual America’s Coolest Small Town contest, garnering first place in the category which included nine other winners in the top ten list for the year.

main street Berlin

Main Street, Berlin, Maryland.

Berlin’s citizens-and fans from around the U.S. and beyond-helped the town win through online voting after it was nominated last fall by members of the Worcester County Tourism Office. Once everyone weighed in with their nominations, the editors reviewed all the nominations, “along with any other gems they discovered on their own,” to narrow the list to 15 finalists, using preliminary votes as a guide, but also looking for diversity in geography, attractions, architecture, as well as “regional and cultural diversity.”

After more than a month of online voting, which began in mid-January and ended February 25, Berlin, MD, earned the title of “Coolest,” receiving a record 28 percent of the votes among the 15 finalists. Total votes cast were 137,819, with Berlin receiving 39,285 votes.

Budget Travel magazine editors tallied up the nominations, “added a dash of editorial discretion,” and came up with a list of 15 finalists-cool burghs from Upstate New York to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, from northern Colorado to the Everglades, and, of course, the Maryland shore. Each of these ten towns will be featured in an upcoming story on BudgetTravel.com and in Budget Travel’s tablet edition. BT editor Robert Firpo-Cappiello is also making the rounds of the talk shows to promote the towns and his publication.

The second place winner was Cazenovia, NY, followed by Buckhannon, WV; Travelers Rest, SC; Mathews, VA (on the Chesapeake Bay); Nevada City, CA; Rockport, TX; Estes Park, CO; Galena, IL and Elkin, NC. Berlin Mayor William “Gee” WIlliams III earned a growler of craft beer from second-place finisher Cazenovia’s mayor, Kurt Wheeler.

Lisa Challenger, Director

Lisa Challenger, director of the Worcester County Tourism office in Snow Hill, spearheaded the campaign to win the America’s Coolest Small Town contest.

Lisa Challenger, director of the Worcester County Tourism office in Snow Hill, spearheaded the campaign to win the coveted title. It became a major focus for everyone in her office, rivaling any political campaign; they held weekly strategy sessions, created a graphic containing a link to the voting site which they used in signage and “I voted” stickers handed out by local businesses. Challenger recruited the Governor’s office to use its contacts to encourage daily voting, and utilized blurbs in social media like Twitter, Facebook, and various state and regional newsletters. The town will now be allowed to use the first place moniker along with the Budget Travel logo in various publicity materials

According to Budget Travel magazine editor Robert Firpo-Cappiello, “to be considered, the town must have a population under 10,000. It also needs that indescribable something: independent shops, a sense of energy, an epic backyard, culture, delicious coffee. In other words, cool doesn’t necessarily mean quaint: We want towns with an edge and a heart.”

Although Berlin has the “epic backyard” nearby in one of the most pristine natural beaches teeming with wild horses at Assateague, an impressive variety of locally owned shops and galleries, popular non-chain restaurants with great coffee, one probably would not describe Berlin as edgy; but it certainly has heart. Not exactly an urbane hip culture for thirty somethings, it’s more the baby boomer crowd who visit or relocate to enjoy the nostalgic look of the place with its late 19th century architecture and picturesque turrets, perusing the numerous antique shops that beckon a walk down memory lane. Many of the folks staying in nearby Ocean City will also visit Berlin for a vastly different atmosphere and shopping experience, or to try some of the gourmet eateries in town. Others come from the various campgrounds nearby, and many arrive in large tour busses from the northeast, descending on the town en masse to the delight of business owners and occasional consternation of locals trying to walk down sidewalks filled with meandering tourists.

On any given day, whether off season or weekday, one can observe large numbers of visitors of all ages strolling through the main street shops and restaurants, or taking a peek inside the historic Atlantic Hotel–a visual anchor for the town, nestled within the convergence of four main streets, a spot featured in several major feature films shot on location in Berlin.

The historic Atlantic Hotel is a visual anchor for the town and  featured in several major feature films shot on location in Berlin.

The historic Atlantic Hotel is a visual anchor for the town and featured in several major feature films shot on location in Berlin.

The most famous was Runaway Bride starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, directed by Gerry Marshall and filmed in various locations around the historic area. Tuck Everlasting starring Ben Kingsley, William Hurt and Sissy Spacek was also shot in the same main street area, transforming it into a 19th century town with dirt streets; many of the period-style fictional business signs still adorn the shop windows for posterity. Berlin business owners continue to market the movie location aspect to visitors, with signage and photos of the shoot prominently displayed in the various shops.

Ask any who were here during the filming, and each has a story or two to tell. Many were involved as extras or gophers for the film crew. Dee Gilbert, owner of The Nest, an eclectic collection of furnishings, housewares, gifts, and original art, previously owned the video store when the “Tuck” crew arrived in town. She became an assistant location manager, meeting with homeowners and shopkeepers to notify them of closed streets and sidewalks. Gilbert recalls being recruited for all sorts of tasks, including driving Sissy Spacek to the hair salon and performing as an extra along with her husband.

Jack Gerbes, Director of the State of Maryland Film Office, discussed some of the reasons why Berlin was chosen for these film shoots. “For Tuck, the big thing the director and production designer were looking for was a main street that fit the early 1900s architecture, and because Berlin has that, and no visible utility poles, that’s a huge advantage. Even in Runaway Bride or other modern films, the underground utilities make it easier for crane or tracking shots to move easily, following the actor as s/he walks down the street.”

“For Tuck, the film office presented options from Cumberland down to Berlin. We looked at Annapolis, Snow Hill, Chestertown, St. Michaels, we hit various towns on that day of location scouting– myself, the director, the production/costume designer, arrived late in Berlin and stayed over at the Atlantic Hotel. The director walked outside that evening, looked around and said ‘this is it.’ It has that nostalgic look, and what’s great about Berlin is the architecture on main street, the angle of streets all converging. The next morning, Mayor Haley was very positive and helpful.

It’s important that creatively it works but also the cooperation from the town and the businesses is a factor, there they all saw the benefits immediately. The town has a great vibe to it.”

Berlin has a strong positive sense of community, with locals banding together for numerous annual events and celebrations, like the street party already arranged for Saturday, March 29 from 1-6 pm to celebrate their “coolest small town” designation with music, dancing, marching band, performances, food and beverages. It will surely feature a rousing chorus of “Cool Berlin,” by local songwriter Steve Frene, written especially to promote the town’s campaign for the top spot.

Other annual events include the Berlin Fiddlers Convention, New Year’s fireworks, Victorian Christmas featuring carolers in vintage costume and horse-drawn carriage rides, and the annual parade and bathtub races.

Forty seven well-preserved structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and represent nearly two centuries of architectural heritage from three distinct periods: Federal, Victorian, and 20th Century.

Magnolias, sycamores, tulip poplars, bald cypress, and ginkgo trees line the streets and add to its historic ambiance.

The main street was once the path taken by the Assateague and Pocomoke Indians well before the colonial period. Later, it became the Philadelphia Post Road, the main route connecting the centers of commerce to the north and west. This area was part of the Burley Plantation, a 300-acre land grant dating back to 1677. At the corner of the Philadelphia Post Road and Sinepuxent Road, now South Main Street and Tripoli Street, colonial travelers stopped at the Burleigh Inn. “Berlin” is said to have come from a contraction of the words “Burleigh” and “Inn”. Since the late 1980s the town has undergone considerable revitalization of its historic downtown commercial district and adjacent residential areas, including the upgrade to underground utilities so vital to preserving its historic look and making it a prime film location.

The small town comprises only 2.2 square miles and has less than 5000 residents; of the thousand or so new residents in the past ten years, it’s been mostly retirees, but also younger professionals arriving to work at the local schools, or Atlantic General Hospital and the many supporting medical offices. If you include the long-time residents or those born and raised there, Berlin has a diverse population both in age and income. The racial makeup of the town is similar to most Eastern Shore towns: 64% White, 32% African American, less than one percent Native American, 2% Asian, and Latino of any race were just over 3 % of the population. The age of the population was more diverse, with 26% under the age of 18, 7% from 18 to 24, 26% from 25 to 44, 20% from 45 to 64, and 20% who were 65 years of age or older, this was before the great influx of retirees in the past ten years.

Half of new residents are originally from the Eastern Shore, others are from the DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia areas. There are a few new 55+ housing developments close to the historic area, and there’s Gull Creek Senior Living, a non-profit assisted living center that combines apartments with additional services like group meals, activities and medical services for older seniors, located just across the highway from town near the local park. Residents make regular visits to the town for shopping, dining or visiting the library on Main Street.

With all the national publicity Berlin is now receiving, one imagines it won’t stay so small for long, but hopefully it’ll stay “cool.”

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Shore Architecture: A Serene Sanctuary

Winding along the densely forested drive, you sense you’re approaching something 
sacred; a natural sanctuary far from the madding world. There’s a gentle calmness to 
this land, filled with tupelo, oak and maple trees embracing five pavilions and a 
tower, which appear very gradually through the woods.  Camouflaged by brown wood 
cladding, myriad glass windows and copper roofs, these impressive structures nestle 
discreetly alongside the woods and seem to peer pensively down the colorful sloped 
gardens leading to a peaceful creek below.

The couple who inhabit this special place are native Californians, influenced by their 
love of the outdoors and sailing when deciding to build in a wood’s clearing on a bend of a secluded creek that winds around their property, 
hence the name of their home.

Linked by their corners, four of the five pavilions are visible from the creek.

Linked by their corners, four of the five pavilions are visible from the creek.

//

Winding Creek is a strikingly singular creation, a thoughtfully designed living space 
by Chestertown architect Peter Newlin and completed by an impressive team of artisans 
and builders.

Newlin describes this house as: “a string of places staged along a gentle rise for the vistas of the creek they afford, and as a winding path from place to place to make our experience of where we are in the landscape more intimate.”  For example, he says “the stair to the master suite is a climb into the dappled sunlight of the woods to the south, and from the second floor it is a descent into the foliage of the understory and forest floor.  There are other paths and places looking into these woods.”

Five pavilions of graduated size in volume and height comprise the living space, along with a complementary garage.  Viewing from the creek, the master pavilion is the largest, containing core family activity spaces: living, kitchen and dining, along with the second-floor master suite.

The entry path curves through the woods from the garage (in the distance) to the entry pavilion on the right.

The entry path curves through the woods from the garage (in the distance) to the entry pavilion on the right.

The architect’s explanation for why the pavilions are shaped and placed as they are.

The architect’s explanation for why the pavilions are shaped and placed as they are.

One must “take a walk through the woods” to approach the entry pavilion, and views 
from this greeting space are equally scenic.

Newlin’s love of nature – especially the Eastern Shore woods and waterways – is evident in many of his designs. His signature style typically features abundant light through numerous skylights and windows, organic elements such as natural wood siding, masonry and metal roofs, enhanced by exceptional interior woodworking.

Newlin obtained a degree in history and spent several years as a carpenter working on restorations for an architectural historian. Discovering a love of historic craftsmanship, he then earned a masters in architecture; his love of historic elements is still evident.  He also has a mindful approach to design; quoting philosophers about the need for creating joy and connection to the natural world in his spaces.

“We have paths through our houses and places inside and out where we dwell.  Our paths 
and places can offer us every day joy if the places are where we can enjoy a natural 
vista, and the paths treat us to glimpses of the ever-changing beauty of where we 
live.

Most of the important rooms have creek views in two directions, but the Living Rooms is the most airy of all.

Most of the important rooms have creek views in two directions, but the Living Rooms is the most airy of all.

“

The covered wood walkways along the creekside of the home have a delicate simplicity; together with the high slanted copper roofs, they evoke a subtle Japanese appearance to the exteriors.  The owners’ collection of large metal sculptures of beetles, birds and 
other creatures along the walkways enhances this Zen-like element.

“When I was  working as a carpenter, I fell in love with the Eastern 
Shore’s landscape: the subtlety of its terrain, its woodlands, fields and hedgerows, 
the openness of its shorelines.  At some point I realized the most important thing a 
house can do for those of us so lucky to live here is, create an intimacy of access to that 
beauty.  In my view, it is best if our houses are not self-important in this subtle 
landscape.  I like it when they quietly open themselves up to the wonders outside.

 

A tower filled with windows houses a curved stair which climbs pass views of the woods.

A tower filled with windows houses a curved stair which climbs pass views of the woods.

Newlin explains his concept for the muntin-enhanced windows, rather than an open 
picture-window style. “The muntins parcel the views to bring the scale down to become 
more intimate.”   This also gives the outdoor views the look of individual framed 
paintings or photographs, which change with one’s vantage point.The living area is a dramatic and breathtaking introduction to the space, with light 
pouring in from vaulted ceilings bursting skyward surrounded by eight-foot-high outer 
walkways, giving the subtle impression of  a Moorish courtyard. This open living area 
fills with light from countless large windows oriented to capture the sweep of the 
creek as it bends around the landscape.

The wood trim around the windows and doors has a delicate offset to cast a slight shadow, which softens them. This same profile also appears in the wood cabinetry that abounds throughout the house. 

High criss-crossed Beams in the vaulted ceiling mirror the window designs and add 
dimensional form as well as function as tie joists, upon which dangles an enormous 
carved folk art angel peering out the window.  High above her is a unique ceiling fan 
with elements of bicycle gears and boat sails, a nod to the owners’ favored 
activities.

Newlin oversees every design detail, including the layout of the wood floors and tiles 
in wonderfully geometric patterns. Colored porcelain tile along the interior walkways 
gives the appearance of natural stone with copper dripping through the robin’s egg 
blue, exquisitely highlighted by rich two-toned wood work along the outer edges.

Architect Peter Newlin

Architect Peter Newlin. Photo credit: Elizabeth Alexander

His design of a towering brick, plaster and bluestone hearth gives another folk art 
touch, while moving the eyes upward to the extensive exposed chimney. The impressive 
structure is steel reinforced, and one of many masonry creations designed by Newlin 
and executed by master mason Jonas Miller.

The entire Winding Creek home feels like an art gallery, with endless views of the 
natural surroundings, simply another element of the abundant artwork filling the home, 
along with an eclectic collection of  pottery, glass and large-scale paintings.  Even 
the laundry room features two large  paintings and colored glass vases in its windows.

The open floor plan guides you effortlessly through the dining room with its brilliant 
Vicco von Voss table into the equally light filled kitchen, with views of the forest, the 
summer house, the gardens and the water.

The screened summerhouse is the fifth pavilion, and freestanding for outdoor entertaining, 
dining, meditating or even sleeping in the warmer months, giving the owners even more 
of a natural connection unencumbered by walls.

The Summerhouse is freestanding to capture summer zephyrs and sweep of the Creek.

The Summerhouse is freestanding to capture summer zephyrs and sweep of the Creek.

The absolute zenith of the house is the ample tower, and the master bedroom to which 
it leads. A wide circular staircase winds around on narrow rises of elegant hand 
crafted wood; a rise so subtle you feel as though you’re gliding as you caress the 
delicately carved hand rails created by noted wood artisan Vicco Von Voss.  Inside the 
center of the winding staircase is a lift for bringing laundry to the basement, heavy 
items above or whenever heavy lifting is needed.

When asked what one word would describe the feeling of living in this home, the owners 
each replied, “alive” and “relaxed.” Their senses are awakened by the man-made art and 
beauty of the home, as well as the constant visual connection to  the natural world 
surrounding them. “There’s the geese talking, the foxes scampering through the woods, all the other 
birds singing.”

No where in the house might they feel more in touch with nature than their master 
suite, with elements of a tree house and a cruise ship’s cabin. Perched high in the 
air, it features a minimalist look of bare white walls and built-in European birch 
furniture, with an enormous picture window overlooking forest, water and sky.  Bereft 
of window coverings, one is most certainly awakened by the dawn and the symphony of 
birds and other creatures, and feeling quite alive and relaxed.

Although the bed and cabinetry are architect-designed, the room’s focus is on the creek and trees.

Although the bed and cabinetry are architect-designed, the room’s focus is on the creek and trees.

Befitting its numerous nods to nature, Winding Creek is designed for passive solar 
heat gain in the winter and chimney-effect natural ventilation in the summer, and 
offers radiant heated floors. High tech lighting design features controls that allow 
one to monitor ten areas from one small light switch. Newlin and his Chesapeake 
Architects firm are experts at designing energy-conserving buildings, with a track 
record dating back to the 80’s, when  Newlin won the “Most Innovative Design Award” 
from Delmarva Power for the “Quality and Energy-Efficient Design” of the passive-solar 
Galena Bank.

Something this detailed and intricate is not built in a day, indeed it was three years 
of design, consultation and building until final completion. Says Newlin, “It 
typically takes a year to design a custom house, and many meetings with the 
owners to be sure at every step that what we are proposing will be a good match for their needs and how they want to live.

“The owners had no concept in mind at the outset except that they wanted a modest 
house.  Our design comes from our perceptions of how to make the most of the natural 
assets of the landscape, the water views, the terrain and the beauty of the woods. “
They admit that they only had one requirement– a copper roof, more for sustainability 
than beauty; they now have both.

Now they also have a lifelong dream fulfilled…. of living in a home as serene as its 
setting.

Where Credit Is Due, Newlin recommends:

The General Contractor, 
Patrick Jones, who is a fine craftsman himself, as well as a master builder. Peter says: 
”You’ll get your money’s worth from his attention to detail, commitment to 
craftsmanship and honest business practices.”  410-708-0648

John Ramsey – Custom Lighting Fixture Designer & Manufacturer.  “If you want true 
craftsmanship and/or historical authenticity, see John (www.deeplandingworkshop.com).

Jonas Miller, Preservation Mason – “Whether for restoration or contemporary design, if 
you want every brick in its proper place, the perfect mortar mix, and every joint 
struck artfully, Jonas is your man.”  302-382-4648

Vicco von Voss “A master furniture designer, who has worked with us to create 
especially artful handrails, curved and furniture. He designed and built the Living 
Room’s coffee table and the dining table to complement the interiors of the Winding 
Creek.”  http://www.viccovonvoss.com/

Woody Labat, Cabinetmaker – Juniper Cabinet & Millwork – “A craftsman who brings to the table skills that were honed when he was a yacht builder.”  410-924-4502

Peyton Bradley—“A master at staining and varnishing who brings out the deep, natural beauty and character of woods,” Peter suggests, “if you love wood, don’t go varnishing without her.” 410 507-0667

Photographs by Ched Bradley, unless otherwise noted.

..

Spying on Piazza in Easton

There’s a well-known saying, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” So when college student Emily Chandler spent four months there during a study abroad, she did what all the Romans do. She ate and ate, savoring some of the most delectable foods she’d ever tasted, as good and sometimes better than her Italian-American mother had cooked for her. Emily found the food to be “a big distraction” from her art studies and began to make a “study” of the various foods around the country.

Piazza Emily ChandlerWhen she returned to the States, Emily interned with Slow Foods, a nonprofit originating in Italy which is dedicated to supporting and protecting small growers and artisan food producers, safeguarding the environment, while promoting biodiversity. After graduating Wesleyan with a degree in studio art, Chandler found herself working in a New York cheese shop.

She realized that there was still a need in America for more regional and artisan Italian foods, not the typical canned and mass produced variety. As an artist and student of the arts, she realized that making foods the right way was also an art.

When her parents purchased a vacation home in Talbot County twelve years ago, they encouraged Emily to move here as well, they even offered to be her financial backer as well as advisors in a food business, being business school grads themselves.

That’s when she decided to open her own Italian market, Piazza, located in the Talbottown shops in downtown Easton. Piazza refers to the countless public squares in every Italian town, where visitors and locals gather at fountains, public markets and restaurants– to eat or just hang out and socialize.

Piazza market in Easton is all that–a place to eat, a food market and a great place to socialize while learning about Italian foods.

“I wanted this business to feature foods from the Italy of today, distinct foods from each region, for each season there’s something new. We stock Valpolicella Ripasso wine from the Veneto, Cicerchia beans from Umbria, olive oils from Tuscany, Sicily, Lazio, Umbria, Basilicata, Liguria and Puglia. Our white balsamic vinegar is wonderful, it’s from Emilia Romagna. Setaro is the featured brand of pasta from outside Napoli. We have a large range of cheeses in stock– about 30 varieties at a time. Our cheese selection is a mix of American, Italian, French, Swiss, Spanish and Dutch varieties. We always have three types of cured hams in stock, including Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto San Daniele.”

photo 2Most of their offerings are imported, a few things are locally made to Italian standards, like fresh pasta by the Easton restaurant Scossa, Chapel Country Creamery cheese, locally made goat cheese. Other locally made items include a tofu, Rise Up coffee, and a local honey. American artisan cheeses hail from Vermont and California, their salami is from Virginia and California.

In the five years Piazza has been open, it has grown to be a popular eatery as well the place to find the best fresh cheeses and meats, gourmet olive oils and countless other market products.

They offer a variety of sandwiches, paninis, salads and more. There’s seating inside and out in warmer weather. Their best-selling sandwich features Campana prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato.

“My mom did cook a lot of Italian food when I was growing up, and we continue to cook together often, we also try to make things we’ve eaten together in Italy. The tuna salad we make at the store is based on the way my mom prepares hers. It’s made with capers, parsley, lemon juice and lemon zest; no mayonnaise.”

Are there any new additions on the horizon? Chandler would like to do more catering, anything from lunch platters for local businesses wine & cheese for your pre-dinner, an elegant cocktail party, a backyard casual dinner, or a full sit-down dinner.

“We are expanding our prepared foods, and more selections for our take-out

Dinners: meatballs, eggplant parmigiano, spinach or pork lasagna, chicken gravy simmered in tomato sauce, pesto Alfredo, linguini and clams, baked ziti, and several sauces, all offered on a rotating schedule. We have a well-versed staff who have worked here for years and know their products.”

These grab and go meals are a wonderful real-food alternative to fast foods, and perfect for a boat outing or picnic, or on the way home from a busy work day.

One wonders, has it been difficult for a well-traveled gal from Northern Virginia with roots in Italy to settle down in Easton? Not so much.

” I enjoy this community, everyone we’ve met has been engaging and genuinely nice, interested in what we have and receptive to Piazza. We always love it when people come in and tell us where they’ve been in Italy.”

The market also features a big map of Italy to look over as well as food and travel books on the country known for its incredible food, architecture and art.

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Maryland 3.0 Asks Five Questions to Talbot Chamber CEO Al Silverstein

How has the recession affected Talbot businesses and do you have stats on how many have closed their doors?

Unfortunately a small number of businesses have had to close their doors due to the economy.  However the chamber has seen an increasing number of new businesses starts, which outweighs the number of business closures.

Talbot County economy is very dependent on real estate, tourism, construction, medical  services and government.  The sale of real estate in Talbot County is driven by discretionary purchases of secondary homes and due to the economy and new government regulations that segment of the market has been negatively impacted.  On the positive side Talbot County real estate sales in 2012 were up 30% over 2011 and 2013 sales were up nominally over 2012.

Since the beginning of the recession the construction market has seen a severe downturn.  We have seen an implementation of new building codes, state regulations and increasing anti-growth sentiment from local governments.  The net result of all of these factors is the loss of businesses, which in turn leads to less opportunities hiring in the construction trades.

Tourism Industry revenues took a dip in 2009, yet have seen steady growth the past four years.  A growing segment of Talbot County tourism is from it becoming a wedding destination.

What do you envision for this year and beyond?  Are there new businesses just opening or getting ready to open in Talbot Co.? What do you see as a critical requirement to strengthen the local economy (such as public transportation, lower taxes and other business incentives)?

I envision that 2014 will see modest business growth in Talbot County.  We will continue to see some segments of our economy do better than others based upon consumer confidence.   We continue to get inquiries from individuals interested in starting or relocating a business to Talbot County and anticipate that we will also experience some business closures.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 1.34.03 PMTalbot County’s property and income tax rates have been among the lowest in the State of Maryland.  The Talbot Chamber is pleased to see that the Town of Easton is giving serious consideration to lowering the impact fees.

Talbot County is a very desirable location to live, work and play.  We have a thriving arts and entertainment community that features award-winning restaurants, museums and a host of special events.  We are home to the Waterfowl Festival, Academy Art Museum, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Plein Air, Tuckahoe Steam & Gas Show.  One unique attraction in our county is the Oxford- Bellevue Ferry.

The chamber’s Government & Regulatory Committee has been working with the Talbot County Office of Economic Development and the newly formed Easton Economic Development Corporation (located at the chamber office) to…. formulate strategies with local government agencies to redesign and fine tune the development process.

Public transportation in rural areas is a critical component to get people to work, get medical services and meet shopping needs. The Talbot Chamber has been a very supportive partner in the creation of the MUST Bus System.  Unfortunately funding for rural transportation continues to shrink and costs of operations continue to rise.

You have worked with historic preservation groups in the area; do you see the historic aspects of Talbot County as beneficial to the business community and the local economy in general?

Talbot County’s rich history attracts many tourist to our community.  Our waterman’s heritage, Frederick Douglas ties to our county, and the many historically designated buildings are very appealing to history buffs.

What has the Chamber been doing to help local businesses…. any new approaches or techniques? Is the multimedia center, the internet or any other high tech marketing strategy being utilized?

We have a new Chamber website, free counseling by SCORE members, weekly e-newsletters promoting networking events, seminars and free Lunch & Learns with special emphasis on how to use social media as a marketing tool.  The Chamber has partnered with other Talbot County organizations to lobby for modification or opposition to proposed legislation that is onerous to business, both on a local, state and national level. The Chamber has an active Member-to-Member Discount program; we offer our members three conference rooms to use for meeting clients, staff or Board of Director meetings or to facilitate strategic planning meetings.

A large part of my efforts on behalf of our membership is to be an advocate for the Free Enterprise System.  This Legislative session is my fourteenth year as a member of the Maryland State Chamber Legislative Committee, reviewing and taking positions on approximately 200 bills that will affect (state and local) businesses each session.

What business person in the nation (or world) do you most admire, and What is your most recently read favorite book?

I’m a strong advocate of the Free Enterprise system.  I have been an admirer of Warren Buffet since I had the opportunity to hear him in person when I worked in Nebraska.

My latest book is Johnny Carson (bio) by Henry Bushkin.

Alan Silverstein has served 31 years as a Chamber of Commerce executive, and has served as president and CEO of the Talbot County Chamber of Commerce since 2001.

 

 

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The Mysterious Case of Retirement of Kathy Harig

It’s been said that books can alter your perspective, even your life.  That couldn’t be truer than for Kathy Harig, owner of the Mystery Loves Company Booksellers in Oxford, Maryland.  Harig’s entire life has been all about books—growing up in Ohio as a dedicated booklover and avid mystery reader; she describes herself as a “Sherlockian who grew up on Trixie Belden and Agatha Christie mysteries.”

She arrived in Baltimore in the late Sixties to attend Catholic University, “the best university of library science in the country.”   After graduating, Harig became a librarian, working most of her life at the Pratt Library in Baltimore.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 11.16.35 AMSurrounded by books at work and at home, she was right in her element, so what more could she want?  How about a store full of them.  Harig opened her first bookstore in 1991, while still working full time as a librarian. Specializing in the mystery genre, the store was aptly named Mystery Loves Company, and became a popular spot for Baltimore mystery and booklovers.

It’s no mystery to Harig why we love ‘em.  “Mysteries provide escape and adventure, but they also challenge our brains, and make us smarter. They don’t dumb down, they elevate. There is also such variety in the genre from cozy to hardboiled to political, legal and literary thrillers and romantic suspense….something for everyone. Mysteries continually rank highest on the bestseller lists for these reasons,” observed Harig, a petite woman with thick white hair and bright eyes that light up when she speaks about her endless love of books.

On a personal note, Harig finds a sense of satisfaction as well. “Mysteries speak to my sense of justice in the world. When everything in my life is chaotic, I search for that intelligent being, either a professional or amateur sleuth, who solves the puzzle and makes it all right.

After visiting friends on the Eastern Shore and falling in love with the area, Harig and her husband decided to “retire” there. In 2005 she opened a second Mystery Loves Company Booksellers in the quaint historic town of Oxford, Maryland.  Attempting to run two book stores at the same time with endless commuting became extremely difficult, so she closed the original Fells Point store, bringing all inventory to the Oxford location.

The Oxford version of Mystery Loves Company is located in a grand historic bank building situated on its main street fronted with proud Federal columns and brilliantly blooming azaleas.   Inside you’ll discover a charmingly cozy book shop boasting high ceilings and the former bank’s large walk-in-safe filled with a treasure trove of books.  The back room overlooking the river is a quiet nook where readers can relax on wingback chairs and sip a cup of tea. It’s also the place for numerous readings and book signings by regional authors like Hunter Harris, Donna Andrews, Amy Abrams and Marcia Talley along with nationally known authors such as Laura Lippman, David Stewart (The Lincoln Deception), Susan Elia MacNeal, Mary-Jane Deeb (Provence mysteries) and Martin Walker (Bruno Chief of Police series), who returns on March 1, 2014 for another book signing.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 2.12.25 PMThe shop hosts other literary events, such as the well-attended Jane Austen Christmas Tea held in December. This year it featured author Tracy Kiely, who penned the derivative mystery Murder Most Austen.

In addition to the endless array of mystery novels, Mystery Loves Company features books on Eastern Shore history, nature and nautical life, as well as a variety of fiction for all ages, both new and gently used. A fanciful collection of literary themed gifts is displayed throughout the store.

Harig is usually there to provide enthusiastic recommendations for the seasoned or novice mystery reader.  Mystery lovers travel from far and wide to hear about what’s hot and peruse the shelves filled with their favorite genre.

The historic town of Oxford, established in 1683, nestles on a small peninsula surrounded by the winding Tred Avon River. It’s filled with elegant historic homes and quaint cottages owned by posh vacationers and retirees who come here for the serenity, endless water views, intimate narrow streets and of course, the yachting. Oxford is home to some of the best traditional wooden yacht builders in the country.  The upscale, highly educated demographics make for an ideal bookstore location, a fitting accompaniment to the unique shops and gourmet restaurants that draw residents and visitors to the town all summer and every weekend throughout the year.  Oxford also has a bit of a literary legacy….the nearby Robert Morris Inn, where author James Michener worked on his epic novel Chesapeake.

Living in a remote area of Tilghman Island past the tony town of St. Michaels, Harig drives 66 miles round trip each day to and from Oxford, including a ride across the river on the oldest working ferry in America, in what could be described as the best work commute ever.

“I love the calmness of the water, usually not a sound to be heard in the early morning. And I love seeing the birds — Heron, Cormorants, Ducks, Gulls of all types. The watermen are usually coming in from their morning crabbing and occasionally I see large yachts sailing from the Oxford Yacht Club. Heaven…

This brief grounding connection to the water and natural world might be what prepares Harig for her long days at the shop. She’s so energetic and passionate about books and everything else she sets her mind to accomplish. When not selling or reading books, Harig attends numerous book seller and mystery conventions, updates two informative websites filled with recommended book lists, writes a monthly newsletter, researches family history, even grows orchids and does a bit of needlework.  Not exactly your typical retirement, rather a wonderful later chapter in Harig’s book of life.

 

Mystery Loves Company
202 S. Morris St. Oxford MD
800.538.0042    410.226.0010

 

 

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