SpyCam: Out of the Fire’s Amy Haines talks Business

For the fourth year, ESEC has offered its 10-week ShoreVenture entrepreneur training program. Sessions include a visit from guest entrepreneurs and speakers who share their experiences. One of the favorite speakers is Amy Haines, founder and owner of the beloved Out of the Fire in Easton, who enjoys interacting with course participants and sharing her knowledge and experience as a small business owner.

Start Up Therapy: How do I Find Capital?

Dear Start Up Therapy,

I know I have a good idea (with good research to back it up), but I have forty dollars in my savings and payments due on the car. In order to survive, I need to find some capital. What would you advise I do?


Cant Doitalone

Dear Cant,

Unfortunately just having a good idea doesn’t result in a successful business. The landscape is littered with examples of individuals who have a great idea but never even get out of the starting gate. But getting out of the starting gate isn’t necessarily all about capital either.

Though access to capital is often a critical component to getting a business started, it’s not always about other people’s capital. Many entry-level entrepreneurs think that the fastest and easiest way to start a business is with other people’s money. I would suggest to you that starting a business based upon debt is never the best way to start a business. Every effort should be made to start a business at the grassroots, in its simplest and cheapest form in order to first prove the concept of the business idea. Many new entrepreneurs have the impression that in order to succeed you need to over-think the concept and over-spend in preparation to start the business.

Starting small with whatever capital you are able to raise from yourself, from your family, or from your friends is the surest way to determine whether there’s in fact an audience or market for your product or service. Unless you are planning a technology business that requires a huge amount of capital infrastructure, start your business organically. This means just start with your preliminary product or service and see what the market tells you backabout it. More times than not, no matter how great you think your idea is, what the market tells you back is much different and if you are to be successful you will often need to be flexible and adjust to the demands of the market. This way, you have little invested in your original idea and can make the necessary changes.

Once you have some success with the market under your belt, even with very little investment, you will be better prepared to then go about the task of securing other people’s money for growth. Getting through the proof of concept phase as quickly as possible is the surest way to access other avenues of capital and to turn your good business idea into a successful business.


Spycam: Christian Benefiel’s Wishful Thinker at Kohl’s artNow

February 10 marked the grand opening of the artNOW Baltimore exhibit in Washington College’s Kohl Gallery, featuring the work of five artists who all call Baltimore home. The artists—who include Christian Benefiel, Leslie Furlong, Andrew Liang, Rene Trevino, and Karen Yasinky—presented work spanning an exciting range of media, from film art and photography to painting and electro-mechanical sculpture.

The latter art form can be seen in action in the below video, as sculptor Benefiel explains the inspiration and intended meaning of his 2001 work “The Efficacy of Wishing”. Constructed from wood, dacron, steel, cast iron, and an automated blower system, this piece playfully realizes the desire for instant gratification behind the act of wishing. Fully interactive, “The Efficacy of Wishing” invites gallery goers to “blow a wish” into an electronic sensor that translates breathe heat and pressure into fan generated wind within the main structure.

artNOW Baltimore was curated by Cara Ober and Alex Castro and will be running until March 30. Future artNOW exhibits aim to include artists from Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.

The Quiet Death of the Route 301 Eastern Shoreway

Over five years ago, a group calling itself the Eastern Shoreway Alliance, (E.S.A), drafted and submitted a proposal designed to “rebrand” US 301, the “Blue Star Memorial Highway” as the “Eastern Shoreway”.

Aimed at highlighting the historical, cultural and environmental value of the route and its contiguous farmland and watersheds, the ESA’s master plan included the addition of interpretive signage, turnoffs, a revamped Bay Country Welcome Center, and a significant degree of landscape architecture to the route’s course between Queenstown, Maryland and Middletown, Delaware.

The ESA looked to the Maryland Scenic Byway program—an offshoot of the S.H.A. and its Transportation Enhancement Program— for approval, and appealed for the inclusion of a “new category” of high speed “special routes”. Citing the Merritt Parkway and The Blue Ridge Parkway as equivalents for New England and Appalachia, the proposal also sought resonance with the language of the preexisting Scenic Byway Corridor Management Plan’s broad directives for celebrating the regional identity of the Eastern Shore.

Collaboratively realized by Adkins Arboretum director Ellie Altman and New York-based author Tony Hiss, whose work often focuses on the use and “preservation of place”, the ESA’s vision was to provide: “a special driving experience for through and local travelers that is educational and memorable, that renders visible the beauty of the landscape, and that inspires its preservation and protection.”

The proposal, however, never received enough local or statewide support, and currently exists in some strange in-between place where innovative but unusual ideas reside for indefinite periods of time, or until they receive attention from the right people.

“The Eastern Shoreway,” continues the ESA document, “has the potential to serve as a model for a national road network of Twenty-first Century Highways for America’s Special Places that provide motorists with safe, efficient, and rewarding driving experiences while increasing the appreciation and, ultimately, protection of regional landscapes.”

“At the moment,” wrote Hiss in an early draft of the proposal dating back to 2002,“two futures seem equally possible [for the Eastern Shore]. One would come from without; large-scale-development interests, having filled the Western shore, look at the Eastern Shore, one of the last large open spaces on the eastern seaboard, and see “empty” space waiting to be filled with suburban extensions[…] A second vision, primarily generated by the Eastern Shore’s own citizens and communities—farmers, watermen, village and town residents, citizen groups, and town and county officials, sees an existing treasure ready to be multiplied ( the Eastern Shore’s own model for growing/developing responsibly—incrementally, organically).”

Had the proposal been realized, granting a special “scenic” designation for the route, it wouldn’t have meant direct sanctions against development, but what it could have done, as the framers had hoped, was reinforce the “sense of place” required to preserve the area’s regional identity. Now, ten years later, U.S. Route 301 is still the “Blue Star Memorial Highway”, and the Eastern Shore is still very much at the same “crossroads” described by Hiss. How did Eastern Shoreway Association reach their current state of obsolescence?

Concrete, substantive answers have been anything but easy to find, especially given that the proposal last surfaced in the bureaucratic landscape of SHA grants in 2007, where it was rejected.

By way of explanation, Terry Maxwell the director for the SHA’s Maryland Scenic Byways program, claimed via email that,
“…although US 301 has an undisturbed rural quality, it does not possess unique intrinsic qualities of regional significance as required within our criteria. Also, the nomination did not have all of the required supporting endorsements from each of the counties through which the proposed byway passes.”

Taken together with the language of the actual proposal, these reasons for the rejection seem at odds with the list of documented support the ESA presented. At the time of the 2007 draft, the ESA’s proposal listed the “warm embrace” of the Maryland Office of Tourism, State Senator E.J. Pipkin, and U.S. Congressman Wayne Gilchrest.

In addition to these bigger endorsements, the ESA also claimed allegiance with “tourism and planning directors and environmental planners of Queen Anne’s, Kent, and Cecil counties.” The ESA was even working closely with the Chesapeake National Scenic Byway steering committee, which agreed to help ESA pitch the Eastern Shoreway plan to Maxwell at the SHA.

The resounding silence of local landowners, whose property would likely have been made into spectacle by this interpretive signage, and potentially trodden over as curious motorists sought out the ecological wonders of the “whale wallows” —lowland bog habitats— is not to be ignored.

Thus, despite this initial wave of enthusiasm, it is evident now that something – perhaps a whole bevy of unseen factors that we can only speculate about at this point, amounted to a wet blanket on the project.

“I spent some time trying to get it designated as a scenic byway—because I think it is scenic,” said Altman to the Spy, “but there is not a lot of muscle behind the Scenic Byway Program. When I was pushing for this, tourism directors of Kent and Queen Anne’s county were not supportive. Their focus has been on making 213 a scenic byway. They were fearful that by designating 301 as a scenic byway, they would detract from preexisting funds for scenic byways that go through towns.”

So, there is the unavoidable reality of a lack of funding for a project like this.

There is also Maxwell’s claim that route 301 and its environs lack “unique intrinsic qualities of regional significance”, a qualification so vague, so subjective, that it would seem like a bureaucratic sidestep.

“People travel 301 and say it’s boring,” said Altman, “but 301 has everything that people move to the shore for; the headwaters of the Sassafras, the Chester… and they can still easily access these historic towns from 301.”

In its “Preliminary Documentation” section, the ESA proposal rhapsodizes over the “..slowly woven tapestry of exceptionally rich farm fields and pastures, natural woodlands and meadows, tidal estuaries and marshes…” 301 courses through. (You don’t need to have read the proposal to be able to appreciate this.) If these “intrinsic” qualities exist in some sad realm of second tier scenery, then perhaps what we need to understand about 301’s deficiencies as a scenic route is some arcane Enlightenment era contraption capable of telling us how pretty a landscape really is. The point is; it is entirely likely that 301’s exclusion from some sort of “scenic” designation by the SHA had less to do with aesthetics than a lack of participation from the three counties. In hindsight, it would appear that the ESA’s agenda–which we might call unequivocally environmentalist–ran counter to long term plans for the land abutting 301. This also brings up the important issue of who in Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Cecil Counties ultimately has influence over how the land on either side of 301 is used, and for that matter, interpreted. Evidently it is not Adkins Arboretum et al.

“Since the initial discussion,” said Maxwell via email, “both Kent and Queen Anne’s have elected at least one new Commissioner so we do not [sic] an inclination that there is support for such an effort.”

While time did not permit contacting commissioners in Kent and Cecil counties, David Dunmeyer, a commissioner for Queen Anne’s county was willing to give his insights to the Spy.

“There’s really some extreme pressures for development in Queen Anne’s County,” he said via phone interview, “What you need to understand about our farm community is that they are not all pro-preservation. They send mixed messages; they say they want to protect farming but they also want to get the equity out of their land because that’s their nest-egg.”

“There’s a real tension here between what’s logical development, and what’s feel good,” said Chestertown attorney Stephan Meehan. As a spokesman for the Eastern Shore Leadership Council, Meehan has been critical of the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association’s opposition to job creating projects like the FASTC facility that would have been built outside of Ruthsburg in 2010.

“ESA died because no state or federal legislative authority, local political or property owner will, and yes, in tight budget times, the cost of a major road sign promoting a concept is incongruous with thrifty government” said Meehan.

“The battle’s over creating jobs in the economy and zero growth,” he said. “You’d be surprised how expensive it is to put up a sign.”

Roaring engines, precision flying and rubber chickens highlight Easton Airport Day

The clear skies over Talbot County were streaked with white trails Saturday as the RedStar Pilots Association thrilled onlookers during the Easton Airport Day celebration.

RedStar Pilots display their skills over Easton Airport.

As people milled between the airstrip and the grilled-food stand at the airport off Route 50, the pilots were briefed on the logistics of their course that would take them on an aerial route from the airport to St. Michaels to Trappe and back for a final display of airborne wizardry. The scheduled skydiving event was canceled because strong winds made jumping conditions too dangerous.

The RedStar Pilots flew some American-built planes, such as the T-20s from the 1970’s, but most of their aircraft were Cold-War military relics from the Soviet Union and China. The YAK-52, for instance, was built in Romania to train Soviet pilots. The Nanchang CJ-6 served as a trainer for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. All of the aircraft are privately owned.

At 12:30 p.m. sharp, the pilots emerged from their briefing and climbed into their planes, most of them accompanied by a second airman. Clad in their goggles and jumpsuits, they commanded the attention of every shutterbug, retiree and soccer mom present. Previously anxious children—perhaps disappointed by the canceled skydiving event—were suddenly transfixed, silently clutching their half-eaten hotdogs as the roar of 19, nine-cylinder engines, filled the air.

According to RedStar Pilot Jim Meadows, who remained on the ground to assist with emceeing the event, the planes would be flying 10 to 15 feet apart, a distance that looks dangerously close from the ground.

“Their command of the planes is visual, intuitive,” he says as the flyers whiz over the field at 1,000 feet, trying to drop rubber chickens into a dump truck parked out on the airfield. “There is no radio contact between them, they have a 360 degree field of vision.”

The planes flew in a variety of geometric configurations— diamonds, arrows, triangles— never touching or falling out of formation. Meadows explains that the reason they can make their exhaust trails was because they can inject an additive into the fuel with the push of a button. Conveniently, it was donated.

“And it’s a good thing,” he says. “That stuff is expensive.”

“We’re also thrilled to be able to use this facility,” he says of the Easton Airport, “It’s really an extraordinary facility we have here, the air-traffic controllers are particularly accommodating.”

Captain Steve Dalton, a former F-16 pilot, served as the head pilot in the RedStar Pilots Association. Meadows says Dalton is the “main motivator” for most of their outings. The pilots, who have either commercial airline or military backgrounds, mostly hail from the Delmarva area, however, some of them flew in from other locations on the East Coast.

Despite their impressive flying resumes, none of the RedStar Pilots were able to land their rubber chickens in the dump truck.

All proceeds of the Easton Airport Day go to benefit Talbot Hospice Foundation. The Civil Air Patrol managed the event.

Spy photos by Simon Kelly[slideshow id=37]

Second Annual Red Cross Clara Barton Awards

On Friday evening, the American Red Cross of the Delmarva Peninsula held its Second Annual Clara Barton Awards Dinner to honor four “women of distinction” at the Talbot Country Club. Special guest speaker Tammy Haddad, the President and CEO of Haddad Media, and a former MSNBC V.P. in Washington D.C. served as master of ceremonies, presenting awards to Jennifer Stanley (Humanitarian of the Year), Lisa Palmatary (Life Saver of the Year), and Sergeant Susan Calhoun (Armed Forces Woman of the Year). Philanthropist of the Year, Eleanor Requard was unable to attend. Also a fundraising event, guests registered in a silent auction.

[slideshow id=35]

Friends of Conner Rice Peacefully Protest for Safer 301/304 Interchange

On Tuesday, September 28, a peaceful band of demonstrators, identifying themselves with paper banners marked SOS (Support Overpass for Students) marched from QAC high school to the Liberty building in downtown Centreville.

Their cause was to raise awareness of the deadly 301/304 interchange, the traffic hotspot where 15-year-old Connor Rice lost his life less than two weeks prior. Rice’s has been the fifth death at the interchange since 2005.

[slideshow id=32]Met by the board of commissioners, the one-hundred strong crowd of students and parents’ chants of “over-pass” eventually died out as Vice President Phil Dumenil called for a moment of silence for the Rice family.

Dumenil emphasized the board’s sympathies with the community, particularly their demands for the overpass. Dumenil was quick to add, however, that the county currently lacks the authority to create the desired overpass, sufficient funds or not, because the highway in question is state owned, thus requiring approval from the State Highway Administration. This, the commissioners said, would involve taking the case to Annapolis.

“Even if we had the $50 million, we couldn’t— because it’s not our road,” said Dumenil.

According to the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer, SHA spokespeople have estimated that constructing an overpass at the site would currently cost at least $60 million.

Meanwhile, as a $1.5 million stopgap solution, the SHA has been working on a J-turn at the intersection since last week. It will be completed sometime in the spring, according to reports in the Record-Observer.

“It’s not the overpass we wanted, but it will help,” said one of the commissioners.

“But other J-turns don’t have truck stops so close!” said a women in the crowd.

On Nov. 1 officials from the SHA will be present for a hearing at the county commissioners office at the Liberty Building in downtown Centreville. One particularly active member of the community, Barb Burkhardt, has been leading a petition to make the SHA build the overpass. She will be presenting the petition, which she hopes will obtain 5,000 signatures, on this day. She is also responsible for a Facebook group, Support Overpass 4 Students.

“Are you doing to be behind us, do we have access to you, to point us in the direction we need to go?” Said one crowd member to the commissioners, referring to the Nov. 1 hearing.

“This is the unity we need to bring to this building on November 1,” said Dumenil to a warm applause. “We don’t want to be pushed down this priority list any longer. I will be there to make sure our voices are heard in Annapolis regarding this.”

Bag It, the Anti-bag film, to Close Film Festival

It’s been a whole five months since the town of Chestertown passed its anti-plastic bag ordinance (no. 01-2011), and although it won’t be officially enforced until 1 January 2012, local businesses have been readying themselves for the sea change by making available reusable tote bags.

For some businesses, like Chestertown Natural Foods, the passing of the ordinance was viewed as a necessary step towards taking a larger community initiative to protect the environment, let alone the scenic views up and down 213.

Tina, an employee of the popular health store, hopes to see a decrease in the amount of plastic bags littering the highway on her way to work from Kennedyville. As you might guess, green transitions are no brainers for health food stores and their patrons.

“Most of our customers bring their own bags in, they’ve been shopping that way long before the town stepped in,” said Tina, “But that isn’t the norm around town.”

Indeed, the new ordinance, which met with a failed effort to repeal via referendum in late May, has enjoyed no shortage of general grumbling. For businesses like JBK Hardware, however, the reason hasn’t so much been ideological as economic.

According to one spokesperson, who requested anonymity, the hardware store made the more expensive transition to bio-degradable corn starch bags only to find that the town was only accepting the use of recyclable paper bags, or reusable tote bags.

“It’s going to be quite a bit more for us to switch to paper,” said the spokesperson for JBK, “But we have discussed giving customers incentives to bring their own bags.”

And then, there are the big supermarkets, which by default are responsible for the majority of the plastic trash blowing around.

Fresh and Green, which supplanted the Superfresh some months ago, is making the effort, according to one customer service employee, to encourage people to buy tote bags at a low cost, hoping to wean people off the plastic by January.

Unfortunately, no comment could be obtained within deadline from the Chestertown Acme, which sent this writer on a telephonic wild goose chase up the bureaucratic ladder to Acme’s corporate headquarters in Malvern, Pennsylvania.

In response to the question of how the local Acme was preparing for Chestertown’s post plastic age, the media relations specialist I was put in contact with informed me that he had a deadline to meet, and couldn’t comment further. His name is Ryan Noyes, and he can be reached at this number; 610-889-4000. Ex. 4006.

Meanwhile, with the weekend of the Chesapeake Film Festival only three days away, it seems appropriate to mention that one of the films featured this year, Bag It, dovetails nicely into Chestertown’s greater plastic bag discussion.

Directed by Suzan Bereza, the film documents the successful banning of plastic bags in Telluride, Colorado, while acting as a general meditation on the implications of modern waste management practices. The film’s narrator, an amicably polar-fleeced George Costanza look alike is quick to inform us, “I’m not what you’d consider a tree-hugger”.

Rather, “George” (you’ll have to watch the film to find out his real name) frames his a plastic bag blues as an exponent of his desire to merely “do the right thing”, to be a responsible citizen of his town, of the world.

“I mean, we all have a lot of bags right?” narrates “George” a chippy soundtrack of la la las bubbling underneath, images of bags being shoved into closets and under suburban sinks streaming by. Then in a sudden contrast, a tropical beach strewn with junk swims into view, bulldozers lumbering like giant mutant sandcrabs and discolored seabirds dominating the scene.
“Lets face it,” says “George” over the ugly montage, “There’s a dirty little secret here; even if we won’t admit it, just because plastic is disposable, doesn’t mean it goes away, after all, where is away? There is no away.”

Bag It is appropriate for all ages and will be showing as the Closing Film for CFF on Sunday, 9/25 at Avalon Theatre • 5:00pm  with a panel discussion to follow. For more information please click here.



A Model Death of the Chesapeake Bay

[slideshow id=16]These images, kindly made available to The Spy by the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), at a first glance may resemble the canals of Mars or perhaps part of a sci-fi movie set. Taken circa 1998, the photos are actually the last impressions made available to the public of the then disintegrating and now totally obliterated Chesapeake Bay Hydraulic Model. The photos would go on to be featured in a presentation at the CLUI’s Los Angeles exhibit hall in March and April of that same year, their subject, and the building housing it, however, would only face more dilapidation, roof collapses, and a series of uneasy exchanges and proposals between private investors, Queen Anne’s County, and the state of Maryland.

As recently as December of last year, according to a report in the Capital, the Matapeake Facility, where the bay model’s crumbling remains are interred, may be the future site of Miltec Corp, a U.V. curing operation. There have even been murmurs of an 80,000 square foot sports complex being developed alongside the Miltec business. But with official statements relating the site’s future vague at best, the one thing that does remain certain about the Matapeake facility is that its days as an epicenter for hydrological research on the bay are long gone, if not entirely wiped from the public memory.

Rogers C. B. Morton

So what is hydrological research you might ask, and why is it important at all? Well, it all started with a man named Rogers C.B. Morton, the 22nd United States Secretary of Commerce, the 39th Secretary of the Interior, a member of Maryland’s 1st Congressional district, and a resident of Talbot County. It was the 1960s, and for the first time, people were becoming aware of the increasing amounts of pollutants flowing into the bay. Commercial fishing was taking a blow, along with people’s ability to enjoy a day at the beach. In 1965, as Morton was rounding out his second year in congress, he spearheaded the Chesapeake Bay Basin Study, a $6 million program, which in Morton’s words, was intended “to make a complete investigation and study of water utilization and control of the Chesapeake Bay Basin.”

It would be another eight years before construction on the hydraulic model would begin, by which point Morton would have already been appointed to his post as Secretary of the Interior by Nixon. According to a report released by the CLUI that accompanied the photographic exhibit, much of this time was passed debating over whether a physical model was necessary in the first place. By 1967, MIT had been called into the discussion, their suggestion being that a numerical model would prove to be cheaper and more effective than the sprawling physical models the Army Corps of Engineers had already built for the Mississippi River Delta and the San Francisco Bay in the 50s. Despite this sound mathematical reasoning, however, the Army Corps won out the bid, and by 1975, bathymetric readings of the bay were being taken in order to lay the models foundation inside the old ferry terminal on Kent Island.

Between 1973 and 1978, around $15 million would be spent to get the model up and running. Covering eight of the Matapeake Ferry Terminal’s sixty acres, the model replicated the actual bay and all of its tributaries, from the Susquehanna down to the Atlantic headbay on a 1:1,000 scale. That’s 4,400 square miles distilled, condensed through geometric ingenuity into a dusty and even then, crumbling old warehouse. To make the microcosm more complete, time was also scaled down; 15 years of real time on the bay could be simulated in just 19 days on the model. Control of the temporal, as well as the spatial dimension of the bay was of great utility to the researchers, because it allowed them to project the effects of various factors on bay health well into the future. To run just one test on this thing (and that meant calibrating everything from current speed to salinity), it took a team of 20 people, some of them hydraulic engineers, some computer analysts operating machines primitive by today’s standards that ran the model’s tidal generators and collected data on miles of magnetic tape.

And yet, for all of the ambition and romance of this model, by the time it was opened to the public in 1978, it had become hopelessly outmoded, and was not really producing the quantity or quality of results expected of it. Arguably always a work in progress, in the over ten years that it took for the model to reach peak operational status, advances in computer science made the site little more than a public works novelty.

The CLUI’s report, from which the bulk of this article has been informally comprised, makes the point that in spite of the numerous setbacks faced by the model and its crew, the experiment did, by 1981, when operations became suspended indefinitely, have something to show for itself. This excerpt details the bulk of the model’s most concrete findings and achievements,

“One study was conducted to determine the effects on the ecosystem of diminished freshwater inflow to the bay due to increased ground water draw from development. Field data from a period of drought was used to project conditions for 50 years into the future, given current rates of development. Another test was a high flow and low flow test on the Potomac River, to determine if the effluent from a sewage treatment plant would circulate out of the river and find its way to the ocean[…] Some of the data from the model was used in the development of the computer models for the bay…”

So, while posterity may remember this project as little more than an anomalous, colossal misuse of public funds, there is still something truly wonderful and awe-inspiring about the idea of state technicians in white coats and horn rimmed glasses peering into a miniaturization of the largest estuary in the North Atlantic. Described by the CLUI as a “titanic analog to the emerging digital age”, the Chesapeake Bay Hydraulic model in many ways marks one of the rare moments in large scale research when the pursuit of data runs headlong into our innate tendency to tinker, to play. Like kids making sandcastles with moats at the beach, the researchers at the Matapeake site must have seen the wave of the information age coming, yet they plugged on doggedly with their model, their labor of love, until the chunks of the warehouse ceiling that had been falling out all along became too numerous to remove, the cracks in the leaky concrete foundation too wide to patch. The model was officially closed to the public by February of 1983.

Some 120,000 people visited the Chesapeake Hydraulic Model while it was still open. Were you or someone you know one of them? If so, please feel free to send impressions, memories to editor@talbotspy.com or share on the comments section. There is still more, much more to be said. Those interested in reading the CLUI’s report in full and checking out one of the more interesting NGO’s around, try this link