Making it Work on the Shore: Reinventing Downtown Easton with Ross Benincasa

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In years past, the role of a director of a downtown association would consist of managing and promoting a series of special events created to encourage retail shopping. Special days like “First Friday” and free concert programs have become the standard practice to bring residents and their families to their downtown districts, but is that enough in a country that soon can expect same day delivery from internet sellers?

The answer coming from Ross Benincasa, the Easton Business Alliance’s director, is a definite “no.” While special events remain important strategies, the work of promoting downtown shopping has become increasingly more sophisticated as Ross notes in his first Spy interview.

Specifically, Benincasa, the EBA Board, and Easton’s Town Council are now looking such things as downtown “walkability” improvements and studying pedestrian navigation patterns to significantly improve the experience of shopping. In fact, through Ross’ initiation, the town was the recent recipient of a $145,000 grant from Google to implement its new store view program, allowing app users to peek inside stores, restaurants, and public institutions like libraries and museums, before actually stepping into those venues. The grant also provides Easton a generous advertising budget to go into Washington and Baltimore media markets with its message.

The Spy caught up with Ross at the Bullitt House, where the Easton Business Alliance has their offices, to talk about the future of downtown Easton, its current challenges, and a very encouraging forecast that Easton is well positioned to adjust to this changing climate and maintain its position as one of the Eastern Shore’s most popular shopping hubs.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length. For more information about the Easton Business Alliance please go here.

 

Maryland 3.0: Mid-Shore Small Town Businesses Survive with Google Search

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For close to a decade now, small businesses, particularly in rural regions, have handled the internet in two ways. The first is to ignorant it completely, or, more typically the second way, where money is spent on having  a “web presence.” And that normally means a one page homepage. Both strategies, according to Susan Schauer John at SpiderWeb Connections, yield about the same return on investment, which is very little to nothing.

That’s because very few business owners think to optimize their website for Google searches, which goes by the charming name of search engine optimisation. And the bad news is that if your company doesn’t come up on the first page, you might as well not exist since 97% of all web users never go to the second page of results.

In her Spy interview, Susan talks about this important gap in web strategies and what can be done to make sure the best stay at the top.

This video is approximately six minutes in length 

 

Everyone, Start Your Businesses! The STRT1UP Road Show Bus Begins Its Fall 2016 Statewide Tour

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StartUpMDWashingtonCollege2Are you ready to pitch your killer business idea? Washington College’s Department of Business Management and the Upper Shore Regional Council are inviting entrepreneurs to join the 2016 STRT1UP Road Show and the Pitch Across Maryland, which is kicking off its annual statewide tour at Washington College on Saturday, Sept. 10.

The STRT1UP Road Show bus—also known as the Startup Maryland bus—travels the state each fallin a quest for and celebration of entrepreneurship and high-growth innovation-centric startup companies. At each stop, entrepreneurs can video a pitch on the bus for their existing enterprises or their dreams of start-up ventures. These video pitches are uploaded by Startup Maryland to YouTube to be reviewed at the end of the tour by Startup Maryland panelists for possible entry to the annual TEDCO Entrepreneur Expo. In 2015, eight finalists out of more than 150 pitches won this opportunity.

At the Washington College event, the Department of Business Management and Upper Shore Regional Council are inviting participants to warm up by presenting to a live audience and a panel of judges from the local business community and the College. At the end of the event, the judges will announce winners of the best business pitch and best student pitch.

The event, based in Martha Washington Square and running from 2-4:30 p.m., is open to the public, so save the date and plan to attend to hear about the exciting projects your neighbors are pursuing. If you are seeking investment capital, want to promote your budding business, or just want to get feedback on your idea for a business, please sign up to pitch. Limited taping slots are available so contact Christy Rowan at crowan2@washcoll.edu or (410) 778-7877 as soon as possible to register.

For more information about the event itself, please contact Susan Vowels at svowels2@washcoll.edu or Doris Mason at dmason@kentgov.org. More information about Startup Maryland can be found at startupmd.org.

Making It on the Shore: Alex Haschen and IAMBOOST

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There may be a website out there that is dedicated exclusively to kids from age ten to fifteen on their physical health, but Alex Haschen hasn’t found one yet. And as a result, and many years of other research, the Easton-based personal trainer turned on IAMBOAST.com last month as a web extension of his local work with young people.

In his Spy interview, Alex talks about his business model and the potential market of working with parents and children on fitness through video and quiz programming. Another example of making it on the Shore.

This video is approximately four minutes in length

Making it Work on the Shore: Piazza Finally Gets Their Kitchen

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It may seem like a simple matter to have a really serious kitchen as part of a market devoted to fresh Italian food. From pasta to soup, it goes without saying that this kind of asset would be standard for such an undertaking.

But the truth of the matter is that a serious commercial kitchen can cost these days about the same as a mid-sized house on the Eastern Shore. When you add the costs of professional-grade stoves, ranges, and mixers, as well as the significant changes in gas and electrical lines, the capital outlay is far too great for many.

And this was the case for Piazza Italian Market. Financially prevented from having their own kitchen, Piazza has spent the last seven years going from one rental kitchen to the next to produce their highly praised prepared foods and lunch fare. Not only was this a logistical nightmare, but it put a significant cap on what they could create and how much they could produce.

Not anymore. With the new year comes a new kitchen for Piazza and owner Emily Chandler. Located only a few blocks from Piazza’s retail store at Talbottown Shopping Center, this new investment corresponds to Emily’s optimism about the future of a high-quality Italian market on the Mid-Shore. In her Spy interview, Emily talks about life before and after the store had a kitchen to call her own, as well as her decision to keep Piazza’s retail space small.

This video is approximately four minutes in length

South Fork Studio Landscape Architecture Receives Industry Recognition

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South Fork Studio, an Eastern Shore-based landscape architecture firm, was honored for the quality of two separate projects by the American Society of Landscape Architects – Potomac Chapter during its 2015 Awards Banquet. The awards honor projects that demonstrate a superior quality of design and execution.

“These awards are the culmination of great partnerships with our clients,” said Miles Barnard, Principal and Founder of South Fork Studio. “It’s satisfying to be recognized for the work we were able to produce, but also sets our expectations higher moving forward. We know we can find that right balance between function and form and will seek to keep finding new ways to deliver the best work possible.”

The Chapter honored seven projects in total; South Fork Studio was the only firm to receive multiple awards – the Built Honor Award for a residence in the heart of historic Lewes, Delaware and the Built Merit Award for a project on a 122 acre farm in Kent County, MD.

The Lewes project design them of ‘historic meets contemporary’ provided a great challenge. “We designed everything outside of the home,” said Barnard, “including all the masonry steps and walls, fencing, swimming pool, water feature, paving, soils, planting, lighting and irrigation.”

“Beechwood is a special project in every way. The design assignment seemed simple enough: find a way to connect informal and formal gardens in different areas of the property and incorporate water into the design. Instead of a path with a water feature, we made the path the water feature. It’s one of the most unique projects we have ever done” said Barnard.

 

To learn more about South Fork Studio, please visit our website: http://southforkstudio.com/

More on South Fork Studio Landscape Architecture

South Fork Studio Landscape Architecture is dedicated to creating inviting, innovative and environmentally sustainable human spaces and native landscapes throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Our mission is to create and nurture a direct connection between the landscape and the people that inhabit it. Whether designing a small intimate garden room or a commercial development, our philosophy is to focus on how the needs of the people are best served by the landscape and how the landscape can be maintained as a self-sustaining and functioning ecosystem.

More on the Potomac Chapter of ASLA

The Potomac Chapter represents approximately 360 landscape architects at the local level. The purpose of ASLA is to advance the profession of Landscape Architecture in the eyes of the general public. The Chapter is the main advocacy body to advances the profession on the local level by holding events, meetings, outings and providing information regarding the profession to the local media and schools. The Chapter may also interface with municipal governments regarding local issues that could impact the profession, or the public realm.

 

Bottling Infrastructure for the Eastern Shore Wine Industry

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Bottleing2For many wineries on the Eastern Shore bottling has meant using manual equipment or calling in a mobile bottling company based in other states such as neighboring Virginia. As the industry and number of full time wineries on the shore grows the need for more available bottling infrastructure is growing.

Recognizing that need? – Crow Vineyard & Winery. The Crows began producing wines in 2010 and quickly earned their status from wine experts afar as a premiere wine making operation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. At the 2015 annual International Eastern Wine Competition held in Sonoma, California, Crow Vineyard received a gold medal for their 2013 Vidal Blanc and silver for their first ever white blend. In June, the International Women’s Wine Competition awarded Crow a double gold for their sparkling Vidal Blanc.

It has always been the dream of owner Roy Crow, growing up on a dairy farm to own his own bottling line. Roy’s dream came true albeit for wine not milk. This past spring, the Crows installed a state of the art bottling line in their winery facility. For Roy, owner of an insurance company, working farm, and successful winery, quality control and security are keys to success. Bottling is the last and one of the most important stop in the winemaking process, its where efficiency and quality care come together and where the product is carefully packaged with bottle shape, cork and sealants’ for the wine drinker. Bottling can be easily compromised by such things as humid weather conditions and unique packaging elements such as bottle shape, so it requires the utmost attention and respect. Bringing control of both equipment and timing is an important step toward premium wine production. Crow’s bottling line is Italian made by way of a Canadian winery company. It can bottle about 60 cases per hour which includes; filling, corking or screw-capping, labeling and foiling to a finished product.

The bottling line will allow Crow Vineyard & Winery to bottle when the wine is truly ready, rather than having to adhere to a 3rd party calendar and this improves quality immensely. Just finished bottling were about 1200 cases in May and June. In mid-August, the Crows will bottle their dessert wine and oak aged Chardonnay.

The Crows welcome opportunities to assist regional wineries with their bottling and for the public to view the bottling line in process. If you would like to learn more about Crow Vineyard & Winery bottling, or would like to volunteer during the bottling process, contact crowvineyardwines@gmail.com follow Crow Vineyard Facebook or call 302.304.0551.

 

 

Benchworks’ Thad Bench Finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year

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Thad Bench

Thad Bench

Ernst & Young (EY) announced that CEO Thad L. Bench, Sr. of Benchworks is a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2015 Award in the Maryland Region. The awards program recognizes entrepreneurs who demonstrate excellence and extraordinary success in such areas as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities. Thad Bench was selected as a finalist by a panel of independent judges. Award winners will be announced at a special gala event on Thursday, June 25, 2015, at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront.

Thad stated, “Being nominated as a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award is a great honor. I am proud of the people we have brought together in our organization and am delighted to see their hard work and passion recognized by this prestigious nomination.”

Benchworks is a family of operating units that includes a full-service advertising agency, a product launch logistics center as well as a consulting group focused on commercialization planning for biotech companies.

Benchworks is a multichannel strategy and execution partner, providing end-to-end marketing services from traditional print marketing to cutting-edge digital technology. Benchworks makes marketing happen graciously: by being responsible, accountable, flexible and tirelessly honest—creating innovative marketing programs that position their client partners for success. The team consists of excellent listeners, methodical strategists and nimble tacticians…and they use every ounce of those skills to ensure that their clients’ brands grow.

Regional award winners are eligible for consideration for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year National program. Award winners in several national categories, as well as the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year National Overall Award winner, will be announced at the annual awards gala in Palm Springs, California, on November 14, 2015. The awards are the culminating event of the EY Strategic Growth Forum®, the nation’s most prestigious gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies. Now in its 29th year, the program has expanded to recognize business leaders in more than 145 cities and in more than 60 countries throughout the world.

Sponsors

Founded and produced by EY, the Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards are nationally sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and SAP America. In Maryland, regional program sponsors also include the Baltimore Business Journal, DLA Piper, PNC Bank and Smart CEO. Maryland reception sponsors include DTZ, Kelly Benefit Strategies and Randstad.

Checking In: The Chester River Packet One Year Later

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Editor’s note:  Periodically, the Chestertown Spy checks in with new businesses to see how they are holding up after their first year of business. This time around, we asked Greg Kimmel, one of the owners of the river boat, to give an update. 

When the Chester River Packet was first conceived in the spring of 2013, our concerns were many. Chestertown’s deteriorating waterfront was, and remains to this date, of greatest concern. Fortunately, the town of Chestertown, with Mayer Cerino’s enthusiastic support, is making an aggressive push to revise the sins of the past owners and what remains of this once historic colonial port.

Our second concern was if we could generate enough interest from the public to operate a river tour based in Chestertown. Much to our surprise the response has been more than overwhelming.

At the completion of our first season, which started in April 2014 and ended with a New Year’s day cruise we were fortunate enough to have carried just shy of 4,700 guests. Approximately 80 percent were from in and around the Kent Queen Anne’s County area. Delaware and Pennsylvania made up the balance.

The support we received from the Kent Counties Office of Tourism, Economic Development, the county administrator and Office of Public Landings was incredible. That and the help from the town management and encouragement from Downtown Chestertown Association made this endeavor possible and allowed us to continue to operate uninhibited.

As several entities have clearly come to appreciate, Chestertown has become a destination for the traveling public. With venues such as Brittland estates and the incredible array of B & B’s within the surrounding areas, we are attracting more and more people who are enjoying “staycations “. Many of these people are returning to retire here as a result. Our local economy has evolved quickly and quietly to become dependent on tourism and the services that are aligned with the retired and semi-retired population. The Chester River Packet Company is now part of that evolution.

Having been on and around the Chester River for close to 30 years, I assumed everyone was enjoying her beauty. As Captain of the River Packet, I am astounded at the shear number of people who have only driven over and or around the river.

Once we are underway and pass Primrose Point, generally a hush comes over our passengers as they get their first unobstructed, panoramic view of the Chester River in all its splendor. It is as though we have traveled back in time. This, coupled with the breathtaking sunsets and virtually no boat traffic, has allowed us to developed an astonishing number of repeat customers.

Hopefully, we will attract as many passengers as we had done so last year. We intend to expand our routes to include departures, not only from High Street in Chestertown, from Quaker Neck Landing, which will allow us to travel the Langford Bay and Corsica River waterways.
We also intend to expand the availability of the River Packet to allow the viewing of the historic Log Canoe Races held on two separate weekends in July. The races have been held out of the public’s eye for years, and we would like to offer a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness first hand this time honored tradition.

As Captain of the River Packet, I spend a considerable amount of time these days traversing the waters of the Chester River, I never once take for granted the good fortune I have found nor the beauty of the surroundings I am so fortunate to find myself working within. If it was not for the members of the LLC, the county, town and patrons of the River Packet none of this would be possible.

I thank everyone and hope they will join us again this season.