Church Hill Theatre’s “The Hostage” – Bright and Bawdy, Irreverent and Tender

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High-stepping at the brothel. “The Hostage” at Church Hill Theatre – Photo by Jane Jewell

Brendan Behan’s The Hostage, currently playing at Church Hill Theatre, is a rowdy, irreverent look at an Irish pub and brothel in mid-20th century Dublin. Filled with drunks, rebels, prostitutes, and the occasional innocent, the play is a wild document of a time when imagination was hard-pressed to keep up with reality.

The Hostage is an expansion, in English, of a one-act play in Gaelic (the Irish Celtic language) by Behan, which debuted in Dublin in 1958. The author translated it into English for performance at Joan Littleton’s Theatre Workshop at Royal Stratford East later that same year. The Royal Stratford performance involved a good deal of improvisation, which Behan incorporated into the script for subsequent productions in London and on Broadway.

Behan, born in 1923 to a family strongly committed to Irish independence, was a prolific writer, with novels, short stories and poetry in both English and Gaelic to his credit. He joined the Irish Republican Army at age 16, and spent time in prison both in England and Ireland on account of his activities. Released in 1946 as part of a general amnesty, he spent the early 1950s in Paris, where he matured as a writer. With the production of his play The Quare Fellow in 1954 – which opened on Broadway the following year – he became an international celebrity, moving to New York and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Arthur Miller, Dylan Thomas, and the young Bob Dylan. Poor health, exacerbated by years of heavy drinking, led to his death in 1963.

As with much Irish literature, The Hostage runs the gamut from broad comedy to political commentary to heartbreak. The characters frequently break into song and dance – assisted by an on-stage pianist – with numbers ranging from music-hall favorites to IRA anthems to bawdy parody. It’s an overwhelming two-hours-plus experience, made even headier by the thick Irish dialect adopted by the actors.

The plot is simple: Pat, who runs the pub, is a former IRA commander who still has ties to the movement. Prime among them is an elderly IRA officer known as Monsewer who actually owns the property. In response to the scheduled execution of a young IRA soldier in Belfast, the IRA kidnaps a young English soldier who is brought to the house as a hostage. The action takes place in the afternoon and evening of one day.

Director Pat Patterson recounts his own experience in an early 1970s production of the play, when tensions between the English and Irish were on the rise. The program book also includes a brief history of the conflict between the two nations by John Haas, and a glossary of some of the unfamiliar terms and references in the script. It’s both helpful and interesting and I suggest reading it either before or after seeing the play.

Christopher Wallace as Pat, the Irish Resistance fighter and his consort Meg, played by Christine Kinlock. She sees right through him! – Photo by Steve Atkinson

The play has a large cast, with 15 characters including Kelly the pianist, a role shared by Julie Lawrence and Philip Dutton. (Lawrence took the role the night we saw the play.) Randy Welch, offstage for most of the production, provides bagpipe music for Monsewer.

Christopher Wallace plays Pat, the hard-drinking caretaker of the house. He is in some ways the moral center of the play, especially toward the end where he shows himself a good bit more humane than the fanatical nationalists around him. A member of the CHT board, Wallace has appeared in a number of productions – this is definitely one of his best performances yet.

“The Hostage” at Church Hill Theatre – Photo by Jane Jewell

Pat’s consort Meg is played by Christine Kinlock, most recently seen in Earl Lewin’s Hitched. Meg is the practical inn- and brothel-keeper who sees life clearly. Unlike her man and fellow innkeeper Pat, she is no longer full of dreams of past and future glory in the Irish Resistance. Though still an Irish patriot, she is very aware of day-to-day realities. She wants the rent paid! Yet Meg is still sympathetic, especially to young lovers. Kinlock brings out all these qualities very nicely. This represents a different kind of role than Kinlock usually plays and she definitely rises to the occasion.

Herb Ziegler returns to the Church Hill stage in the role of Monsewer, the kilted, bagpipe-playing former IRA officer who owns the house and is just a little touched in the head. He slowly marches into and out of the room, turning precise military corners and “reviewing” the house’s residents as if they were his platoon. It’s a character that could easily be overplayed, but Ziegler nicely balances the absurdity of the character with the serious political viewpoint he represents. His name, actually a title/nickname, is a satiric mispronunciation of the French honorific “monsieur“. And in another clearly intentional ironic twist, the Irish patriot character Monsewer is actually English born and bred. There’s no zealot like a convert! It’s good to see Herb back on the boards!

Miss Gilchrist (Hester Sachse) gets her moves on while innkeeper Meg (far right, Christine Kinlock) and the ladies of the house watch.  “The Hostage” at Chruch Hill Theatre –  Photo by Jane Jewell

The hostage after whom the play is named, an English soldier named Leslie Williams, is played by Max Hagan. Making his CHT debut. Hagan is convincing as the innocent victim of political gamesmanship, and he deploys a Cockney accent effectively – never quite surrendering clarity to authenticity. A nice job – let’s hope he returns to CHT often.

Maya McGrory is well cast as Teresa, the young maid who falls in love with the hostage Leslie. Petite and blonde, she looks perfect for the part of the orphaned country lass who gives her heart to the captured enemy soldier. Still a Queen Anne’s High School junior, McGrory has been a regular CHT cast member. She conveys shyness, sweetness, and innocence—or as much innocence as a maid in brothel can have. An excellent job.

Hester Sachse, executive director of CHT, takes to the stage as an overbearing social worker, Miss Gilchrest – and does a fine job in the part. She amusingly handles the transition from the character’s stiff-necked peddling of shallow pieties to her considerably looser persona after she’s had a few pints of Guinness.

“The Hostage” at Church Hill Theatre – Photo by Steve Atkinson

Howard Messick, also fresh from an appearance in Hitched, is cast as Mr. Mulleady, a civil servant who spends most of his time in the brothel. Paul Briggs is quite convincing as a fanatical IRA officer who brings the prisoner to the house. Charles Michael Moore and Kellan Paddy are cast as a gay couple, Rio Rita and Princess Grace, who liven the stage with bawdy song and dance – including “We’re Here Because We’re Queer.” They’re wittily sarcastic and dressed to the nines in sexy styles in bright colors.

Natalie Lane, in her first role at CHT, and Michelle Christopher, who has stage-managed numerous plays at the theater, play two of the prostitutes, Collette and Ropeen. They saunter around the stage in sexy, skimpy bustiers and negligees, the perfect image of world-weary prostitutes who have seen it all. Eamon Murphy, a graduate of the CHT Green Room Gang, does a good job as an IRA soldier sent to guard the hostage, and Troy Strootman, last seen on the CHT stage in Biloxi Blues, has an amusing part as a drunken Russian sailor.

Ordinarily, I might complain about some of the singers being a bit out of tune at times, but in the context of this play it’s exactly right – in fact, if they sounded too professional it’d undercut the effect. The Irish accents are thick enough that it’s sometimes hard to follow the dialogue. But it’s well worth listening – there’s plenty of meat underneath the colorful exterior.

Monsewer (Herb Zeigler) in his kilt lectures Pat (Christopher Wallace) while the hostage, Leslie, Max Hagan) looks on. “The Hostage” at Church Hill Theatre – Photo by Jane Jewell

All of the action takes place in one large barroom, with a stairway leading up to various rooms. However, a bed in the center of the stage represents the room where Leslie is kept. It’s a comparatively simple set, which the production makes good use of. Kudos to set designer Michael Whitehill.

On the whole, The Hostage is an exhilarating experience, with a talented cast delivering a script that ranges from the scurrilous to the poetic – sometimes hitting both extremes in a matter of moments. In the tradition of Irish writers from Johnathan Swift to James Joyce, the play is at once hilarious and deeply serious about the contradictions of human nature, especially as it manifests itself in the struggle for freedom.

The Hostage runs through Nov. 18, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and matinees at 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for CHT members and $10 for students – though the play’s language and subject matter may not be suitable for very young students. For more information or to make reservations, call 410-556-6003 or visit the theater website.

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Social Action Committee Interviews: Kent County School Board Candidates

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School board candidate Nivek Johnson with interviewers Charles Taylor, Arlene Lee, and Airlee Johnson

The Kent County Social Action Committee conducted interviews of candidates for three local offices that are up for election this November. The interviews were conducted over three days in October. 

Running for Board of Education seats are incumbents Wendy Costa and Trish McGee and new candidates Nivek Johnson and Francoise Sullivan. There are three seats to be filled. Election to the board is non-partisan, and the ballot does not list the candidates’ party affiliation.

The first question for Board of Education candidates noted that the schools had experienced “very serious violence and racism” during the previous school year. It asked candidates how, if elected, they would create a Kent County Public School system that is “fair, equitable and effective for all students, including students of color.

Nivek Johnson, the first to be interviewed, said that a lot of school systems are facing similar problems. He said he would encourage the County Superintendent to look into restorative justice, an approach that encourages students to resolve conflicts on their own, by bringing them together in small peer groups to talk, ask questions and air grievances. Also, he said, a round table discussion about issues of racism and violence would allow teachers to bring problems to a fair resolution without resorting to punishment. He said he had experienced the positive effects of restorative justice while teaching at St. Peter and Paul’s in Easton.

Francoise Sullivan said that many of the “ugly events” last year were the result of the board’s decision to bring in an outside contractor for school buses. She said she favored starting to talk about racism at an early age, pointing to the Students Talking About Racism (STAR) program at the middle school. She said her own daughter, an elementary school student in the county, had been told by classmates she should only play with “others like her” – “I was appalled,” Sullivan said. 

School board candidate Francoise Sullivan with interviewers Charles Taylor and Arlene Lee

Trish McGee, currently President of the Board of Education, said the board doesn’t have the power a lot of people think it does. The Superintendent and staff make the day-to-day decisions. She endorsed the steps taken last year, including a multicultural committee at Kent County Middle School. “It’s important to communicate and give value to everyone’s story,” she said.

Wendy Costa also endorsed restorative justice. She said it should be used throughout society, beginning in the schools. Also, she said, students need to visit institutions such as the Smithsonian African American Museum in Washington. Seeing different perspectives and having diverse friends can do a lot to defuse racial problems, as well, she said. Black History month should expand its material beyond the accomplishments of Martin Luther King. And students need to read more, especially reading books in common so they share more experiences with one another – she suggested the biography of Frederick Douglass and “The Color of Water” as books that would give students a wider understanding.

The candidates were asked whether they were willing to take part in a workshop on racism and whether they would require school system staff to do so. Johnson, Sullivan, and McGee said they would participate; Johnson described himself as “a huge advocate” for the training and encouraged the superintendent to pursue the idea for staff. Sullivan said it should be done for all staff and teachers, and McGee she would “encourage it in the strongest way” for board members and top staff. It would also be beneficial for students, she said, commending the STAR student group for taking on the issues of racism. “I need to do this for myself,” she said.

Kent County school board President Trish McGee

Costa said she was unfamiliar with the workshop, but that the schools “should do this kind of thing.” She said she had done similar things in other districts she had been involved with, including attending Challenge Day at the schools every year.

Candidates were also asked about ways to improve recruiting of minority teachers and administrators in the county. Johnson noted that Kent County has “a unique makeup” – its small size means that people outside the area aren’t familiar with it. He said that recruiting more teachers of color was something he had always advocated. He suggested sending retired teachers and other stakeholders to colleges outside the area to show how much the county has to offer. He also said that many black students don’t see the benefits of a teaching career, and need to be shown. He said he would work with the county commissioners on economic development as a way to make the county more attractive to new teachers.

Sullivan said there is a nationwide teacher shortage, and that the county should broaden its outreach to historically black colleges. She said that inviting candidates to visit the county, with residents hosting them in their homes – as the National Music Festival does with its performers – would be a promising approach. “We need to set a percentage of what diversity should look like,” she said, adding that the percentage should be increased every five years. Also, she said, it is important to convert new hires into teachers who stay here instead of leaving for jobs elsewhere. She suggested that the county schools partner with Washington College to become a “teacher factory” for the rest of the state.

McGee said the failure to attract teachers of color has been an issue for a long time. She said the county had hired 25 teachers for the current school year, two of whom were black and two Hispanic. She said she had spoken to Superintendent Karen Couch about it on a number of occasions, but the job of recruitment really depends on the human resources staff. “There were more teachers of color when I was in high school,” she said, noting that it’s important for students to have diverse role models. She said, “We need to go beyond the schools” to involve people from the business community and other local stakeholders in the recruitment process. “Kent County is a hard egg to crack for a new person coming in,” she said, and the retention rate of first- and second-year teachers is “not very good.” She also noted that expecting Washington College to fill the teacher shortage might not be realistic – “there were very few people of color when I was there,” she said – and added that teachers hired from the college don’t tend to stay any longer than those hired from other areas.

School board member Wendy Costa and interviewer Ned Southworth

Costa also commented on the national teacher shortage. She said Kent County gets a lot of its teachers from Pennsylvania and Delaware. She said attracting more teachers, including teachers of color, is a question of making the system competitive with others, especially in terms of salaries. Teachers have traditionally not been treated like professionals, she said, giving the example of expecting them to perform lunch and bus duty – jobs that could be done by volunteers or non-teaching staff. If teaching were a more attractive profession in general, more people of color would be involved. As far as partnering with Washington College, it would be “great, but it’s not going to solve the problem.”

The candidates were also asked about ways to involve more students in after-school activities when parents or caregivers are unable to provide transportation to those activities because of work schedules or lack of a car. “I’m a proponent of after-school activities,” said Johnson. He said the board needs to put pressure on the county commissioners to provide more funding for schools. Also, he said, the board needs to look at its own budget to find money for after-school buses. He would work with the school district’s financial department to find funding. “It can be done and it should be done,” he said.

“It’s an issue for a lot of parents,” Sullivan said. “We need to address it on a big scale.” She noted that many families need both parents to work and that it’s the school district’s responsibility to make opportunities available to all its students.

McGee said that after-school transportation was one of the casualties of the schools’ recent budget crunch. While there used to be late buses, there haven’t been any for “a long time,” she said. Given the comparatively high levels of poverty in the county, most families need both parents to work, and they can’t get back to school to bring their children home. Transportation is “a county-wide issue,“ not just a problem with the schools, she said, and there’s no money to make it work.

To Costa, the lack of transportation is one of the biggest problems. One issue is the fact that school hours are “divorced from” parents’ work schedules. “That’s got to change,” she said, with school hours more congruent with work hours. She said the transportation issues also affect academic work, making it difficult for the schools to provide activities such as debate teams or math and science clubs.

School board candidates were also asked whether they would take and encourage teachers and administrators how they would support an expanded volunteer system in the schools; and what are ways for the schools to become innovative while still working within the state’s requirements, such as physical education, recess, and relevant local content such as African American history and culture.

Interviewers included SAC members Paul Tue, Charles Taylor, Airlee Johnson, Sherrie Tilghman, Ned Southworth, Arlene Lee, and Mel Rappelyea.

The interview questions were compiled based on issues raised at a joint meeting of the Social Action Committee and the Kent County branch of the NAACP. “Our questions posed to the candidates were based on the survey of many people at a joint meeting of the NAACP-Kent Branch and the Social Action Committee in May 2018. The members of both groups identified their primary concerns, needs, and passions regarding the quality of life and justice issues currently in Kent County. The Political Action Subcommittee of the SAC then took those responses and formulated the questions posed to the candidates, specific to each of the offices represented.

The final questions – between 9 and 11 per candidate, depending on the office – were drafted by the SAC’s political committee. As might be expected from the groups creating the questions, a number of them focused on racial issues affecting the local community. 

Each candidate was asked the same questions as others for the same office, in separate one-hour sessions. They did not see the questions until they arrived for the interview, at which point they were given a few minutes to look them over. Occasionally the interviewers would ask follow-up questions or request clarification, but in general, the candidates were allowed to take their answers in whatever direction they wanted. As a result, not all candidates gave equally long answers to all the questions.

The Social Action Committee consists of about 100 community members of all ages, who came together in 2017 to address racism in the community. The SAC is comprised of a number of subcommittees, each with a specific focus to actively dismantle racism in the community in areas such as education, jobs/employment, politics, and community social events/observances. The committee meets at Sumner Hall at 6 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. All community members are welcome. For more information, contact Rosemary Ramsey Granillo, Director of the Local Management Board:  Office:  410-810-2673; email:  rramseygranillo@kentgov.org.

Kent County Early Voting Hits New High!

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There were seven paper ballot booths and one electronic voting booth in the voting center at the Kent County Library for Early Voting. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Early Voting in Maryland ended yesterday, and official records indicate that the turnout topped all expectations.

According to Cheemoandia Blake, Kent County Director of Elections, 2,999 county voters, 22.8% of those registered, had cast their ballots as of the close of voting at 8:00 pm on Thursday, Nov. 1.

For comparison, in the 2014 gubernatorial election, 1,969 county voters took part in early voting, for a 15.47% turnout. This year’s total nearly matches that in 2016 — a presidential election, when turnout is almost always higher — when the county saw 3,364 early voters, nearly 26% of those eligible.

Alice and Garnett Demby of Chestertown were the last two voters in Kent County Early Voting at 7:58 pm on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. – Photo by Jane Jewell

As of the close of polls on Tuesday, the early voting totals included 1,249 Democrats, 756 Republicans, and 295 others — including Green, Libertarian, and unaffiliated voters. The total accounts for 20% of registered Democrats, 15.5% of Republicans, and 12.7% of other voters. On the final day of voting, 442 voters appeared at the polls, of whom 242 were Democrats, 146 Republicans, and 54 other parties or unaffiliated. These figures represent party registration only; how they actually voted won’t be known until the complete vote is tabulated after the close of polls Tuesday.

As of the end of September, there were 13,139 voters registered in the county. The total does not include new voters who registered during early voting, although that number is not expected to be large. Under Maryland law, 17-year-olds are allowed to register and vote in early voting, as long as their 18th birthday occurs before Election Day, Nov. 6.

New voters needed to register by Nov. 1 to vote on Election Day. A proposed amendment for Maryland’s state constitution on this year’s ballot would allow voters to register and vote on Election Day in future elections.

Early Voting poll workers finish up for the day.  

Early voting was reportedly heavy throughout Maryland, with more than twice the number who cast early ballots in the 2014 gubernatorial election having voted by Thursday, according to an article in the Baltimore Sun. National reports indicate a similarly large turnout in other states.

Tameka Johnson, Kent County Elections Technician stands by the daily totals of posted on the wall in the library. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Poll worker Allen Christy was in charge of the scanner, helping voters scan their ballot and troubleshooting any problems. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Chief Election Judge Sam Johnston with the official locked folder. – Photo by Jane Jewell

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Social Action Committee Interviews: Kent County Commission Candidates

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Tom Timberman, candidate for Kent County Commission, is interviewed by members of the Social Action Committee. From left: Tilera Wright; Timberman; Paul Tue; Arlene Lee; Airlee Johnson

The Kent County Social Action Committee conducted interviews of candidates for three local offices that are up for election this November. The interviews were conducted over three days early in October. The first two four-hour sessions were held at Sumner Hall, while the final group of candidates was interviewed on the second floor of Chestertown Town Hall. No audience was present for the sessions; only members of the Social Action Committee and representatives of the press were in the room. 

The interview questions were compiled based on issues raised at a joint meeting of the Social Action Committee and the Kent County branch of the NAACP. “Our questions posed to the candidates were based on the survey of many people at a joint meeting of the NAACP-Kent Branch and the Social Action Committee in May 2018. The members of both groups identified their primary concerns, needs, and passions regarding the quality of life and justice issues currently in Kent County. The Political Action Subcommittee of the SAC then took those responses and formulated the questions posed to the candidates, specific to each of the offices represented (i.e., the Board of Commissioners, the Board of Education, the State’s Attorney’s Office).

The final questions – between 9 and 11 per candidate, depending on the office – were drafted by the SAC’s political committee. As might be expected from the groups creating the questions, a number of them focused on racial issues affecting the local community. 

The candidates for County Commissioner include the three incumbents – Democrats William Pickrum and Ron Fithian and Republican Billy Short – along with Democrat Tom Timberman and Republicans Tom Mason and Bob Jacob. There are three seats to be filled, and the three candidates receiving the highest vote totals will be elected.

Each candidate was asked the same questions as others for the same office, in separate one-hour sessions. They did not see the questions until they arrived for the interview, at which point they were given a few minutes to look them over. Occasionally the interviewers would ask follow-up questions or request clarification, but in general, the candidates were allowed to take their answers in whatever direction they wanted. As a result, not all candidates gave equally long answers to all the questions.

Candidates for County Commissioner were asked nine questions, beginning with “Please describe how you see racism in Kent County,” and “What will you do to lead Kent County in the dismantling of the current barriers experienced by people of color in this County?”

Timberman, who was the first to be interviewed, said he was stunned to see physical segregation in Kent County. “It’s the worst I’ve seen in the United States,” he said. He said there is discrimination in employment and in the public schools and a lack of affordable housing in the towns. “The economy is the key to everything,” he said, citing a “Kent 2025 Strategic Plan” he has crafted as part of his campaign. The county will “collapse” unless it can bring in more businesses and residents to provide more tax revenue to county government. He said a “21st Century technical training center” could be a key step toward developing job skills for a modern economy.

Tom Mason (left), answers questions from Charles Taylor, Arlene Lee and Airlee Johnson of the Social Action Committee

Mason, who also interviewed on the first day, said there seems to be “a division between people,” and that they “don’t seem to want to mix.” “It’s always seemed to be that way,” he said, noting that he had attended a meeting of the county commissioners where State Highway Administration officials delivered their annual report and saw no African Americans there. He said that African American leaders “need to step up and involve people in programs.” He said he grew up in Cecil County, where he said segregation and racial divisions “weren’t an issue. I never experienced it.” “Some of my best friends are black,” he said. He said that the commissioners need to be open to community leaders and do whatever is needed to remove barriers. “But it has to be both ways – it’s hard to involve people if they don’t show up,” he said.

Kent County Commissioner William Pickrum (left) answers questions from SAC members Ned Southworth and Sherrie Tilghman

Pickrum, who was born in Kent County and graduated from then-segregated Garnet High School, said he was “very familiar with discrimination and racism.” He noted that when he moved back to the county some 25 years ago, after a career in the U.S. Coast Guard and in aviation, he attended a county economic development meeting where he was the only black person present and was asked: “Who are you and why are you here?” “Irritated” by that question, Pickrum said, he got involved in politics. He said there is a “lack of welcome” still prevalent today, more among natives of the county than in recent arrivals. “I don’t see anyone like me,” he said, when he visits stores and banks in Chestertown. He said that lack of welcome is the reason many black people don’t take part in community events. For his part, Pickrum said, during his time on the commission, the county hired its first black department heads and its first female department heads, plus its first two female county administrators. He said he had worked to find people of color for county boards and commissions. The fight against discrimination is an on-going process, he said.

County Commissioner Ron Fithian answers a question as SAC member Airlee Johnson listens

Fithian said that when he grew up in Rock Hall, there was plenty of work for everyone, with many people of color working as watermen. “We worked together and played together,” he said. “Some of my best friends are African-American.” He went on to describe his relationship with various individuals over the years. “Sure, racism exists,” he said. “But it doesn’t with me; I do what I can to deal with it,” treating others the way they treat him. Fithian noted that several important department heads at the county are people of color, including the warden of the county detention center, Herbert Dennis, and Myra Butler, director of Parks and Recreation, and other employees “throughout our system.” He added that he had fired one county employee for being disrespectful to African Americans. “Racism is around because people don’t understand one another,” he said.

Candidate Bob Jacob with SAC interviewers Mel Rapelyea and Arlene Lee

Jacob, another Rock Hall native, told of playing baseball and other sports on the same teams as African Americans. “Race didn’t matter,” he said. “We went to school together, we rode together to games. We never thought about race.” He said he had heard about job discrimination in the county, but not what specific jobs were affected by it. He said it should be “a priority” to end discrimination – “We should be past this. This is 2018. It blows my mind that people are still like that. It’s all about getting the job done,” he said.

Billy Short, who has been a commissioner for six years, described himself as “one of the naïve ones” about racial issues. He said he was born and raised in the Big Woods area, where many of his neighbors were African Americans. “I don’t stereotype people or judge them by their color,” he said. He said he does hear people “being nasty,” which he described as an unfortunate part of “the culture we live in now.” He said that many of the barriers black residents face are “in the private sector.” He said there are plenty of job openings in the county, with more people coming into the county to work than commuting outside the county for jobs. “I don’t know how to force people to work,” he said.

Commissioner Billy Short and SAC interviewer Arlene Lee

All the candidates were asked whether they would agree to complete racism-awareness training or attend an Undoing Racism workshop during their first year in office and whether they would ensure that their staff would take such training. All agreed that they would take such training and that they would request that their staff do so. Timberman said he was surprised that county staff had not already been asked to take such training, and added that sexual harassment training should also be required. He said such training would be one of his highest priorities. Mason said he would hope that county staff had already had training on racism – “If not, why not?” Short said the county’s personnel department had already conducted some workshops for staff. Pickrum said he had received such training while in the U.S. Coast Guard. He said such training is an ongoing process with county staff, though he added that it was “not as robust as I’d like.”

On a question about what initiatives they would take in their first 120 days in office to increase the number of jobs in the county, the incumbents naturally had a different perspective than their challengers. Pickrum pointed out that local government does not create jobs. It can “level the playing fields and facilitate the process,” he said. He noted that the county has built infrastructure, such as the fiber-optic cable it has financed, and made an effort to see that its students are trained for the “jobs of tomorrow.” He also pointed to the “Hot Desks” facility created partly by the county economic development office as a way to make opportunities for entrepreneurs within the county.

It’s tough to bring in jobs,” said Fithian. He said that students graduating from high school – including his own daughter – often find it necessary to leave the county to find suitable work. He said he hoped the fiber-optic installation would bring in some jobs. He said the county’s successful efforts to retain Dixon Valve would be rewarded by new employment opportunities, and suggested that the newly upgraded Route 301 corridor, which the county has designated as a growth area, would lure new employers, especially around Millington.

Jobs are here if people want to work,” said Short, pointing to Dixon Valve, which he said will bring in 400 to 700 jobs in its expanded facilities. The new Chesapeake 5 movie theater, to which the commissioners extended a $75,000 loan, will bring in 15 to 20 jobs. And the Route 310 corridor could be expected to bring in jobs with its improved access to the Middletown Delaware area. He ranked the fiber-optic installation as the best thing the current commissioners had done for the economy, with the retention of Dixon Valve second best.

Mason said he would direct the county’s economic development office to spread the message that “Kent County is open for business.” He said the developers of Dollar General stores told him that Kent County was one of the worst places to build, that they had to “fight, fight, fight” to get anything approved. He pointed to the Route 301 corridor as “a golden opportunity,” and that the county should do anything possible to start development there. He said Queen Anne’s County is already working to exploit the potential, with the attitude in Queen Anne that “Kent won’t do anything.” He also said current businesses should be encouraged to expand. He pointed out that every new chicken house built by a farmer would increase the county’s property tax base.

Timberman said the county should develop a strategic plan including the five incorporated towns, with local businesses’ input. He said the county also needs to focus on the needs of seniors, with residents over 60 years old constituting 38 percent of the population. Identifying what they need could be a key to areas of economic expansion, with areas such as health care, housing, and physical training as opportunities. He would also move funding from the tourism office to economic development – they’re not separate operations, he said. While he would start these efforts in the first 120 days, realistically speaking they would take years to complete, he said.

Jacob said he would talk about the school board budget earlier in the year and launch a study of why the county’s revenues and population are not increasing. He said the county needs to find out why the schools lost 61 students since last year. “We need people here to increase revenues,” he said. The county “can’t just live off Dixon Valve and Lamotte,” he said. “You need people to live here – you can’t tax commuters.” He said that many of the county’s vacant houses could be rental properties for vacationers.

Other questions for County Commission candidates focused on ways to bridge the achievement gap between students of color and white students in the county schools; ways to use public/private partnerships to provide public transportation and affordable housing in the county; and ways to encourage local employers to develop workforces comprised of local residents.

Interviewers included SAC members Paul Tue, Charles Taylor, Airlee Johnson, Sherrie Tilghman, Ned Southworth, Arlene Lee, and Mel Rappelyea.

The spy will report on interviews with the candidates for States Attorney and for the county Board of Education in upcoming articles. 

The Social Action Committee consists of about 100 community members of all ages, who came together in 2017 to address racism in the community. The SAC is comprised of a number of subcommittees, each with a specific focus to actively dismantle racism in the community in areas such as education, jobs/employment, politics, and community social events/observances. The committee meets at Sumner Hall at 6 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. All community members are welcome. For more information, contact Rosemary Ramsey Granillo, Director of the Local Management Board:  Office:  410-810-2673; email:  rramseygranillo@kentgov.org.

Mid-Shore Arts: Sumner Hall Presents Roots of African American Music

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The MSG Acoustic Blues Trio, the opening act for the Sumner Hall concert series

Chestertown’s Sumner Hall begins a new venture this fall with a stellar concert series, “African American Legacy & Heritage in Jazz, Blues & Gospel.” The series, featuring local and nationally-known performers, is produced by Tom McHugh, well known for his work at the Mainstay in Rock Hall.

Since retiring from the Mainstay, McHugh has worked with the arts programs at the Kent County public schools, bringing recognition to the art teachers and students and working to bring in artists to help expand the students’ horizons. Now, working in a volunteer capacity with Sumner Hall, he has drawn on his many contacts throughout the music world to assemble a concert series to represent the rich spectrum of African American music, from spirituals and blues to the giants of jazz. McHugh was joined by Sumner Hall President Larry Wilson for a Spy interview on the concert series.

Musician Karen Somerville with Tom McHugh, producer of the concert series and director of Arts in Motion – Photo by Jane Jewell

McHugh said the inspiration for the series came when he was at Sumner Hall for an event and read a poster on the wall that made him think about the role of music in African American life in Kent County and how that links to the mission of Sumner Hall. “It’s a poster that just makes you think,” he said. The series inspired by it “is intended to be the legacy of African American contributions to blues and jazz and folk music.”

Reggie Harris

The first performer he thought of was Reggie Harris, guitarist, songwriter and storyteller extraordinaire. McHugh said, “Reggie has this reputation of being able to pull all these currents together.” He said that whenever he brought Harris in for a concert, “I just let him roll,” knowing the result would be right for the situation and the audience. When McHugh called Harris – even before contacting anyone at Sumner Hall – to tell him about the idea of a concert series to present “snapshots” of the different musical genres, Harris said, “I’m in.”

McHugh then began looking for other performers, particularly those who could take the history “way back,” which was when he found out about the MSG Acoustic Blues Trio, a Washington DC-based group that presents the Piedmont Blues style associated with such artists as Cephas and Wiggans. McHugh said MSG had performed at Archie Edwards’ barbershop in Washington, which featured live performances while Edwards cut hair. The group was referred to McHugh by Dave Robinson, a fixture of the Washington jazz scene, who brought a DC-area youth band to the Chestertown Jazz Festival a year ago. Robinson referred McHugh to Archie Edwards Barbershop Foundation and they recommended MSG Acoustic Blues Trio. “You have to get these people…they entertain and educate the audience about the Piedmont blues traditions,” Robinson said.

Larry Wilson, president of Sumner Hall Board of Directors – Photo by Jane Jewell

Having secured those two groups, McHugh said, he felt the rest would be a matter of “filling in.” He presented the idea to some of the Sumner Hall leadership, and the project began to take shape. He said that all the artists had agreed to perform for less than their normal fees, many of them because of their previous experience with McHugh at the Mainstay.

Phil Dutton

He talked about the performers, many of whom are already familiar to local audiences – especially Philip Dutton and Karen Somerville. For their performances in this series, McHugh asked both of them to stretch beyond what audiences have come to expect. Dutton, who usually appears with his band the Alligators, will do a solo set, talking about the influences on his playing. McHugh described Dutton as “a scholar” of the different styles of New Orleans piano playing.

Somerville, best known for gospel performances with the Sombarkin trio, will pay tribute to Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin – two of the most revered voices in African American music. McHugh said that he and Somerville have been friends for at least 25 years, and he described her as his main link to the Kent County African American community during his first few years here, introducing him to important members of the community and filling him in on bits of local history.

Pianist Daryl Davis and guitarist Guy Davis (no relation) have been regulars at the Mainstay, with Daryl Davis a frequent performer at Rock Hall Fall Fests. McHugh has known Guy Davis for many years, since inviting him to demonstrate slide guitar at a blues class he was teaching at Vassar. Guy Davis and Reggie Harris played a memorable concert at Sumner Hall a couple of years ago.

Guy Davis – photo by Joseph A. Rosen

One of the less familiar performers is Jason Blythe, a young tenor sax player from the jazz program at the University of Delaware, whom Mchugh heard when the U. Del. big jazz band played at the Mainstay. McHugh described Blythe as “a natural” musician. Learning that one of Blythe’s favorite tenor players is the late Lester Young, McHugh challenged him to recreate Young’s 1946 trio with Nat “King” Cole on piano and Buddy Rich on drums. Blythe recruited two members of the U. Del. faculty to fill out the trio.

McHugh said that each of the performers has agreed to talk about the music with the audience and to answer any questions. “It might have to do with your instrument, or it might have to do with how you got into this music, so people can take those stories out into the community,” he said. In some cases – notably with Daryl Davis, who has made an ongoing effort to meet and engage with members of the Ku Klux Klan – the discussion may range far beyond the music. That’s part of the point – as important as the music is in its own right, it has an important role as part of African American life, and draws on all aspects of the black experience in this country.

Daryl Davis

Wilson reminisced about the music he heard while growing up in Kent County. He and his friends listened to the black-run radio stations, WSID and WEBB from Baltimore and WANN from Annapolis until they went off the air at sundown, then switched to the Baltimore Top 40 station, WCAO – where much of the same music was crossing over into the pop mainstream. He said he hoped the concert series would attract more members of the local African American community – especially young listeners — to Sumner Hall

With this goal in mind, 20 tickets will be set aside for each concert for Special Guests. The concerts’ website notes that there are many members of the community who may be unable to purchase a ticket but who are either a part of the local African American music scene in the region or who are students and youth who would love to attend. Anyone interested in sponsoring one of these community members can purchase a “Sponsor a Special Guest” ticket in addition to their own, and Sumner Hall will make sure that ticket goes to a deserving local music fan. “Sponsor a Special Guest” tickets are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said of the concert series. “Each one is different in its own way but it brings a light to the music.”  The musicians will open the floor for questions and discussion at the end of each concert.  Most concerts are on Saturday, a couple on Friday evenings.  Shows begin at 7:00 pm. The complete series schedule is below.

Everyone involved in the production is spreading the word through email and other media, so anyone interested would be well advised to make advance reservations online here https://aalhconcertseries.eventbrite.com.  The series is supported in part by a generous donation from the Hedgelawn Foundation.

All shows begin at 7 p.m.  Tickets are $20 each.  The hall seats just a little over 100. Advance ticket sales only. No tickets will be sold at the door.See their website for more information on Sumner Hall and other upcoming events.

The complete schedule:

November 10 – MSG Acoustic Blues Trio Showcases the Piedmont Blues
December 8 – Daryl Davis Offers Boogie Woogie and a Message
February 9 – Phil Dutton Plays New Orleans Piano
March 1 – Guy Davis is on the Road with Blues and Songster Ramblings
April 13 – Jason Blythe & University of Delaware Band Re-create the Lester Young Trio
May 11 – Karen Somerville Sings Mahalia, Aretha. . . and More
June 1 – Reggie Harris Wraps It Up

Sumner Hall
206 S. Queen Street
Chestertown, MD 21620
phone 443 282 0023. 

Cerino Gives Council Marina Update

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Mayor Chris Cerino points to extended piers on a map of the upgraded Chestertown marina

Renovations at the Chestertown marina are nearing completion – just in time for Downrigging weekend.

At the Chestertown Council meeting Oct. 15, Mayor Chris Cerino updated the council on progress of the work, with help of a slide show “photo essay” including before-and-after photos and relevant figures. “This is a very ambitious project for a town of our size,” he said, “probably the most ambitious capital project we’ve ever undertaken.”

Cerino began with a reminder of the reasons the town decided to purchase the marina for roughly $2 million in April of 2012. Primary among them was the desire to preserve public access to the river, which would be jeopardized if the facility were converted to condos – its likely fate if it remained in private hands. Also, the marina represents an important part of the town’s history as a port , dating all the way to its founding in 1706. And the town’s ability to obtain government grants and other funding not available to private parties made the purchase easier to justify. Cerino said the marina was essentially operating at a break-even level before the current round of repairs.

The vitality of the marina and the adjacent waterfront are important keys to the economic health of the town, which is tied in many ways to its ability to attract tourists. “It’s a critical facility for two of our largest tourist events, Tea Party and Downrigging,” he said, noting that the latter festival would not be possible without a functional marina. And with Washington College expanding its presence on the waterfront, the upgrading of the marina makes even more sense, he said.

When the town purchased the marina, Cerino said, “There was not one square foot of this site that didn’t have major, major problems.” Among the issues that needed to be addressed were deterioration of the docks and bulkheads – the latter of which he said were “essentially nonexistent” — and persistent flooding of the parking lot. Cerino said the flooding, which occurs during high tides or after storms, has been worse this year than he has ever seen in 25 years living here. To remedy the flooding, the parking lot and adjacent boardwalks have been raised nearly two feet. Concrete retaining walls have been added to prevent the fill from being washed away by stormwater runoff or extreme high tides. At one point during the bulkhead replacement, the town brought in a diver so the work could be continued during high tide.

Sultana crew members wading through tidal overflow at the marina — photo from slide show by Chris Cerino

While flooding has been a major problem on the land side of the marina, the boat slips faced the opposite problem, with silting reducing the depth of many of the slips to the point they were unusable. The entire boat basin has been dredged to provide a minimum 6-foot depth – and by extending the piers, the marina now offers a significant number of slips at 12 to 18 feet deep. Cerino said the availability of these slips makes the Chestertown marina one of only a few in the state, and one of a very few on the Eastern Shore, able to handle boats that need that much depth. In the process, the town reduced the number of docks from four to three, compensating by extending the remaining docks by 70 feet – adding about 15 slips as a result. Additional finger piers have been added on the Cannon Street Dock and along the downriver side of the marina. The boat ramp and the travel lift have been retained, and the ramp has been widened and resurfaced.

A slide listing features of the marina upgrade

The repaving of the parking lot provided an opportunity to move and expand the marina store. The old building has been demolished, and a small plaza with permeable pavers has been created in its location. The marina building is adjacent to Front Street and provides not only a marina store and information center, but bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities for boaters. It also includes a rental space, which Shore Rivers will occupy. In the process, additional boat and car parking has been added. A large shed on the Front Street side is to be taken down, and a pocket park planted in its place. Other landscaping is also in the plans.

New boardwalk and brick sidewalk with the new Marina center in the background — photo by Jane Jewell

Cerino stressed the amount of work that went into the refurbishing, noting that the marina was built on fill – including “Volkswagen-sized” chunks of concrete and stumps from 200-year-old trees – that had to be removed or worked around while driving the 70-foot pilings for the new piers and bulkheads. The new bulkheads are reinforced with industrial-grade vinyl sheeting. On the Scott’s Point side of the marina, the old bulkhead was still in “pretty good shape,” so the town simply raised its height about two feet and replaced the walkway.

While the level of the parking lot was being raised, Cerino said, the town took the opportunity to put a lot of infrastructure underground – new water and sewer lines, electrical lines, and stormwater drains. The walkway along the Cannon Street side was raised to the level of the pier, which Cerino said he had seen underwater only after Tropical Storm Isabella.

Concrete bulkhead showing the depth of fill near the Cannon Street pier — photo by Jane Jewell

Cerino finished the update by showing the new configuration of the marina, starting with an aerial photo by Tyler Campbell, and walking the council through all the new features, including a photo of the walkways taken at 5 p.m. the day of the meeting. Among the newest improvements are a concrete walkway down Cannon Street to the docks, installed just last week, a new concrete walkway to the Fish Whistle restaurant, and new lighting outside the restaurant. “It’s really starting to take shape from the lay person’s point of view,” he said.

Challenges during the reconstruction included the weather – “If not the wettest year in Maryland history, it’s got to be in the top three or four,” he said. The presence of the restaurant – which remained open the entire time construction was going on – also affected the pace of work. The town had to bring in extra equipment to complete driving pilings through the fill. And working with several different contractors, four or more of whom might be on site at once, was also a challenge.

New sidewalk and lights in front of the Fish Whistle restaurant — photo by Jane Jewell

The town raised more than $5.753 million in grants, loans and private donations to pay for the work – “every bush that we could shake money out of,” Cerino said. He noted that state Senators Mike Miller and Addie Eckert helped the town gain funding from the state capital budget. “With the exception of the private donations, every one of those funds is a competitive grant,” he said. From these various sources, the town has raised 95 percent of the cost of the project.

Part of the new brick walkway at the marina with Fish Whistle restaurant in the background — photo by Jane Jewell

In conclusion, Cerino said, “I’m kind of out of miracles here. I don’t think I can go back to the state legislature and get another half-a-million dollars.” He said the time had come for private donors – many of whom he said had asked when they could help with the project – to step up. “We really need to raise about $300,000 to pay for the work.” As an inducement, he listed a variety of naming opportunities, ranging from the marina building (at $250,000) to individual 6”-by-9” paving tiles (at $250 each). The plaza next to the restaurant was funded by the late Michael Lawrence, who asked that it be named Grassymeade Plaza after his farm.

Anyone interested in helping should contact Town Manager Bill Ingersoll. Cerino said he would be happy to show potential donors around the marina and help them identify possible naming opportunities. Donations to the town for the marina would be tax-deductible, he said. He said the campaign for donations would be on-going, at least until the middle of next year.

Slide listing naming opportunities for donors to the Chestertown marina upgrade

Cerino said he hoped to have an official ribbon-cutting at Tea Party next year at which time the various donors would be publicly recognized. He said there might also be a public event – “an ending charrette,” he called it — after Downrigging this year to let people see the progress now that the project is close to complete.

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The Movies Are Back!

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Ribbon cutting at the Grand Opening of Chesapeake Movies 5 in Chestertown – Linda Kuiper, Billy Short, Bill Ingersoll, Rebecca Murphy, Ira Miller, Chris Cerino, Ron Fithian, Mike Klein, Marty Stetson, Ellsworth Tolliver, Kay MacIntosh – Photo by Jane Jewell

The Chesapeake 5 movie theater held its grand opening Friday, Oct. 12, and a good crowd was on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony in the lobby.

On hand to wield the scissors was Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino, accompanied by council members Linda Kuiper, Marty Stetson, and Ellsworth Tolliver, along with county commissioners Ron Fithian and Billy Short. The economic development directors for the town and county, Kay MacIntosh and Jamie Williams, were also present; both took significant roles in helping bring the theater back to town.

Movies playing the first weekend at Chesapeake Movies 5 in Chestertown through Thursday, Oct 18.  Starting Friday, Oct. 19, will be “A Star is Born” and “Halloween 2018”- Photo by Jane Jewell

Mike Klein, Ira Miller, and Bob Weinholdt, principals of Chesapeake Movies, were also on hand for the opening – as well as a good crowd of interested locals.

Cerino, in opening remarks, described the process of returning the theater to town as“a long haul,” and he thanked the owners for sticking it out. He also thanked the county commissioners for their part in extending a $75,000 loan to the theater to allow them to complete renovations. The loan will be repaid from proceeds of the town’s entertainment tax.

Trying out the new recliners at the Grand Opening. – In front are Rebecca Murphy, Community Liaison for Chesapeake Theaters, and Chris Cerino, mayor of Chestertown. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Weinholdt, who performed much of the renovation needed before the reopening, described the local people he met while working at the theater, as some of “the nicest people I’ve ever met.” He said the theater had used as many local contractors as possible, as well as hiring locally.

Mike Klein and Ira Miller, the other two principals of Chesapeake Movies along with Weinholdt, spoke eloquently about how much movies had meant to them growing up and how they hoped to bring back that small town movie theater experience where families go to movies together and young people go on their first dates.  You make memories as well as seeing movies, they said.

The theater was open for tours, with visitors invited to check out the new recliner seats and the other amenities, including snacks and drinks.

Erin Jedlanek, Mike Klein, co-owner of Chesapeake Movies, and Elise Davis. Jedlanek and Davis have both worked with Klein at his other movie locations and are now helping get Chestertown’s theater up and running. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Your Spy reporters returned Friday evening to check on attendance to the first night’s shows. Not surprisingly, plenty of movie-goers made it to the opening night. The biggest draws were “Venom” and “First Man,” according to box office personnel.  “The House with a Clock” and “Night School” will be shown through Thursday, Oct 18.  The other three movies, “Venom”, “First Man”, and “Venom” will continue for at least another week with “A Star is Born” and “Halloween 2018” opening on Friday, Oct. 19.

Almost all the recliners, which patrons can reserve by phone or online, were sold out.  Patrons can reserve recliners days or even weeks in advance and pay for them online at the theater’s website.  General admission tickets after 4:00 pm are $9.00 for adults with $7.00 for children 12 or under and seniors 62 or over. Recliners are $2 more in each category.  Matinees before 4:00 pm are a dollar off for adults.  See seating chart below or online.

The rocker chairs up front in general admission have cup holders while the recliners do not. But there are new eating areas just outside each theater door where patrons can sit at small tables with their food and beverages while waiting for their movie to start.  In addition to popcorn ($4.50 small, $6 medium, $7 large), the theater has cheese pizza for $7 ($7.50 with pepperoni) and chicken tenders with french fries for $7.50.  Hot dogs are $3.50.  Sodas run $3 for small, $4 medium, and $5 for large.  But refills are free!

Employees at Grand Opening on Oct 12 at Chesapeake Movies 5 in Chestertown – Front row – Rachel Kruger, Jordan Payne, Alan Yang, Jillian Thomas, Back row – Becca Darwin, Emily Kruger (sister of Rachel), Justin Gunter, Eric Ireland – Photo by Jane Jewell

Two or three experienced employees from one of the owners’ other theaters were on hand during each shift to help the new employees learn the ropes.  Almost all of the new employees are local hires from Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties.  Quite a few are Kent County High School grads. Two– Jillian Thomas and Alan Yang– are current students at Queen Anne’s High School.

The ticket office and concessions stand workers – about a dozen, all told — were almost as excited as the patrons, who were pleased to see movies returning to town after a nearly 18-month hiatus. With Saturday and Sunday matinees, discounted prices on Tuesdays, free drink refills, and a points system in which regular customers can get rewards for their ticket and concession purchases, their patience appears to be amply rewarded.

You can see current and upcoming movies and sign up for the theater’s weekly email and rewards program at the website, www.ChesapeakeMovies5.com.   If you sign up online before your first movie, your ticket price will go toward reward points.  Just be sure to give your email to the box office or at the concession stand.

Welcome to Chestertown, Chesapeake Movies!

Photography by Jane Jewell and Peter Heck

Seating plan for Chesapeake Movies 5 in Chestertown. Blue indicates three rows of recliners in back. Orange is general admission rocker chairs in front three rows. – Photo by Peter Heck

Anne Charles relaxes in recliner B3 Friday afternoon just after the noon ribbon cutting at the Chesapeake Movies Grand Opening. Just four more hours till the first movie! – Photo by Jane Jewell

Jamie Williams, Kent County Economic Development Director, enjoys a coke at the grand opening. Refills are free!

 

A new eating area outside theater door. Note sign giving the title, time and rating of the currently playing movie in that theater. Jana Carter, Gay Slagle, & Kate Houbowicz

Joyce Luff, on left, and Linda Kuiper, on right, town council for 2nd district in Chestertown,  in the new recliners at Chesapeake Movies 5 in Chestertown 

Concession stand at new Chesapeake Movies 5 in Chestertown – Photo by Jane Jewell

 

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Mimi’s Closet Celebrates 10 Years in Chestertown

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Mimi’s Closet at 304 High Street, Chestertown, MD – Photo by Peter Heck

Mimi’s Closet celebrates its 10th anniversary from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 10, with an open reception at the High Street store. Owner Marjorie Adams said the event will also be a benefit for Breast Cancer month, with pink wine, pink ice cream, and a pink bath bomb with a surprise inside. And there will be music and oysters. “This will be a thank-you to all our friends and customers for patronizing our store and supporting my business through ten long, arduous years at three locations,” she said with a laugh. “This one’s the charm, though.”

Margery Adams, better known as Mimi to the granddaughter who gave her the nickname and to her loyal customers at Mimi’s Closet.

Admas grew up in New York and Connecticut.  She graduated with a specialty in fabric design from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, the premier college in the field.  One of her early–and most fun–jobs, she said, was decorating the windows at Macy’s Department Store in New York City.  Over her career, she has also been the marketing director for a Baltimore firm and the American representative for Ehrman’s Tapestry as well as owning a retail store in Easton for several years.

She is married to Walter Adams and they have two sons and four grandchildren. They fell in love with Chestertown after visiting for an anniversary.  They bought a second home locally in 1998 and moved here full-time in 2001.

Adams said, “I started my business in the worst year possible – 2008 – as a popup store which maybe should have been in existence only six weeks, and now has turned out to be ten years.”

But our store has changed considerably – not only the location but what we carry, because we’re a small town and we try to address every price point and every type of customer – every age group, every body type. We specialize in women’s clothing and accessories – we don’t do children or men. We have a small area where we sell shoes. It’s just sort of an all-around boutique – jewelry, handbags and shoes, dresses – and we try to change things up so often that you’re seeing something new every time you come in here.”

We try to be sensitive to everybody’s budget,” she said. “We encourage our customers to come in, even with something they own and have it updated or made to look better.” She added that this isn’t a question of alterations, but of finding ways to accessorize or complement it to give it a more contemporary look. She said she likes to offer things from small boutique designers that you might not find in online venues or department stores. And she offers a lot from American designers. Also, she tries not to duplicate lines available in other stores in town. “We try to be very sensitive to that – it’s a small universe here for shoppers.”

Smart fall outfits with a wealth of hats and other accessories are displayed against a colorful wall hanging on the brick wall in Mimi’s Closet, 304 High St., Chestertown, MD  –  Photo by Jane Jewell

She also buys small quantities, she said – “We try to buy one size run, so you don’t see yourself coming and going. If you’re going to a special event, you want to have something that’s unique and different.” She said she regularly goes to Fashion Week in New York and other industry shows to find new lines and distinctive items for the shore.

Adams’ first store in Chestertown was in a small space adjacent to the Imperial Hotel. She said in an email forwarded to the Spy by Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown, that she stayed there “until the building repairs and food odors from the hotel prep kitchen made me crazy! I moved to a very nice space on Cannon Street and thought that customers would follow. I was wrong! The building was the former home of the Chester River Knitting Company and was a great space but did not have display windows to showcase my inventory, and too many people thought that the shopping area ended on Cross Street and they did not venture further.” She added, “It did not help that we were in a recession.”

When the High Street space formerly occupied by Scottie’s Shoe Store became available, she recognized it as the opportunity she had been looking for – a prime space on the town’s main shopping street. She said, “Renovation to this space—the old Scottie’s space — was critical; nothing had been done to improve it for many years. The building owner, Bob Ramsey, was committed to a full renovation and hired my husband to do the work. We moved into the new space and it was as if I had just started a brand new business.” Its success allowed her to close a store in Easton and concentrate on Chestertown.

Debbie Yoder, an assistant at Mimi’s Closet, displays a beautiful brown suede jacket just in for the fall season. – Photo by Jane Jewell

As you can see, this was quite a journey over the past ten years,” she said. “I have had to adjust to the fact that we are not a major metropolitan shopping area but are a small and very special destination. The key was to have both a local and visitor customer base that would show up more often looking for a unique experience. I focus on lots of personal interaction that makes the customer know that their business is valued.”

The name of the store comes from Adams’ granddaughter, now 18 years old, who, as a small child, nicknamed her “Mimi.”  Now everyone knows her as Mimi!

Adams, whose background is in textiles, said she is very aware of the quality of the fabric used in the merchandise she sells, as well as the quality of construction and the fit. “I don’t think it’s necessary always to go to the top price point, but you’ve got to find the quality in the fabric and the way a garment is made and the way it fits.”

Colorful, classic kimonos are available as well as sporty, outdoors styles. — Photo by Jane Jewell

MacIntosh said of Adams, “She gets involved in community causes and events.  She has held fashion show fundraisers for the College’s Women’s League, the Soroptimists, and breast cancer research. She organizes and runs the wildly popular teas during the HP Fest and has helped in other areas such as sponsorships. She organizes and runs the High Tea for the Dickens Weekend. She is active in the Downtown Chestertown Association, which she now serves as VP.”

Whether you’re a regular customer or visiting the store for the first time, come by Mimi’s Closet at 307 High St. Wednesday, Oct 10, from 6-8 pm and help celebrate a successful downtown Chestertown business.

And be sure to check out her webpage and FaceBook.   Send an email to mimiscloset@atlanticbb.net to join the Mimi’s Closet mailing list or just to ask a question.  The phone number is 443-282-0225.

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Get Ready! Movie Theater Set to Open

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The Chesapeake Movies at Washington Square is almost ready to open, with a planned starting date of Oct. 12

Chesapeake Movies is getting close to opening.

With new seats and larger screens, an expanded snack bar area, refurbished restrooms, and a menu of new first-run movies, the theater at Washington Square shopping center is aiming for an Oct. 12 grand opening. The theater has been closed for some 18 months and is now under new ownership and management.

Mike Klein, one of the principals of Chesapeake Movies, said the interior work on the theater is close to done, with new flooring and carpeting throughout and the new seats currently in the process of being installed. The major remaining hurdles include finishing the setup of concession areas and getting final approvals from the health department and other agencies.  If final installations and inspections go as expected, then next Friday, October 12, will be the grand opening.  Should any issues crop up, the opening will be moved to the next weekend, Oct 19.  Stay tuned to the Spy and the Chesapeake Movies website for any last-minute developments.

The theater’s website lists the first planned features as A Star Is Born (with Lady Gaga), Venom, First Man, Goosebumps 2, Halloween 2018 and Bohemian.

New, state-of-the-art digital projection equipment and JBL surround-sound speakers have now been installed in all five theaters.  The old film projectors are long-gone.  Movies now arrive on a computer hard drive that sits on a cart and takes up very little room and does not require the full-time attention of a projectionist.

The new power recliner in its upright position. Photo by Jane Jewell

The new screens are much larger–two and a half feet higher and five feet wider than the old ones, except in one theater (#5, farthest from the lobby) where ductwork prevented the placement of the bigger screen. New red and black wall coverings have been installed to improve both the appearance and the acoustics of the theaters. Movie-goers who remember the old Chester 5 theater will hardly recognize the place. With the state of the art speakers and larger screens, it will be a whole new movie experience.

Two kinds of seats are being installed in the five theaters. The three rows nearest the entrance will have powered recliner seats, which will cost $2 more than the regular seats – which are also new and completely upgraded. The layout of the theaters has been changed to eliminate the middle aisle, allowing for seating in the center of the room – the prime viewing area.  The new owners noted that many, if not most, theaters have only side-aisles so that these prime seats are not lost. Each of the five theaters will have 22 of the powered recliner seats in the back three rows and 36 rockers with cup holders in the general admission area up front for a total of just under 60 seats in each theater.

New rocker chairs are installed in the front three rows of each theater. Note new draped acoustic wall coverings and JBL speakers. Photo by Jane Jewell

General admission tickets will be $6 with the recliners an additional $2 for a recliner.  Movie-goers will be able to reserve recliners in advance from the website.  You can specify exactly which recliner you want – row and seat number just like a regular concert hall!  That way, you can arrive just before the show starts and be assured of having your favorite seat.  One of the new owners said that another theater that he works with has had their recliner section completely reserved for over two weeks in advance for this upcoming weekend. Only the recliners can be reserved. The three rows of general admission seating will remain first come, first served.

Mike Klein, one of the principals of Chesapeake Movies, tries out one of the new recliners. The chair is in its semi-reclined mode with leg-rest up.      Photo by Jane Jewell

The website, though up with basic information, is still under construction and it’s not ready (as of Friday, Oct 5) to take reservations.  Show times will not be posted until just before the opening date. But these online features will be available soon.

Special Senior (age 62 and up) and Child (age 12 and under) tickets will be available.

The expanded snack bar will feature a wider variety of food offerings, including pizza and chicken fingers. Two dining areas with low and high tables and chairs have been set up in the wide hallway outside the theaters, allowing movie-goers to finish eating in comfort before going into the show. This is also expected to improve the cleanliness of the theaters. And so that nobody misses the start of the film, TV monitors mounted outside each theater’s door will show the titles and starting times of the movies showing.

New concession area in the lobby. A staff member from the Washington College newspaper The Elm toured the new facilities the same day as the Spy was there.

In addition to the upgraded projectors, screens and speakers in the theaters,  the bathrooms have new flooring and all new fixtures.

The theater is now in the process of hiring, Klein said. An employment application is on the website. Charlene Fowler, who managed the theater for 18 years before its closing, has already been rehired as the manager.

Intrepid Spy reporter Peter J. Heck tests new power recliner in it’s fully reclined position. He reports that it passes muster. Photo by Jane Jewell

New chairs – high and low styles – will be in the eating areas in the long hallway just outside the theaters. Photo by Jane Jewell

Working on the expanded concession area. Chesapeake 5 Movies Photo by Jane Jewell

New acoustic wall covering – Chesapeake 5 Movies

Entertainment Services employees, Christopher Lewis and Eylo Lang, worked overtime to get seats and other items installed and ready for the grand opening.

Cabinet maker Ed Copeland

Cabinet maker Ed Copeland

 

Photo Gallery Pictures by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell

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