By Sophie Foster
In 2023 alone, Chestertown witnessed the closures of more than one town’s share of small, independent businesses.
According to previous Elm coverage, this past summer saw the loss of several restaurants, including Figg’s Ordinary, China House, and Beverly’s Family Restaurant. These add to the ever-growing list of vanishing businesses in the town, some of which were 98 Cannon, Aroma, Emporium Sports, Smoke Rattle and Roll, and O’Connor’s Pub.
Even several chains flamed out in town over the years, including Rita’s, Subway, Sears, Dollar General, and one of two Dunkin’ locations.
Perhaps most alarming about this trend is the proximity of many of these closed businesses to one another.
Downtown areas, including High, Cross, and Water Streets, are home to the farmer’s market and frequent host to tourists passing through town; this section of Chestertown rarely losess businesses and hardly struggle to find replacements. New, upscale venues are consistently added to the street’s repertoire, including restaurants like Watershed Alley. Popular shops, like Twigs and Teacups, see expansive renovations, and when one business closes its doors, a new one is reliably just around the corner — it did not take long for Sugardoodles to replace Dunkin’ this year.
The same cannot be said, however, for the Kent Plaza Shopping Center, whose entire left segment is now reduced to a single business, with no indication of new neighboring businesses to come.
According to the Kent County News, P Nails, the last business remaining in the strip following China House’s sudden closure after 30 years, is surrounded by faded realty signs belonging to the plaza’s landlords, the Cordish Companies, a major realty institution.
“They’ve got casinos. Are they really worried about Chestertown, or is it just a loss on their books?” Director of Kent County Economic and Tourism Development Jamie Williams said, according to the Kent County News.
According to County Attorney Tom Yeager, the reality is that the rent is too high for tenants to afford. This is especially true for local businesses like China House. Its former location is surrounded by other nearby chain properties, including McDonald’s, Dunkin’, Acme, and Dollar Tree.
Nail technician Amanda King shared with Kent County News that P Nails pays approximately $3,800 in rent each month, in addition to the expectation that any necessary fixes would be paid for as a joint effort from all tenants. Now, “all tenants” just means P Nails itself, as the last remaining business on the strip.
Several possibilities for action are being considered by town officials at present, according to the Kent County News. Potential solutions included tax incentives and penalties for landlords with vacant buildings.
Until some of this action is taken, though, it is crucial that this be pinpointed as the concerning reality it is: the more a town caters to aestheticism and tourism appeal, the less hospitable it is for its actual residents.
While High Street and its sibling streets boast a beautiful space to walk on an autumn day, and its businesses are wonderful stops for a scoop of ice cream, a coffee, or a new décor item, it is not a practical shopping location for anyone operating on a low-income budget. For that matter, it is not a practical shopping location for anyone in need of staple items like daily wear clothing and basic groceries.
For those needs, Chestertown residents turn to the town’s two major strip mall locations — the second of which being Washington Square Plaza — both of which are now only partially populated after last year’s fire in Washington Square.
The bottom line is this: if Chestertown wants to be hospitable for its residents, it needs to take their needs into account and put forth the effort to establish functional business centers.
Elm Archive Photo
Photo Caption: Almost the entire strip of the Kent Plaza Shopping Center, once robust, is now vacant.