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Business owners speak out as downtown shop shuttered

The inside of Toy Town Antiques in Snow Hill, as mayoral candidate Gary Weber describes it, is like “a toy museum open and free to the public.” The closing of the shop last week by Snow Hill officials has meanwhile created a controversy among local business owners.

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(March 7, 2019) Several Snow Hill business owners, including one who is running for mayor, spoke on behalf of Toy Town Antiques last week.

The business is facing legal action by the State of Maryland for operating without an occupancy permit, with Snow Hill Code Enforcement Officer Jon Hill listed as the complainant.

Toy Town Antiques owners Richard and Debbie Seaton, meanwhile, are planning a lawsuit to recover the $150,000 to $200,000 they invested in the 207 North Washington Street building they’ve operated since 2017, based on a five-year memorandum of understanding with the town. The Seatons allege that town officials violated that agreement.

On Friday, a Town of Snow Hill press release announced two men, resident Richard Thompson and business owner Gary Weber, filled out the paperwork to run for mayor in the May election.

Weber on the same day issued a statement supporting Toy Town.

“Currently, there is a lot of turmoil in the press concerning Toy Town and the Town of Snow Hill,” Weber said. “I don’t understand why Snow Hill management, staff [and] mayor and council feel the need to wage a war with the very type of business they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to attract.

“Toy Town is the type of business any town would jump hurdles to get. It is more than a toy store. It is a toy museum open and free to the public. As a matter of fact our former Mayor Charlie Doman and former Economic Development Director Michael Day did jump hurdles to get the Seatons to open Toy Town in Snow Hill,” he continued.

Weber said the building is located at a main intersection in Snow Hill and “the only stop light in downtown.” He said it was boarded up for two decades and became “a glaring symbol of blight to anyone traveling through town.”

He said one of Dorman’s first acts was to contact the property owner.

“After a few weeks and a home-cooked meal from his lovely wife, Carol, the owner donated the building to the Town,” Weber said.

“It is time to stop spending Snow Hill dollars on lawsuits and lawyers,” he continued. “We need to sit down and work this out. Hurt feelings and bruised egos are costing thecitizens so much of our limited resources and damaging our reputation as a friendly and welcoming town.”

Thompson did not respond a request for comment.

Town Manager Kelly Pruitt last Wednesday referred all questions on the matter to attorney Rena Patel, while Councilwoman Jenny Hall only said on the matter, “There is just no end.”

Last Wednesday evening, a small group of local business owners gathered inside Diana Nolte’s West Green Street shop to discuss the matter.

“We don’t understand why our town government can’t be more supportive of downtown businesses,” she said.

Nolte said the business community in general was “afraid and demoralized.”

“We just lost [restaurant] Harvest Moon on Saturday. We have two contracts right down the street from us for The Palette and The Palette Pantry, which we understand have fallen through. It’s vacant from here down to the corner, when I go walk out the door with businesses not open. So, we’re very, very discouraged.”

Others took to social media for comment.

In responding to a Feb. 28 press release by the town, Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger posted, “Too bad this negative news has to be so public. It just brings the whole town down.”

Jon Conley, owner of Uncle Jon’s Soap in Berlin, replied, “No one ever expressed enough concern before Toy Town moved into that building to do anything about it. But now that it’s someone else’s problem, it’s an emergency?!? Good job Snow Hill. You’re taking your own progress backward, not forward.”

Donald Cheeseman, owner of Swimming Dog Warm Glass Studio in Snow Hill, also commented.

“Of course, we try to understand how the action of the council best serves the people they supposedly work for, the people of Snow Hill. Clearly their actions do not,” Cheeseman said. “What motivates them to come to this decision? Do they want the building back? Do they have a higher bidder? Or an agenda discussed in one of their famous ‘closed’ meetings?

“As long as I have lived here, 2010, that space has been empty,” he continued. “Now it has a businessperson who risked coming here, to be a positive aspect of our community. We should honor our commitments. Or perhaps it’s just revenge, as shortsighted and harmful to our town as that may be? Truth will [win] out.”

Cheeseman added, “Read the responses. No one believes this is fair. Thank goodness for elections.”

Several others weighed in on the Toy Town Antiques Facebook page.

Jack Helgeson, owner of Snow Hill Gift Shop and Interiors, offered, “I am feeling distressed over this. My business has dropped ever since the Mayor resigned and all of the negative press the town itself is putting out there.”

Lorissa McAllister, owner of the Daily Brew Coffee House in Snow Hill, agreed.

“I’ve noticed a significant difference since his resignation as well. The image the town is creating is alarming,” she said.