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Incubator helps businesses

| Thursday, Aug. 15, 2002

MOUNT PLEASANT - In 1996, the Mount Pleasant Business District Authority (BDA) had the idea to buy the old Woolworth's building on Main Street and turn it into an incubator - a place where small businesses could start up, grow and eventually move into a larger space on Main Street.

"The idea wasn't a new one, but it was one of the first in this region of the state to be implemented," said Ron Aldom, a member of the BDA.

In 2002, it is safe to say that it has become a success.

According to Aldom, in 2001, for the first time since it opened, the incubator was filled to capacity with small business owners. To make the story even better, it had three businesses that have recently moved out to expand in other places.

The In-Town Shops were created through a series of government grants and low-interest loans at a cost of approximately $500,000.

The building had eight retail office spaces averaging 450 square feet per space, and the basement was renovated to include 200 square feet of storage space for the businesses. The second floor was also renovated to include two apartments, which are under the Westmoreland County Housing Authority. The rent was established to include all utilities, taking the guesswork out of the budgeting process for the business owners, according to Aldom.

Another incentive for the business owners was the fact that everything permanent (such as paint, carpeting or nails) they purchased to remodel their space, the BDA would reimburse them by 50 percent if the items were purchased in the borough of Mount Pleasant.

Sue Mough, owner of Advertising and Printing Specialties, was the first business in the incubator, and will be moving out shortly to establish her business, along with a nail salon, in the Norvelt area.

"I do custom designs with heat transfers, and I contract out screen printing and embroidery," said Mough. "I also have an ad specialty business."

Mough recently went to school to become a nail technician, too, and hopes to sell her advertising business and just have a nail salon. But, if the business does not sell, she will continue with both the advertising business and the nail salon.

Country Cottage, owned by sisters Melissa Carnack and Terri Bretz, was opened in the In-Town Shops in May of 2001, but just recently moved out onto Main Street in Mount Pleasant.

The store features such things as Boyd's Bears, Village Candles, Americana items as well as baskets, wreaths and tart burners.

"Our time at the incubator helped us build our customer base," said Bretz. "It's a good place to start for small businesses."

Their business is now located at 101 E. Main St. across from Medic 10. New hours are Mondays through Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Jill Sharlock and Lois Bone, owners of Markdowns Consignment Shop, started their business in June of 2001. The clothing shop dealt primarily with children and women's apparel, but as the business grew, it expanded into men's clothing and also children's toys and books. Within a year, the business moved to a larger facility in Donegal.

"This is small business at its best," said Aldom. "This is a way for them to be competitive from the beginning.

"A lot of people want to start their own business but they're afraid of the cost," he continued. "Well, we're taking that factor away."

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