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Ephrata works on concept for entrepreneurial resource center

By - Last modified: July 27, 2012 at 10:57 AM
Marsha DiBonaventuro, executive director of Downtown Ephrata Inc., left, and Melissa Palermo-Spero, owner of the Sprecher building, are forging plans to turn the Ephrata building's vacant second floor into shared office space. Photo/Amy Spangler
Marsha DiBonaventuro, executive director of Downtown Ephrata Inc., left, and Melissa Palermo-Spero, owner of the Sprecher building, are forging plans to turn the Ephrata building's vacant second floor into shared office space. Photo/Amy Spangler

What Marsha DiBonaventuro would like to see on the second story of Ephrata's Sprecher building is The Tool Box.

The name would be a nod to the building's long history as a hardware store and, more importantly, an indicator of what she would like the space to be: an entrepreneurial center filled with resources for growing businesses, similar to The Candy Factory in Lancaster.

DiBonaventuro is manager of the Main Street program Downtown Ephrata Inc., which used a $15,400 grant from the Lancaster County Community Foundation to develop a feasibility study and business plan for a shared office space project.

The project is still in the planning process and has not yet received the official go-ahead from DEI. DEI is also considering the results of a community survey it posted earlier this year about the project. DiBonaventuro said interest is growing as the concept takes shape.

"I'm just sorry this kind of thing was not available when I was starting out," said Melissa Palermo-Spero, who owns the Sprecher building at 24 E. Main St. and has been operating The Fun-est Toy Store Ever out of its first floor since 2009. "It would have been great."

DiBonaventuro said northern Lancaster County is underserved in resources for entrepreneurs and small-business owners. Ephrata is the urban center of the area, and bringing those people downtown would not only be good for area businesses, she said, but also it could help participants see the business opportunities that exist there.

However, she said, there would be hurdles to overcome if DEI pursues the project. That the building has been around so long means not only nostalgic community ties but also that the 4,500 square feet of space on the second floor needs a lot of work to be brought up to code. Parking issues also would have to be addressed.

The logistics are such that "it discourages any private-sector interest," DiBonaventuro said. "As with many buildings like this, it will remain vacant without intervention."

A revolving community and economic development loan fund worth $121,000 might help with the project, she said, and DEI would

also be seeking other grants. The goal is to develop a plan good enough that The Tool Box would be self-sustaining.

DiBonaventuro noted that downtown Ephrata's vacancy rate is at its lowest in 10 years. She envisions The Tool Box with a synergistic mix of about 50 tenants in open and semiprivate office spaces that could also be used for events.

Also in the works

Two other co-working sites are in the planning stages in the region:

 

The Porch in Elizabethtown

www.facebook.com/theporch33/info and www.porch33.com

 

The Rift in Mechanicsburg

www.rift01.com

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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