Oxford Hall Celtic shop expansion caters to the customerBridge Street shops eye end of road construction
Believing in a place and an idea is a powerful thing.
It's what has kept some shops going along New Cumberland's main thoroughfare, Bridge Street, during the past couple years — including Oxford Hall, the Cumberland County borough's longtime Celtic store.
"We made this huge investment because we believe in New Cumberland," said Cindy Washburn, who owns Oxford Hall with her husband, Steve Washburn.
The Washburns said they spent nearly $750,000 renovating an old brick home at 233 Bridge St. during the past several years and last year moved their store to the location. They had outgrown a store about a block up the street and were looking forward to more space. They also decided they needed to offer their customers a little more.
Today, Oxford Hall includes a small cafe-style tea room with simple, fresh sandwiches and drinks, a trend common with shops in Ireland, Cindy Washburn said.
"When we decided to expand our store, one of the things we wanted to do was put this in," she said.
It's working, and the Washburns have steady traffic and sales, she said.
"She's quite enthusiastic," Steve Washburn said of his wife. "She's always had a zeal for doing things her way."
The successes are despite years of trouble with starting the renovations during the recession, the 2011 floods, and even the most recent construction along Bridge Street, which had a lasting impact on New Cumberland's other businesses.
The Washburns began talking to the former 233 Bridge St. owners about five years ago about buying it and turning it into a home and business. Today, the Washburns live above their Celtic shop, but before the project could get off the ground, the recession hit. The project couldn't be completed.
"Without the understanding of our vendors, families and the banks, we would've fallen into oblivion," Steve Washburn said. "We felt like a startup again."
Times are not as good for others. Multiple storefronts are vacant along Bridge Street. Casero's pizza shop near the bridge closed its doors in August. Some business owners attribute it to the ongoing utility and road work there. The Pie Guy's Cafe closed in December after less than a year, citing the roadwork.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will start repaving work on Bridge Street in late September, said Greg Penny, a PennDOT spokesman. However, utility work under the road has been ongoing for more than a year.
"We've heard lots of complaints and grumbling over the last year about the project," Penny said.
It's conceivable the work hurt businesses in the area because it's an inconvenience and people avoid inconveniences, he said.
"We try to balance the impact on business and the impact on traffic," he said.
Steve Washburn said some business owners were just ready to retire, while others weren't prepared for opening a business, but the roadwork and constant problems with subcontractors reduced the number of people coming downtown.
"There are a lot of businesses gone, and it's because of the roads," said Becky Lee, owner of Tickle My Senses, a handcrafted gifts shop and gallery at 315 Bridge St.
She worries it could hurt the borough's overall economic health if lost businesses persuade homeowners it's time for them to move on, too.
"I love this town. My heart is in it, and I really love what I do. It's just very melancholy in town now," Lee said.
Borough officials did not respond to repeated requests for interviews about the road projects and downtown business conditions. A borough employee directed questions to PennDOT.
New Cumberland's downtown could rebound with the economy and new business influx. Shugar's Philly Deli moved into the former Dingeldein Bakery this week. Last month, Lazy River Kayaking opened its river tours office next to Tickle My Senses on Bridge Street.
"It's just a transitioning period," Darwin Enders, Lazy River's co-owner and a New Cumberland native, said about the downtown businesses.
There is optimism among some business owners that new blood will reinvigorate New Cumberland.
"It's unfortunate to have all these empty storefronts," Cindy Washburn said, "but there's opportunity to bring in some young new entrepreneurs that want to build our downtown. To compete in this mega-box world, we have to band together."