Customers browse trees in December 2022 at Payne’s Christmas Trees & Holiday Market in Elkridge. (Payne’s Christmas Trees & Holiday Market photo)

Preparing for a rush

Payne’s Christmas Trees & Holiday Market, Elkridge

For most of the year, Payne Landscaping & Construction designs and installs playgrounds, patios and hardscapes, like stone walls, retaining walls, etc.

But Payne’s also knows side hustles, like its Fall Fest with pumpkins and seasonal decorations for sale at its Levering Avenue headquarters; as well as selling Christmas trees. Once offered at various locales, the company started selling the trees at headquarters only “in 2018 with decorative offerings in our Holiday Market,” said Maria Hindman, manager.

Since then, Payne’s has gone from selling 2,000 trees per season to almost 8,000. They’re are priced from about $35 to $375 for a 13-footer, with the average running about $100.

Despite the growth, trees to sell are tougher to find; Payne’s even sold out in 2020. However, it works with farms in North Carolina (for Fraser Firs) and Pennsylvania (for Douglas Firs) that offer an ample supply,” Hindman said. “We also sell wreaths, roping and all kinds of decorations and stocking stuffers.”

Today, Payne’s is closed to gear up for the holiday rush. “We’ll reopen the Monday before Thanksgiving,” she said, “and Santa will be on hand with plenty of hot chocolate, marshmallows and ciders.”

Candace Randall-Bell, owner of Candles by Candy, stands at left. Her Savage Mill location has been open for about two months, though she’s been making candles for more than four years. (Submitted photo)

Ready for busy season

Candles by Candy, Savage Mill

While Candles by Candy has only been open in its new Savage Mill location for about two months, Owner Candace Randall-Bell has been making candles for more than four years. Like many other new businesses, the gig grew out of the pandemic.

“It had been a hobby until I started presenting pop-up kiosks at farmer’s markets and member events at The 3rd in Downtown Columbia,” Randall-Bell said, “and then I took it online.”

The slow, steady growth continued. “Next, we started offering mobile candle classes making what we now make between myself and two part-time employees in the Mill,” she said, “at our new 1,100-square-foot space.”

It’s been a steady path forward for Bell, who with husband Andrew financed the move “with about $10,000 in savings. That paid for the buildout, furnishings and extra supplies.”

Today, she’s ready for the busy fall season, with the bonus of “starting to get orders from outside the area due to our online presence,” Randall-Bell said. “That’s great, but we’ve found that events with food and wine, such as Wind-Down Wednesday, are where we make 70% of our money.”

Acquisition from 401(k) funds

Fitness Together, Ellicott City

For Robin and John Zahor, buying Fitness Together from former Owner Joan Schnorf several months ago was easier since they had an “in” with one of the trainers: their son, Devin Zahor.

The business, which is in the Frederick Crossing Shopping Center, was then focused on one-on-one training. Today, however, there are five full-time trainers who work with Devin, who now focuses on the facility’s business side.

Schnorf sold the business to the trio for $170,000, who then paid another $20,000 for the franchise fee and set aside three months of banked expenses in case they were needed (which they weren’t). To consummate the deal, Robin Zahor took a second mortgage on a real estate holding and John took some money out of his 401(k) and transferred it as a Roll Over Business Startup arrangement that allowed him to invest in the business without penalty.

They took that complicated route because “financiers wanted the business’s numbers from the COVID-19 years,” said Robin Zahor, “and they weren’t sufficient to get a loan.”

Today, what makes Fitness Together different “is its approach. Now, in addition to the private sessions,” she said, “we’re going to start offering group sessions, plus nutrition and brain fitness discussions.”

Hundreds of dogs serviced

Pups Dog Obedience Training, Columbia

Those of the belief that when one door closes, another opens will relate to Karen Decker. When her first marriage ended more than 30 years ago, she needed flexible employment because she had small children.

What to do? “That situation sparked my passion for understanding the genetic engineering of dogs and how that affects their behaviors and training,” said Decker. “My friends pushed me to open my own business and developed my expertise for training working breeds and problem dogs.”

So she started working in open spaces, like Columbia’s Cedar Lane Park. She’s been in business since and has grown from “100% word-of-mouth” marketing; today, the business operates out of flex space on Red Branch Road. It includes a small boarding space that accommodates six dogs; her daughter lives there, too, and is also a trainer. 

“We now service at least a couple hundred dogs a year,” she said, quoting prices of $125 per private session and $450 for eight weeks of group training, “with an open invite for clients to return at any time.”

While she’s not licensed or certified, she said “My results are what matter. Via nature or nurture, we can always improve a dog’s temperament and behavior.” 

Solid early returns

The Blackwall Barn & Lodge, Columbia

In early October, the wait was over for local diners hungry for a farm-to-table concept with the opening of The Blackwall Barn & Lodge, the first of its two restaurants Titan Hospitality Group will operate in Downtown Columbia.

The Blackwall, built with an investment of $7.5 million, boasts 12,000 square feet under roof encompassing a main dining room that can seat 120, as well as about 150 seated or 180 for cocktails in the Barn event space, plus four private dining rooms.

Scott Selman, head of marketing for Titan, said the early returns are solid. “We’re excited that the Howard Hughes Corp. is jumpstarting the next phase of growth in the Merriweather District. We were lucky enough to open before the last two shows at Merriweather Post Pavilion, so we got a glimpse of what it can be.”

Next up for Titan is the completion of its seventh area location, Smashing Grapes, a $6 million bistro that will open across Colorburst Park from The Blackwall early next year. The company is also investing $1 million in a new concept called The Lodge at its former Annapolis Smashing Grapes location. It will open later this year.