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Committee recommends approval of loans for Herrings hotel, Watertown comic book shop

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Loans requested by entrepreneurs to launch a renovated Herrings hotel and a Watertown comic book shop were recommended for approval Tuesday by the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency’s loan review committee.

The loans will be considered Oct. 3 by the agency’s board for final approval.

The committee approved a $40,000 loan request from Kimberly A. Stiles to buy the Little Sisters Inn at Herrings, 35802 Route 3, Herrings, from owner Jon Murdock. Ms. Stiles and her sister, Shelley D. Stevens, renamed the restaurant from Herrings Inn after leasing it 14 months ago from Mr. Murdock. Ms. Stiles plans to buy the property, which includes a restaurant and a 21-room hotel in need of repairs, from Mr. Murdock this fall. Her business plan calls for all rooms to be renovated, enabling the struggling hotel to be fully operational.

Ms. Stiles already has invested $22,000 in personal savings, including her retirement fund, to make hotel renovations in advance of her purchase, committee members learned when she presented her plan Tuesday. She plans to buy the hotel for $300,000, but that plan hinges on acquiring the agency loan.

Ms. Stiles’s projected revenue from the business is based on 40 percent occupancy of the rooms. If the hotel is purchased this fall, she said, she expects 10 to 15 rooms to be rented by tenants right away.

“The rooms aren’t being sold right now because the landlord isn’t there, and there isn’t a sign up front to say rooms are vacant,” said Ms. Stiles, who said she believes she will draw restaurant patrons to stay overnight at the inn.

The restaurant exceeded its annual revenue goal in six months by taking in $92,000, said Ms. Stiles, who lived in Florida for 34 years before moving back to the north country three years ago.

After the presentation, committee member Michelle D. Pfaff said Ms. Stiles could be taking on too much risk by investing all of her funds in the plan. She voted against the loan request, which was approved 2-1.

“She has nothing to fall back on, and we’ve had a policy here that applicants have to invest at least 10 percent in their plans,” Mrs. Pfaff said. “We should have an appraisal on the business, too, because we have no collateral on it” and the owner has the first mortgage.

But committee member Donald L. DiMonda, in response, pointed out that Ms. Stiles has a support network of family members with construction experience to rely on for assistance at the hotel if problems arise.

“She doesn’t require the kind of capital that a stranger moving into the community would need,” he said.

The second loan request Tuesday was made by Christopher M. Hunt, who is seeking to start a comic book shop called Heroes Haven, leasing vacant space in Stateway Plaza off Arsenal Street.

The $17,000 loan request calls for equal contributions of $8,500 from the JCIDA and the Watertown Local Development Corp., or Watertown Trust. The latter agency will consider the proposal Oct. 17.

Mr. Hunt plans to sell an array of comics, vintage collectibles, toys, board games and T-shirts. The 34-year-old worked as a service manager for F.X. Caprara for six years before he was laid off in 2012.

Board game tournaments and themed movie nights would be held to draw customers, Mr. Hunt said. But he’ll have to compete with two similar shops that are expected to open within the next year.

Sanctuary Comics, a small shop at 750 Bradley St., soon will move into a 1,000-square-foot building being renovated at 24764 Route 12 in the town of Pamelia. Owner Herbert W. Crandall III plans to sell comic books, board games and collectibles and host gaming tournaments.

On State Street in Watertown, Josh L. Hagen plans to open First Strike! Comics in the vacant space between Flashback Lounge and Infinite Lives in early 2014. Mr. Hagen now sells merchandise at Infinite Lives and hosts board game tournaments at the Flashback Lounge, where he has a partnership with owner Mitchell J. LaBarge.

Heroes Haven will set itself apart from competitors by offering a wider selection of merchandise, Mr. Hunt said. He projects $110,000 in sales during the first year of business, based on an initial investment of about $50,000 in inventory.

He said that hobby shops he visits in the Syracuse and Utica areas are always busy, “and I’ve been told a lot of people are coming down there from Jefferson County because there’s nothing here to buy,” Mr. Hunt said. “Those people would stay here if they could buy it.”

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