Octavia Dugan remembers when customers visiting her Cross Keys boutique had to walk across wooden planks laid on muddy ground to reach her shop stocked with just 20 dresses, 50 suits and 10 coats.
"It was Aug. 15, 1965," she recalls. "I was the first door to open."
This week the Village of Cross Keys celebrates its 25th anniversary. Dugan's shop, Octavia, is an upscale women's clothing store with 40 employees and a reputation for carrying some of the most elegant clothes in Baltimore. And the village has grown from a center designed to provide for the needs of the surrounding communities to a shopping location frequented by a gamut of loyal customers from Baltimore and beyond.
Esther Deming, one of the owners of Cross Keys Pharmacy, says the project has become "kind of a cosmopolitan shopping area" since the addition of the Cross Keys Inn in 1973.
Formerly a part of the Baltimore Country Club's golf course, the 73-acre site was acquired by the Rouse Co. in 1964. The retail shops and offices, located in what is known as the village square, opened the following year.
"The Rouse Co. intended for the village to be a community, to provide services for the people who live in the area. They could have all their needs met in the village," says Victoria Posey, advertising/marketing manager for Cross Keys. The project, she says, has maintained much of its personality and atmosphere over the years, including a quiet, country-within-a-city setting.
"It's very much a family atmosphere, a social interactive experience," she says.
Each owner's personality shows up in every store and that really does give each shop its own identity. The owners and salespeople know many of the customers by name -- it's almost a social experience as well as a shopping experience."
The residential and commercial complex now includes more than 25 specialty retail shops, 180,000 square feet of professional offices, the 150-room inn, a tennis club and over 650 condominium townhouses, garden, mid-rise and high-rise condominium apartments. The village is an entire city precinct at election time.
The Rouse Co. has expansion plans, including conversion of th second floor of the Village Square from offices to retail or a combination of retail and office uses. A bill introduced this week in the City Council would allow Rouse to also expand the ballroom at the hotel, construct an office building, add more parking spaces and set aside a parcel of land north of the village center for townhouses.
Although Posey calls Cross Keys one of the most, if not the most, upscale retail centers in the area, she says "our concept is not so much to be expensive, but to bring our customers the best that's out there."
Of the center's 16 original tenants, six have remained. Most of the project's merchants have decorated their windows with mementos and items that were popular in the mid-60s. For Octavia's display, Dugan managed to acquire, among other things, the first outfit sold from her shop 25 years ago.
One of Dugan's suits also graces the window. "I was talking about [the display] on a bus, and a stranger suddenly said she tTC had one of those suits! It's amazing how people have kept these clothes," says Dugan.
Deming, who owns the Cross Keys Pharmacy with husband Martin, brother Paul Levine and sister-in-law Gloria Levine, says Cross Keys is "a fun place to be."
"Every day something's happening here," she says. "You just know the people. We have a slow day, and the people in the neighborhood walk down and, if we're having pizza, they'll come in and have it with us."
The pharmacy still delivers to customers in the area, and Deming says it's not unusual for an employee to be late returning from a delivery, as many customers want to sit and chat.
Tonight Cross Keys is scheduled to celebrate its anniversary with a golden oldies concert at 7 p.m. performed by Annapolis Brass on the Village Square. The public is invited to attend the free concert.