Betsey Collins has always thought a pot of gold was buried under the cheap motels and rough bars that lined U.S. 1 in Elkridge.
She was convinced that a major highway with a steady stream of traffic had to have potential as a hot commercial area. After all, those drivers buy groceries, eat at restaurants and need other services.
And Collins, who opened up a pet supply shop at the Elkridge Corners shopping center, thought those drivers could be her customers.
"They all have pets," said the proud owner of Canine & Kitty, generalizing about the commuters who once had little reason to stop.
Her store stocks dog food, pet-care books, gift containers of dog snacks, dog sweaters, animal toys and grooming brushes. It also has supplies for fish and more exotic pets such as iguanas and ferrets.
Canine & Kitty is nestled among some major chain stores including SuperFresh, Blockbuster Video, Rite Aid Pharmacy and Pizza Hut.
The shopping center is in the heart of Elkridge, at U.S. 1 and Montgomery Road, an area that slowly is changing its roughhouse image to that of a family-oriented community.
In recent years, new homes have been built in the vicinity of Montgomery Road and Interstate 95, and a 196-unit apartment complex is taking shape just south of the shopping center on U.S. 1. Also planned for the area is a new Howard County Public Library branch and a modern elementary school to replace the aging Elkridge Elementary School.
In addition to serving both the new and the longtime residents of Elkridge, the center is drawing customers from miles around because of a dearth of stores in the area, said Collins.
"This was a much-needed addition to Elkridge and the surrounding neighborhoods," she said. "There's so much development going on in this area and there's absolutely nothing close. People around here used to go to Catonsville or Arbutus to shop. Now people from Catonsville and Arbutus are coming here."
Collins had thought the location was a prime commercial area for years, since she and her husband, Jon, used to drive through the area while heading from their Ellicott City home to Baltimore.
"On the way back, we'd be hungry and there would be no place to eat," she said. "I'd had the idea a long time ago to open a business there, and when I saw a sign for the shopping center, I said, 'That's it.' Location is everything."
She said sales have reached her high expectations since she opened her store in March. She added that there is camaraderie among shop-owners and managers, who supported one another the first several months.
MA The center, which opened last December, is owned by the L & M
Development Co. Limited Partnership. All 74,000 square feet has been leased, said Donna K. Leanos, property manager for KNLB Management Properties Inc.
"We had people calling on that center who wanted to be in there," Leanos said. "You have an area that has been wanting, and was in great need for a service-type center."
Other merchants in the center are Hi Gear Auto, Moto Photo, Wilhide's Flowers, Golden China restaurant, Joy Cleaners, Shear Brothers beauty salon, and Lee's Card & News Center.
John M. Penner, owner of the card shop, which was named after his wife, agrees that the center's location is good. He said he was familiar with the area because he lives nearby in the Hammonds Ferry area of Baltimore County and responded quickly to an opportunity to go into business there.
Penner said the location and the store's diverse line of merchandise have carried it through the traditionally slow summer period, and that sales will pick up more when he officially becomes a Maryland Lottery vendor later this month.