West Annapolis shops deliver diversity, charm and warmth

February 21, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

A common thread runs through shops in West Annapolis, where the owner likely will be the person behind the counter, a nearby resident and a woman.

Owners of the couple of dozen specialty boutiques in wood-frame former homes lining Annapolis Street couldn't say for sure why.

"It's just the nature of the beast," surmised Claudine Hawkins, a 25-year-old who opened The Red Balloon, a children's consignment shop, last month. "Black-Eyed Susan is needlepoint, and Papagallo -- you wouldn't expect a man to run them, not the type of shops we have."

West Annapolis merchants, after deciding to go into business for themselves, bypassed the bustling retail hubs, sacrificed walk-by traffic and went in search of charm.

They found it in a two-square-block area east of Rowe Boulevard, on tree-lined, quiet streets with few tourists, reasonable rents, plentiful parking and no chain stores. Shoppers browse among beads, books, antiques, art supplies, knitting yarn and folk art, eat German food for lunch and stop for British food or gourmet coffee.

"It's not a slick area. It's a very personal, warm area," says Caroline Weiss, owner of Karinya, a bead shop she moved two years ago from Maryland Avenue in downtown Annapolis. "I don't know if that's why it appeals to women more than men. But it makes you feel good to shop here."

Another shop owner, Barbara Inman, had managed a Naval Academy gift shop for seven years when, in 1979, "I decided I should be doing something for me."

The coffee aficionado opened a gourmet coffee shop, passing up downtown Annapolis and the new Annapolis Mall for a former high-fashion ladies tailor shop.

Back then, The Gourmet's Cup was one of just eight or nine shops in the area and the only one on its block.

Lorraine Zublionus sells collectible plates and dolls at The Plate Niche. She's owned the shop three years, since she came to shop on Annapolis Street one day and decided to stay.

"When people come in, they're a name," she said. "Sometimes, I think they just come to talk to you. To me, that's just as important as making a sale."

Before the late 1970s, only homes lined Annapolis Street. Then ++ Black-Eyed Susan opened at 12 Annapolis St., selling needlepoint upstairs and yarn on the first floor. That shop was joined in the same building by Art Things and Whippersnapper, which sells children's clothing. Jane Huey opened Huey's House of Wallpaper next door in her home, while

she and a partner, Priscilla Foust, ran Pris' Paper Parlor, which sells invitations and stationery, upstairs.

"I have seen many businesses come and go, but more come and stay than go," said Ms. Foust, now sole owner of the Paper Parlor. "The people who have come in for the most part are still there."

For years, the district has vied for attention in a spot that shoppers and tourists heading to the capital often miss. But now, the area has become a stop for the city trolley, has its own merchants' association and plans its first in-the-street art show this spring.

"It's coming into its own," said Laurie Nolan, owner of Art Things, which was started by her mother, Lydia. "We've always served local people, the way downtown used to be. We're the next downtown."

Over the past two years, new shops have added to the street's diversity, while others have changed hands and traded places.

But the intimate feel of the neighborhood has remained, with landlords or other residents still living above shops, said Maxine Frederick, who worked for the owners of Black-Eyed Susan before buying the business 18 years ago.

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