Hungry for a Successful Downtown HOWARD COUNTY

April 09, 1993

Anyone who has ventured to Clyde's of Columbia on a Friday night knows this truism: You're going to have to wait quite a while for a table. This popular restaurant, which has sat at the edge of Lake Kittamaqundi in downtown Columbia since 1975, is as close to a landmark as anything else in the area. Its quality cuisine and pleasant atmosphere packs them in nightly.

Now, the owners of Clyde's plan to capitalize on their success by expanding.

They have opened a family-style, Italian restaurant next door to Clyde's and have purchased the vacant Rusty Scupper restaurant a short distance away. The latter property they hope to turn into a steak and seafood operation.

All of this wouldn't deserve much mention, except perhaps on the business page of this newspaper. However, the diversification of Clyde's in Columbia is affirmation of something greater than the fact that people like to eat out.

What it says is that even in the seemingly unplanned sprawl of suburbia, downtown areas still hold an undeniable cachet in the eyes of consumers. Three restaurants owned by the same company, concentrated in a small area, helps prove the point.

Moreover, the interest of the Washington-based Clyde's Restaurant Group in downtown Columbia may signal a turning point for an area still struggling for an identity. Except for the Columbia Mall and a scattering of office buildings, little exists to define the city's hub.

Rouse Co. officials have been stymied of late in their attempts to nurture a vitality in downtown Columbia. The recession halted commercial office construction, and plans to infuse the area with residential communities have been slow in getting off the drawing board. The mall, meanwhile, suffered a setback when it failed to lure Nordstrom as a new, upscale anchor.

Spurring the next phase of downtown development has been as much a waiting game as anything else.

While it is certainly too early to proclaim a total turnaround in the offing for downtown Columbia, the success of Clyde's may well represent the beginning of some sort of trend. At the very least, it will create options in an area apparently starving for variety.

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