Rooting for Main Street and Peaches

COMMENT

September 18, 1994|By BRIAN SULLAM

To gauge the potential of Westminster's Main Street, stop in at the Chameleon, a restaurant that opened two months ago.

Jessica and Michael DeCeasare's restaurant has brought activity and people to a portion of town that was devoid of either.

While the restaurant attracts a number of downtown workers with its eclectic mix of luncheon foods that range from Reuben sandwiches to phyllo pizzas topped with chicken, sauteed onions and feta cheese, the real attraction is the outdoor deck with its four tables.

Last week, a colleague and I had a thoroughly enjoyable lunch on the deck. It was a gorgeous day. The sky was a bright blue. The air was warm but free of humidity. The food was tasty and fresh, the service attentive.

But the most impressive thing was to see people congregating, talking and interacting.

During the hour we spent dining, a number of people passing by on Main Street stopped to exchange pleasantries with other customers eating their lunches. Several people sitting inside slipped outside to talk with friends on the deck.

I don't think there had been this much socializing on Main Street since the last parade downtown.

While the Chameleon is a small business that has added five jobs to Westminster's work force, it is precisely the type of enterprise that will revive downtown. Moreover, the DeCeasares are the kind of people the town needs.

The DeCeasares, who grew up in Carroll and remember the county seat of Westminster as a vital hub, are a young couple willing to take substantial risks.

A graduate of Loyola College with a major in marketing, Ms. DeCeasare is 23 years old but has worked on and off in restaurants as a hostess or waitress since she was 15. Her husband has been in the restaurant business since he was 17, working at the Brass Elephant and the Hyatt in Baltimore City and Piccolo's Restaurant in Howard County. He also spent a year honing his cooking skills in a Nashville restaurant.

They are renting the building that used to house the Main Street Cafe and hope to build the business into a 50-seat restaurant. But more importantly, they want to be part of the revitalization effort.

"We are young and have the energy and drive to put in the 70- and 80-hour weeks necessary to build the business," Ms. DeCeasare said. "It's not that people don't have ideas, it's just that many of the town's business are in the habit of giving up so easily."

Ms. DeCeasare said they had the choice of locating their restaurant in a strip mall on the outskirts of downtown, but opted for Main Street.

Not only is the rent lower, Ms. DeCeasare believes a market exists for a place that caters to the professional workers in the downtown offices as well as the young people who live in Westminster and like walking downtown to have a meal.

Whatever plans come out of the workshops, surveys and meetings in conjunction with the Greater Westminster Development Corp.'s recommendations on the future of Main Street, they should encourage the creation of more eating and drinking establishments.

They are natural magnets for people. Once enough restaurants form a critical mass, all sorts of other establishments follow. Fells Point and the Cross Street Market areas in Baltimore are good examples of the dynamism restaurants and well-run pubs can bring to a commercial core.

My colleague, who has traveled the world and has a keen eye for what works and what doesn't in the urban environment, said Westminster is an extremely attractive small town. The cityscape is pleasant to look at, the urban spaces have good scale; all it needs is more shoppers and visitors.

The DeCeasares are making a good effort and deserve support. Let's hope that in the next year or two several more restaurants, coffee houses and pubs open along Main Street.

*

While we're on the subject of food, did anyone out there have a good peach this summer?

I sure didn't.

I knew that last winter's frigid temperatures were going to devastate the local peach crop, but I never expected to see such a meager supply of out-of-state peaches.

Instead of having bushel baskets of peaches as they usually do in July and August, supermarket and roadside vendors displayed their peaches in tiny baskets more appropriate for cherry tomatoes. The few available peaches were handled as if they were precious jewels.

Even when I drove out of Maryland into Virginia's Shenandoah Valley toward Winchester a few weeks ago, I could not locate an edible peach. Several of the roadside stands I frequented in the past had few peaches. Most of them were bruised and looked as though they had been used in a game of catch before they were put out for display.

On that same trip, I stopped for a peach cobbler that in past years had been laden with freshly picked fruit. This year, the crust overwhelmed the peaches, which were canned.

I am hoping that this year's crop of pears and apples will make up for the disappointing peach season.

I am also keeping my fingers crossed that this winter's weather will be kinder to the peach trees. They need a break -- and I would like some plump, juicy sweet peaches next summer.

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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