The future of Annapolis' Main Street

September 26, 1994

With Main Street shutting down in January for a massive rebricking project, downtown Annapolis faces a real crisis. One would think residents, merchants and city leaders in the state capital would see the wisdom in cooperating to ensure that the business district lives through this year-long disruption.

Instead, residents and the business community are at each other's throats. The feud between bar owners and Alderman Louise Hammond, on a crusade to crack down on code violations, has reached new depths of pettiness. Over at City Hall, Mayor Al Hopkins seems oblivious to the need to guide these warring factions toward reconciliation. The fault for downtown's troubles lies on all sides.

For all that bar owners carp about Mrs. Hammond, she's right when she says city laws about noise and trash are meant to be obeyed. What's wrong with her getting tough on code violators, as long as she's applying the law evenly? Business owners such as Harvey and Michael Blonder, who have taken to harassing Mrs. Hammond by stalking her with a video camera, look ridiculous -- especially since they have a history of code violations.

On the other hand, Mrs. Hammond could be more politic in her methods. She knows how incendiary the situation is downtown; she also knows the stresses on small businesses. Perhaps if she tempered her enforcement efforts with a bit more understanding, if as she reminded businesses of their responsibility to obey the law she also asked how the city can help them, the reaction would be less vociferous.

This situation cries out for a strong leader to stop this feuding. That leader should be Mayor Hopkins.

He should be telling businesses that residents (who are also customers) have a right to their quality of life; he should be reminding downtown residents that if business dies, so does the downtown. He should be making an extra effort to support the business community. That means listening to its problems and trying to find solutions. It means giving the city's new economic director the freedom and resources to develop a plan for retaining existing businesses and recruiting new ones.

Otherwise, a year from now, downtown Annapolis could consist of a pretty new Main Street with a lot of vacant stores fronting on it. We can't believe residents want that any more than do the business owners.

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