In Towson at night, life congregates at Borders

September 28, 1995|By MICHAEL OLESKER

I am standing at one of the New Arrivals tables at Borders Book Store, on York Road in the heart of Towson, browsing through Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography of the Roosevelts but noticing a young lady leafing through Ann Beattie's new novel who keeps glancing up to check out a fellow faking interest in a computer book who's actually eyeing a couple of college girls who have wandered into the place and headed straight for the music department one flight down.

In the music department, there are maybe three dozen people checking out the new CDs and, not to make too fine a point of it, each other. In the book store where I'm standing, there are perhaps another 20 people, not including maybe 20 more in the magazine department.

There's a grandmother near me who's inquiring about a book with a sexy-sounding title. There are three high school girls who are, bless them, agreeing loudly that the best movies never hold a candle to the books on which they're based. There are maybe 40 more people on the second floor level at Borders, and that does not include the little snack area, where maybe another dozen are gathered.

Have I mentioned? It is 9:30 at night.

In the city of Baltimore, outside the confines of Harborplace or Fells Point or Little Italy, such a sight of congregated humanity is nowhere to be seen past maybe the hour of 6 p.m.

There are individual city bars, yes, and individual city restaurants, yes, but at 9:30 at night in the heart of Towson, they also have such bars and restaurants, plus a big movie complex, plus the wondrous Borders, which is not only a flourishing book and music and video store until 11 o'clock six nights a week, and not only a place to idle while waiting for your first-run movie to begin one escalator flight up, but a gathering place such as the city itself only dreams about in its modern disrepair.

And this leads us to the question of the day: Why are we hearing such negative things about Towson these days - from people who should know better than anyone what a lovely era they seem to be embarking upon?

For two years now, complaints have circulated about an exotic lingerie shop on York Road. Too titillating, some have complained. Now they're complaining of pool halls moving in, and two tattoo parlors.

A Baltimore County Council member wrings his hands over such developments on the pages of this newspaper. The president of the Towson Business Association is caught getting the vapors over it. Business people in the area talk soberly of "the wrong element" coming to Towson, which misses the point entirely.

Towson is becoming a place of many elements, which is a thing that gives a community life. Towson's days as a quiet, underenergized little country lane are ending, which means the arrival of all sorts of elements. It's the American way. You don't like pool halls and tattoo parlors? Fine. Don't patronize them. But some people like them, and they live here, too.

Towson's lucky. A few weeks ago, the Baltimore County Office of Community Conservation issued a report on Essex and Middle River that made lots of people there wish they could move some place else. Such as Towson.

They had 11,000 reported crimes last year. The housing stock, built before World War II, is run down. There's not enough public transport. Some of the low-rent apartments are becoming drug havens. There are still strong neighborhoods in that part of the county, still a strong sense of community. But time and economics have dealt some rough blows.

In Towson, they've got the vigor of a college town, with the kids from Goucher and Towson State nearby and several other schools a short drive away. (Those wringing their hands over the tattoo parlors might take note: Those are college-age kids getting a lot of those tattoos, and then spending their money in the bars and restaurants - and bookstores, too.)

It's understandable that Towson's guardians feel protective about their community. The whole county's facing urbanization faster than many had anticipated, and everybody's looking at the city's troubles and wondering: Could such things happen here?

Not if they act with more intelligence than the city has. But, in the meantime, instead of worrying about a few tattoo parlors or pool halls, or a lingerie shop that isn't forcing anyone to buy, those who live in Towson, or work there, ought to be doing handstands over its current atmosphere and trumpeting its virtues instead of its perceived flaws.

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