Protectionism in Ellicott City Howard County: Parking seems an excuse by established restaurants to block competitors.

July 16, 1996

AS THE MYTH GOES, Ellicott City's Main Street is full: There's no room for new businesses, especially restaurants, because patrons will have nowhere to park along the picturesque strip that has become Howard County's tourism delight. This myth has been repeated recently by restaurateurs opposing liquor licenses for two establishments seeking governmental approval to open on Main Street.

Six of the nine restaurants in the business district have found it necessary to form a coalition to ask the county's liquor board to deny licenses to the Milltown Tavern and the Ellicott Mills Brewing Co. Opponents say employees and patrons will

overburden the area's stressed parking capacity. But the parking argument is a thinly veiled and short-sighted effort by existing restaurants to protect themselves against potential competition. A wiser approach would be to welcome the new entrepreneurs as partners who could help the area solidify its position as the county's premier dining area.

There's no question that parking is a concern for Main Street businesses. Enough so that the county soon will install parking meters on some of the most popular public lots, set time limits for on-street parking and hire a private firm whose officers will ticket cars for violations.

Not all spaces are convenient, but there is usually somewhere to park. A public lot behind the fire station near the intersection of TTC Main Street and Ellicott Mills Drive usually has plenty of spaces, even during peak lunch and dinner hours. At a moderate pace, it takes seven minutes to walk from that lot to the Patapsco River. Along the way are most of the district's establishments.

In trying to defend their turf, restaurateurs show the same specious reasoning expressed years ago in Baltimore's Little Italy, the city's bustling restaurant district. Owners there feared that development of the Inner Harbor a few blocks to the west would lure competitors who would threaten their existence. Two decades later, the same owners benefit from traffic drawn to the Inner Harbor. On a smaller scale, the Milltown Tavern and Ellicott Mill Brewing Co. would fill two previously vacant historic buildings, enhance Ellicott City's reputation as a regional destination and expand the pie for the Main Street business community.

Pub Date: 7/16/96

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