Village people Design: Developer Edward Stoudt is re-creating an old European village, with homes that have commercial space on the ground floor and living quarters above.

December 15, 1996|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

ADAMSTOWN, Pa. -- Edward Stoudt figured his German ancestors had it right four centuries ago. So he's doing his best to re-create a modern-day version of an Old European village -- where every homeowner is a merchant and every first-floor a shop.

Already, with just 18 of a planned 140 houses built, residents have come from as near as the next town and as far as California to buy into what is believed to be the first new community of its kind: houses with first floors dedicated to businesses.

Many of these "village pioneers," as Stoudt has dubbed them, have traded in long commutes and power lunches to go to work down the back stairs and walk no farther than the corner for a haircut, morning coffee or a loaf of bread.

On a tract where Black Angus cattle once grazed, Stoudt is building stucco houses with steep-pitched red roofs and wrought iron balconies along pedestrian-only cobblestone streets. Large picture windows at ground level offer views not into residents' living rooms, but into their shops, filled with antiques, Renaissance-style gowns, Swiss imports, artists' creations, rare stamps and postcards, china, candy and cappuccino.

For Stoudt, 56, developing his first community seemed a natural extension of ventures he has spent more than three decades building and expanding along Route 272 in his rural hometown, Pop. 1,008.

Thirty-four years ago, in what has become Lancaster County's antiques mecca, he opened Stoudt's Black Angus Restaurant. Then came Stoudt's Antiques Mall, Stoudt's beer garden and Stoudt's Microbrewery.

The entrepreneur's latest idea: Stoudtburg Village.

Down the road from the sprawling antiques mall (20 miles northeast of Lancaster and about a two-hour drive from Baltimore), the new villagers say they've found a slower pace, a sense of knowing their neighbors, a comaraderie stemming from a shared entrepreneurial spirit.

"My commute has gone from 28 miles to 28 feet," says Dick Lewis, one of two Maryland couples among the first wave of residents. "This is an opportunity to experience something different. It's the excitement of developing another way Americans can live."

But unlike the Amish farmers who still drive horse-drawn buggies in the surrounding Pennsylvania Dutch farmland, these new home-and-business owners have hardly turned their backs on modern ways.

Living above the shops in three-story single-family or duplex houses, with as many as three bedrooms, residents have amenities that new-home buyers have come to expect: two-car garages, Jacuzzi tubs, walk-in closets, wood floors, fireplaces, skylights, finished basements and gourmet, if compact, kitchens.

Twenty-two years ago, Lewis and his wife, Rosemarie, might have been considered pioneers of another sort. Sold on the village concept in James Rouse's vision of planned community living, they moved to Columbia, then just six years old. In Long Reach, they raised a family. Mr. Lewis commuted to a sales management job in Washington, and five years ago, Mrs. Lewis started a chinaware matching service from the family's home.

But Columbia offered few options for a retired couple looking to scale down living quarters but expand their business, Dining Antiques. The couple had bought a condo in Columbia. But they decided against retiring there after discovering Stoudtburg Village.

It's a lifestyle that appealed as well to Vincent and Nydia Scarpari, who say they've lived in anonymous subdivisions and worked for others long enough. In September, the couple opened an antiques, collectibles and gift shop on the first floor of their new two-bedroom house.

For now, they run the shop on weekends and commute to work in New Jersey on weekdays. But they plan early retirements to work in the shop full-time.

"I wanted my own business," said Vincent Scarpari, a 48-year-old Bell Atlantic employee. "I hate taking orders. You have no input and nothing to say. Here, everyone looks for the support of their fellow merchants and neighbors. It's an old community spirit. In today's communities, you don't have that."

Eight years ago, Stoudt says he began thinking about developing the grounds adjacent to his other businesses. He decided to pattern a development after a 16th century, walled European village and market, a concept that has fascinated him since he and his wife, Carol, visited his ancestral home of Rothenburg, Germany, on their honeymoon 21 years ago.

"We loved the fact that everything is within walking distance, everything is self-sustaining," said Carol Stoudt, an Adamstown native. "It's the way Adamstown was years ago. You'd walk to get anything. We like that small, community feeling."

But winning the zoning to mix residential and commercial uses came slowly in a conservative area uncertain of change. Stoudt's "new" ideas gained acceptance eventually, and with a newly formed construction company, he started building a year ago.

"To me, anybody can build a house," Stoudt said. "We want to build an environment."

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