The hidden dangers of Main Street charm

The fire this time: Ellicott City merchants soldier on, but they are too vulnerable.

November 11, 1999

THE Tuesday blaze that devoured four Ellicott City businesses comes 15 years after another major fire on Main Street consumed six structures on the serpentine shopping venue.

The latest fire leaves $1 million damage and several questions: Can property and human life be safeguarded at reasonablecost?

Are the charming old buildings simply impervious to measures that would reduce vulnerability to incineration?

Once the fires begin in these tightly packed buildings, firefighters cannot cope safely. Heavy damage seems unavoidable. No one was seriously hurt this time, but the threat of injury and death demands recognition.

Every effort should be made to find solutions. Entrepreneurial, pioneering shopkeepers bet heavily Page=030 Loose,0008.02on the charming street's commercial potential.

They are rewarded by a daily parade of happy tourists many, no doubt, from other parts of Maryland and other states. The idiosyncratic collection of shops and restaurants preserves the individuality of a historic Maryland city and gives pleasure to weekend adventurers out for a drive and a funky bargain.

Landlords and apartment dwellers, too, will need help and perhaps financial assistance as they contemplate the future. But each step down this road must be taken soberly.

It's still possible that these buildings and the people in them cannot be adequately protected. Rebuilding on Main Street may be as inadvisable as rebuilding houses in a flood plain.

But if a way can be found to better protect these structures, it should be pursued with the resolve shown by the shopkeepers. The cost could be high, but the dividends in quality of life justify the spending.

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