Last year, while county officials were pushing a plan to reverse the economic decline along a stretch of Liberty Road, Lisa Reveley was quietly building the restaurant of her dreams - and bringing customers back to greater Randallstown.
Reveley opened Symone's Soul Cafe behind several buildings that Baltimore County had targeted for demolition near Brenbrook Lane. Senate Bill 509, a county revitalization plan, was defeated in a November referendum, but its failure hasn't kept Reveley or other business people from investing in the busy commercial corridor.
A half-dozen businesses have opened recently - or are preparing to do so - along the five-mile stretch of Liberty Road from the Baltimore Beltway to Deer Park Road. The owners have not sought government aid and are defying the notion that the area is in an economic slump.
For decades, the corridor has had a glut of small shopping centers and apartment complexes, punctuated by abandoned storefronts and the occasional tattoo parlor and pawnshop. It also has been hurt by the construction of commercial space in Owings Mills.
The new enterprises are varied, reflecting the diversity of the area. A few doors from Symone's in the Liberty Plaza shopping center, two women are about to open Sweet Potato Kids, a children's educational museum. Across the parking lot is Valet Laundry Service, which picks up and delivers laundry at home or work.
Farther east on Liberty Road is the new Carolann Art Gallery and Frame Shop in Savoy Plaza. Near the Beltway, Mike and Sandra Street run Street Folks, a coffeehouse, jazz club and African-American art gallery.
At the other end of Liberty Road, an architect-turned-baker is about to open a commercial kosher bakery at Marriottsville Road.
"All these small businesses are pulling Liberty Road and Randallstown up by its bootstraps," said Henry Weisenberg, director of the Liberty Road Business Association. "They're unique, and this is what we welcome. This is not only what gives a community character; it attracts consumers to come to an area to spend money."
The owners of these businesses were drawn by the densely populated neighborhoods of working-class and middle-class families that flank the corridor.
Reveley grew up in Randallstown and still lives there. She said she wanted to create a restaurant for families who want fast service, but not fast food.
"I wanted something to remind me of my grandmother's cooking," she said.
The result is a brightly lighted, cafeteria-style restaurant named after her 9-year-old daughter and situated in the 8700 block of Liberty Road. It serves no alcohol and has a menu that includes ribs, fried and baked chicken, pork chops and rice pudding.
Two doors away, Pamela Morrison and Michele Hall-Davis, both of Owings Mills, hope Sweet Potato Kids will be a place that parents take children for birthday parties and that schools and day care centers will visit on field trips.
"We wanted the community to be involved and to have a nurturing feel," said Hall-Davis.
Sweet Potato Kids, which opens this month, features rooms where children can dig for fake dinosaur bones, paint, play with puppets, build a robot, dress in costumes or work on computers.
Across the Liberty Plaza parking lot, Stanley Canton and Tony Russell have been running Valet Laundry Service for about a year. The business is slowly growing, said Russell, drawing on a Randallstown customer base.
Steven Rosensweig chose the site for his kosher bakery because of its proximity to the Jewish communities in Owings Mills New Town. Hartman's Bakery - named for a bakery operated by Rosenweig's grandfather until the 1960s - will open in the spring and deliver kosher challah bread and Jewish desserts to homes, synagogues and stores. The business will not have a storefront.
Other business owners say they were drawn to the Liberty Road corridor by nearby black communities.
Carolann Art Gallery and Frame Shop, in the 8500 block of Liberty Road, opened in April, selling mostly reproduction art by black artists. It also offers custom framing.
Mike and Sandra Street opened Street Folks, an African-American cultural center just east of the Beltway, two years ago.
The 2,800-square-foot center offers live jazz and poetry readings, surrounded by sculptures, paintings and crafts from local black artists. Nonalcoholic drinks and desserts are served.
"We lived in Pikesville for 19 years, and we were tired of not having any place to go," said Mike Street. He explained that he chose the location so that he could offer high-quality art and entertainment to his neighbors, and also for the benefit of his children.
"I didn't want them to read about the Harlem Renaissance," he said. "I wanted them to live it."