`Oh, it's way cool!'

Bus disguised as trolley takes a trip down Main St. in Ellicott City

March 30, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

What motored down Ellicott City's Main Street yesterday wasn't exactly a streetcar, but you'd never have guessed it for all the excitement.

"There it comes!" exclaimed Rose Mahoney of MacBirdies Golf Gifts on Main Street, running to a window to get a good look at the trackless trolley rolling past. "Oh, it's way cool!"

The bus in disguise - with wheels and a Chevy engine, but the metal-and-wood style of a streetcar - was just visiting. But give merchants a little time. They expect to have the pseudo-trolley, or one like it, back in town permanently.

Yesterday, business owners gave the red vehicle a try-out on the narrow roads of historic Ellicott City. They are thinking of buying the trackless trolley to help with parking problems on Main Street. Settled in pairs on 14 oak benches, they cheered, waved - stopped traffic to pick up a restaurateur - and then clanged the trolley bell for everyone to hear.

"Before you're going to commit, it's just like a car: You want to test-drive it and kick the tires," said Jared Spahn, president of the Ellicott City Business Association.

Main Street once had honest-to-goodness streetcars. The tracks stopped at the west end of the business district, said Ellicott's Country Store owner Enalee Bounds.

By the time she opened her store in 1962, she said, the trolleys were gone. "It would be nice to have today, but they took it all away," said Bladen Yates, co-owner of Yates Market on Main Street.

A trackless trolley isn't quite the same, but he thinks it's a good idea. Business owners say visitors to Main Street often complain that parking is hard to find, especially on weekends. .

Spahn thinks more residents and tourists would stop by if they could be trolleyed to the shops - no charge.

"We think it's going to pay for itself four times," said Spahn, who has visions of historic re-enactors entertaining riders. "It's something fun to do."

The business association hasn't decided whether to buy new or used. Gray Line, a Southern Maryland company that runs bus tours, brought in the red trolley - the last of its old line of unleaded-gas models. The 1996 vehicle was used for tours in Washington and would cost about $50,000, Spahn said.

Two Main Street property owners, Dr. Bruce Taylor and Donald R. Reuwer Jr., have promised $25,000. Spahn said the rest could be paid off over time by selling advertisements on the vehicle and by collecting fees from merchants who want it to stop in front of their shops.

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