Ellicott City's Main Street works to rebuild

Fire-damaged structures revived, and `town has never seen better days'

November 12, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Workers have poured concrete, and cranes are hoisting steel beams at the Rosenstock Building on Main Street.

Two years after a fire ripped through four buildings - causing $2 million in damage and a grim holiday for many Main Street retailers - only one of the buildings has reopened and the Rosenstock Building, which was destroyed, is still without a shell.

But the slow process of repairing the historic shops has not kept business or investments from Ellicott City's busy Main Street, shopkeepers say. Ellicott City - with its active business association, its new business owners and encouraging property investments - is in its prime, some locals say.

`Economic prowess'

"This town has never seen better days," said Rich Taylor, a former board member of the town's business association. "We're at the peak of our economic prowess."

Restaurants have profited most over the past year, becoming a drawing force for the town.

Some shopkeepers say they think the slow progress on rebuilding has been a hindrance, but property values are rising, land owners are investing in their properties and the town is attracting merchants.

`A fresh start'

"The fire was an opportunity for a fresh start," said Jared Spahn, president of the Ellicott City Business Association. "We've had a lot of good rise out of the fire."

Several new faces have popped up on Main Street in the past year, and more will soon be seen.

Margaret Smith sold her self-named art gallery over the summer to Thomas Akins, who has taken over the shop but kept its name.

Jordan's Steakhouse and Tea on the Tiber are scheduled to open next year - both in buildings damaged by the fire. And at least three other restaurants have new owners, including the Phoenix Emporium.

`There's still life here'

"There's a lot of new life on Main Street," said Vickie Goeller, manager of the Phoenix, which was sold two weeks ago. "There are businesses that come and go, but the fact that so many people are investing in businesses on Main Street shows there's confidence that there's still life here and there's still money to be made."

The county announced last week that it has sold the old firehouse on Main Street to a group of investors for $835,000 - more than $100 a square foot for undeveloped space. The adjacent parking lot went for $70,000.

Although some shop owners have complained that the town has buildings that are not as well-kept as they ought to be, real estate investment and improvement is steady.

Investing in the future

The Goellers are investing thousands in the Phoenix restaurant property, renovating and expanding the dining area.

Gilberto Cortes, owner of La Palapa Bar and Grill, is renovating and expanding his Main Street restaurant.

At the fire site, Bill and Barbara Andrews, owners of The Source Unlimited, are working on renovations and an expansion to their damaged building. The building will include an English tea room on the first floor.

The reconstruction of the Rosenstock Building is a $1.1 million effort, said Spahn, whose Old Town Construction is in charge of the project. Spahn said he thinks the new building will be a boost to the town. The building's owners are hoping to attract a large, well-known retail business to the 12,000-square-foot space.

"I think everyone is very excited about that," Spahn said. "These are big ugly holes that I think everyone is going to be excited to be covered up."

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