Main Street revival

Ellicott City: Right touch could improve fire-damaged historic shopping district.

November 22, 2001

THE LAST several years haven't been particularly good ones for this area's Main Streets.

In December 1997, a five-alarm fire destroyed a chunk of Main Street in Annapolis' historic district, leaving an empty hole that still hasn't been filled. In November 1999, a six-alarm blaze destroyed three buildings on Main Street in Ellicott City's historic district, leaving another empty hole.

But there's good news for Ellicott City's most pedestrian-friendly stretch. Steel beams are rising at the site of the fire; a new restaurant is preparing to open; merchants are becoming optimistic after some lean times with declining foot traffic; and two important buildings with historic value have changed ownership.

Main Street, Ellicott City, is primed for a rebound.

The fire, though devastating at the time, has given the strip famed for antique shops and an old-fashioned general store a chance to improve its fortunes as a shopping and tourist attraction.

The community's historic district commission will ensure that the exterior of the reconstructed building meets design standards, so there's no worry that it will get a modern faM-gade. The question is what will go inside.

The property's owners indicated that they want to lure a well-known retailer to the 12,000-square-foot space, but not a chain found at every mall.

Among the ideas tossed around by merchants are upscale stores like Smith & Hawken, a high-end garden and home decoration shop that often locates in historic buildings, or a fine clothing store.

In addition, the street could benefit from the renovation of an old firehouse on Main Street's western edge. The firehouse lends itself to a number of uses, including retail, office space, apartments and a museum.

Main Street's traditional look has been a regional attraction for a long time. Its future may be even brighter.

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