Carving a niche in the furniture business

Rosenstock site revived for new Ellicott City store

Small business

Howard Business

November 10, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The coffee tables, cabinets and armoires at Shoemaker Country, and the building where the store's new showroom will be housed, have a secret in common: They look 100 years old or more, but they're new.

The business on Main Street in Ellicott City turns old wood into new furniture. It opened the doors to its newest location in the former Rosenstock building site Saturday - four years after a six-alarm blaze tore through the early 19th-century buildings, leaving a gaping hole and a loss of business in the town known for its pedestrian-dependent historic district.

John Shoemaker, who manages the store owned by his parents, Thomas and Susan, had worked in the Rosenstock building several years ago when Rugs to Riches, another Main Street merchant, was located there. He said the move is something of a homecoming.

"It's a very unusual twist," he said. "It was a great space back then, and I can't imagine it would be anything but a great space now."

For Shoemaker Country, which specializes in designing and building custom antique-looking furniture, the move to a new 4,000-square-foot showroom demonstrates the success the store has enjoyed since the younger Shoemaker brought his years of experience as an interior designer into his parents' antiques business.

John Shoemaker said sales have been so robust in the past two years - revenue has increased about 35 percent this year alone - that the business can barely keep up with demand for the custom furniture he designs. Their 800-square-foot space a block away on Main Street, which will remain open, is bursting at the seams, he said, and the family can no longer build the pieces themselves - they've had to contract with local craftsmen to build them.

For Ellicott City's quaint commercial district, the opening of the building is symbolic of a rebirth and healing.

The antique dealers, specialty shop owners and restaurateurs suffered terribly after the Nov. 9, 1999, fire that began at the site of the former Main Street Blues restaurant. Fire officials said a discarded cigarette behind the building started the blaze.

The fire destroyed five businesses and four apartments and caused an estimated $2 million in damages. Many of the merchants who were burned out - such as the owner of Main Street Blues - never returned. A few, such as Rugs to Riches, grew larger in other locations, and new businesses filled the space that remained.

But the Christmas season after the fire was one of the worst in recent history for the district - a year later many said they were beginning to recover from the loss of business that occurred during a time when some retailers make the majority of their annual profits. And for two years after the blaze, the site remained an eyesore.

Now, four years after wrangling with insurance companies, the state Department of Environment, local officials, historic district monitors and the owner, the $1.1 million project is open to the public. Nothing remains of the former Rosenstock building. Despite the oversize showcase windows and antiquated look, every beam and board in the building is new.

"It's a one-of-a-kind, not only in its style but in its type of construction," said Jared Spahn, owner of Old Town Construction, which rebuilt in the space, creating the first flood-resistant building in the merchant district built partly over a flood-prone Tiber Creek.

Spahn, who is also the head of the town's business association, said he's hopeful the building and its tenant will help draw more attention to the town.

"We're excited. It shows Main Street merchants are having success that they're able to expand like this," he said. "Shoemaker's has a wonderful draw from the D.C. area, which I think will add wonderfully to the tourism [here], because [customers will] come up, spend the day and get lunch."

Shoemaker said he thinks the town is undergoing a rebirth.

"[Now] is a really good time down here," he said. "Along with the building in the town, there's this rebirth - there's a lot of new shops cropping up. It's kind of bringing things back to life. If more people can do their part to keep things fresh and interesting, there'll be more reason for people to come down here."

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