Downtown Pikesville enjoys rebirth

Comeback: A combination of national-chain stores, local shops and restaurants have helped revitalize one of Baltimore's oldest suburbs.

Communities

September 26, 2004|By Seth Rosen | Seth Rosen,SUN STAFF

Under a scorching summer sun, two dozen shoppers strolled through the new Pikesville Farmers' Market on a quest to find the perfect peach, the ripest tomato or the freshest blueberries. Many echoed the sentiments of Dan Gorman, who was exuberant about being able to buy fresh, organic produce in his community.

More than 350 people have been coming to the market, on Walker Avenue in the parking lot next to the Pikesville Library, every Tuesday since it opened in July, said co-manager Gabe Rosenbush.

"The whole purpose of the market is to bring people into Pikesville and hope that they will go to the other merchants and shop at the retail stores," Rosenbush said.

The farmers' market is just one aspect of a revitalization effort that has helped downtown Pikesville foster a unique identity and has breathed life into one of Baltimore's oldest suburbs. Over the past several years, Pikesville has become a more vibrant commercial center, community leaders say, thanks to a healthy mix of new investments from regional and national chains, such as Giant and Target, and small, locally owned businesses and restaurants.

"The concept of the revitalization is to maintain a town-village feel while attracting national companies," said Baltimore County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, whose district includes Pikesville.

In the 1970s, Pikesville was in its heyday as a thriving retail center containing popular high-end shops and prosperous neighborhood institutions, said Sherrie Becker, executive director of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce. However, over the course of the next two decades, shoppers began abandoning traditional Reisterstown Road stores for newer suburban centers and malls.

Insufficient parking and the high costs of assembling land for property development continued to hinder growth in Pikesville. In response, it was designated as one of Baltimore County's 13 revitalization districts in 1997, which made property owners eligible for incentive programs such as business improvement loans, tax credits, development assistance and an architect-on-call program, Becker said.

Since then, 30 Pikesville businesses have invested more than $36 million in the community by building stores and rehabilitating existing shops. The county and State Highway Administration have also spent more than $3 million in streetscape beautification projects on Reisterstown Road between Interstate 695 and the city line. The new bridge at Interstate 695 and Reisterstown Road has provided an attractive gateway to the community and drastically improved the frequent gridlock in Pikesville, Becker said.

The goal of the renewal process is to create a "Main Street" atmosphere where people can park their cars and walk along Reisterstown Road patronizing businesses, said Peirce Macgill, a revitalization specialist for the county's Department of Economic Development.

Large chain retailers, especially the new 126,000-square- foot Target store just inside the Beltway and a large Safeway grocery store at Reisterstown and Old Milford Mill roads, have proven to be anchors for the community and have helped attract shoppers from outside Pikesville, said Kamenetz. This has produced a "ripple effect" for Pikesville's smaller enterprises, he added.

"The chains provide stability, but the smaller stores give charm to the area," Macgill said.

One of the new centerpieces of Pikesville is Centre Court, a 10-acre, $10 million complex that is bordered by Old Court Road and Walker Avenue. Giant Food leveled its grocery store on Old Court Road and built a 63,000-square-foot store directly behind the old site. The shopping center also contains an M&T Bank and eight other retail shops and restaurants.

"The new Giant has been the catalyst for local retailers to reposition themselves and for others to look at Pikesville as a good location" for companies to expand into, said Len Weinberg, who developed the Centre Court project as co-owner of Vanguard Equities.

The Giant's size and location near the Beltway have made it a shopping destination for those who do not live in Pikesville.

"I love it. It's big and has everything you need," said Shulamit Gartenhaus, who lives in Mount Washington. "More stores are now located here, and that's less you have to travel."

New business enterprises have been attracted to the area because the local population has a high median income, is well educated and is willing to spend money and support community businesses, said Barry Blank, a vice president of the Pikesville-Greenspring Coalition. Blank cautions against exaggerating either the so-called "horrific decline or spectacular renaissance" of the retail community in Pikesville, but does believe that the perception of a revitalization has helped make that concept a reality.

Kamenetz also stresses the importance of the perception of Pikesville in the Baltimore region.

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