Places to see in Mount Airy

April 23, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Within the past couple of years, a slew of chic stores and restaurants have opened in Mount Airy, turning a small-town Main Street into a popular shopping destination.

The shift started about five years ago, when several store owners got together to form the Downtown Business Association. Together, they staged such events as a Second Saturday Stroll. On the second Saturday of the month, stores stay open later. Sometimes, musicians are hired to serenade shoppers.

The association also organizes festivals in the spring and fall, nonprofit events featuring artists, music, food and other entertainment.

The change gained momentum when the street won a Main Street Maryland designation from the revitalization program created in 1998 by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. That helps it qualify for grants to improve the looks and economy of downtown. Recently, for example, it won $25,000 from the state to improve building facades.

Renovations to historic buildings, such as the former Bohn appliance store, have created attractive new spaces for retail owners. And plans are continuing to renovate buildings and put up new ones.

"A lot has happened over the past year," said Inspiration Point store owner Julie Kennedy of the changes to Main Street. "But there's still more potential."

Carol Cahall, a founder and president of the Downtown Business Association, opened her gift and party store, the Main Event, on Main Street five years ago because she liked the small-town feel of Mount Airy.

"Main Street kind of takes me back to my childhood" near Buffalo, N.Y., Cahall said. "I can have a business and have a life, too."

Since she's been there, she's seen fun stores such as Inspiration Point, Retro-Metro, Amy's Attic and When Pigs Fly open their doors.

Meanwhile, the Vintage Coffee Shop (106 S. Main St., 301-829- 7722), open less than a year, has been luring customers with its spacious, sunny rooms, and delicious drinks and snacks, and the brand-new Laurienzo's Brick Oven Cafe (200 S. Main St., 301-829-6900) is winning rave reviews. An Italian deli, Concetta's Italian Grocer (231 S. Main St., 301-829-7571), has also opened recently.

Here are some of the stores that make Main Street in Mount Airy such a fun place to shop. There are no chains or franchises on the list; all of these businesses are locally owned:

The Main Event -- 1 S. Main St., 301-829-4444. Owner Carol Cahall can turn a party into an extravaganza by adding walls of balloons and other decorations. She's recently expanded her business to include rentals of such items as chairs and tables, in addition to party supplies.

When Pigs Fly -- 104 S. Main Street: 301-829-6952: Up a narrow staircase next to the Vintage Coffee Shop, this surprisingly large store sells a wide variety of gift and home items, including antique furniture, original artwork, jewelry, home decor - what owner Ann Giaquinto calls "an eclectic mix of old and new." Giaquinto and co-owner Alexis McKenzie celebrated the store's one-year anniversary in November. But they still hold other jobs, so the store is only open Thursday evenings, and Friday through Sunday.

Ben Gue Gifts and Collectibles -- 4 S. Main St.: 301-829-2112. In the same location for 29 years, Gue says he's probably the oldest store on Main Street. His shop specializes in country decor, including furniture, candles and artwork.

Inspiration Point -- 116 S. Main St., 301-829-4984. Owner Julie Kennedy had been in business on Main Street only nine months when she moved a few doors over to her current location about seven months ago. The new space, in the former Bohn appliance building, gives her three times as much room, she said, allowing her to stock more furniture. The store sells gifts and items for the home, including lighting, artwork and seasonal decorations.

Retro-Metro -- 118 S. Main St., 301-831-0310. Occupying the other side of the Bohn building, this store, which opened in September, also sells housewares, but it focuses on a clean-line look that's both modern and reminiscent of the '40s and '50s. "Our tag line is a blend of then and now," owner Sherri Johnson said. Johnson said the 100-year-old building, extensively renovated by landlord Rob Scranton, has tin ceilings and many other beautiful details, ideal for showing off her eclectic collection of items, ranging from martini glasses to toys. Other items include stationery, candles, handmade jewelry and unusual games.

Blossom and Basket Boutique -- 228 S. Main St., 301-829- 8300. Ellie Bonde and her daughter Rene Bonde opened this store about five years ago. It's a full-service floral shop, but also sells gourmet foods, candles, notepaper and tea-related items. Custom-made gift baskets built around themes such as the Chesapeake Bay (holding crab dip and towels with crabs on them) or wine (wine glasses, wine stoppers, cheese, crackers and bread-cutting boards) are popular.

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