Mason-Dixon Arrive, November 2006
Ahh … the holidays. A special time in America dedicated to conspicuous consumption! This holiday season, resist the temptation to rush out to a nearby mall to tackle your entire shopping list in one day. Instead, discover the special gifts found off the beaten path on an old-fashioned “Main Street.” Sample Carroll County’s small towns, stroll downtown shops, sample local cuisine and stop to enjoy the view along the way. With the countryside dotted with old barns and Civil War markers, by the time you’ve completed your journey, you’ll know why so many people have recently moved to the towns of this pleasant county.
Three Carroll County communities – Mount Airy, Taneytown and Westminster – are official Main Street Maryland communities, a program created in 1998 by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) in conjunction with the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Main Street Center to help create thriving downtown areas. These communities have benefited from available funds to revitalize downtown shopping areas, so if you haven’t visited them recently, check them out and see all the exciting changes that have occurred!
Wherever you go, you’re bound to find unique gifts that you won’t find in a department store and will benefit from personalized service by small business owners that will help put the fun back into holiday shopping!
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1984, the Mount Airy Historic District is the heart of the city and a great place to head for shopping this holiday season. Mount Airy has enjoyed quite a resurgence in the past few years, fueled in part by its inclusion in the Main Street Maryland program and its strategic location near Baltimore, Frederick and Washington, D.C. Shopping options include antiques to contemporary goods, plus a popular store that falls somewhere in between. Blending the old with the new to deliver beautiful home furnishings is Retro-Metro, located in the renovated Bohn Building downtown. Sherri Johnson, who owns the shop with her husband, carries items that evoke a sense of nostalgia, as well as modern designs. “In Mount Airy, you can’t push the envelope too far with all contemporary items or you’ll lose customers, so we decided to combine the two styles,” says Johnson, who moved to Mount Airy to raise a family. “It’s a great place to raise kids. People move here for the housing and quiet living, but they still need services. We felt like the town needed some shopping diversity, and for many of the items we carry, you’d have to travel to Philadelphia, New York or Georgetown.” Check out Retro-Metro for home furnishings and furniture, as well as jewelry, handbags and kids’ toys.
Another newcomer to Mount Airy is Knittin’ Chicks, a one-stop-shopping experience for knitters, offering classes, yarn, needles, books, patterns and supplies. Owner Dalia Schulman says that she has taught over 200 people how to knit in just over a year since the shop opened. For younger shoppers, visit Deja Vu Surf and Skate on South Main Street, which besides the obvious – inline skates and surfing equipment – the store sells girls clothing from popular lines such as Juicey, 7, Joe’s Jeans, Billabong and Rusty, says Joanne Sapp, co-owner of the shop.
After a tough day of shopping, why not treat yourself to some pampering? Located in the Bohn Building, A Do or Dye Salon and Day Spa offers a full line of spa treatments. Tina Miller says that she and her business partner Stefanie Scranton had worked together for 15 years in Ellicott City and decided to open the salon in Mount Airy to coincide with the resurgence downtown. “We heard about all the changes happening downtown, and we loved the building on Main Street. An upscale salon was needed in Mount Airy,” says Miller. And, if you’re looking for a bite to eat, there are several restaurants on Main Street, as well as Four Seasons Restaurant on Baltimore National Pike, a Mount Airy fixture for over 40 years.
In addition to shopping and dining, Mount Airy is also home to the Mount Airy Museum and Pine Grove Cemetery, which includes graves of Civil War soldiers. Three terrific wineries are nearby, Elk Run Vineyards and Linganore Winecellars in Carroll County and Lowe Vineyards in Frederick County. Special events include May Fest, Fall Festival and Old-Fashioned Main Street Christmas from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2.
Taneytown is perhaps best known for the nationally-renowned Antrim 1844, a luxury country hotel with an award-winning restaurant. Many visitors come here for the weddings of friends and family, others stop here on a Civil War journey while others come strictly for the luxury of a private room, incredible pampering, a world-class meal and award-winning wine cellar.
Then, there’s downtown. A single stoplight marks the center of town, with no “main street” sign in site. Instead, the names – a different one in each direction, tell more about location than shops. There’s Frederick, York and East and West Baltimore Streets. If history repeats itself, Taneytown is about to be discovered again.
“Boy, has Taneytown changed,” exclaims Nancy McCormick, economic development director for the City of Taneytown and Main Street Manager for Taneytown, which achieved Main Street Maryland designation in 2000. McCormick says that the funds made available by the State of Maryland helped Taneytown improve its streetscape appearance with the addition of decorative historic lighting, new sidewalks, benches and significant landscaping improvements. “We now have specific design guidelines in Taneytown to make sure that buildings adhere to the character of the community,” adds McCormick.
“There is nothing like shopping in a small town,” says McCormick. And soon, there will be more shops to enjoy. “Two high-end antiques shops will be opening next year and an English Tea Room is slated to open this month. These are in addition to several strong retailers already here.”
Jo Ann Kurtz, owner of Every Bloomin Thing in Taneytown, opened her floral shop and boutique in 1999 in a historic Victorian home (circa 1896) that has been in her family since 1921. “I lived in Wisconsin growing up, but we used to visit my grandparents often here. My mother sold the property after my grandfather died, but she always wanted to put her touch on the house, so she bought it back. My kids were grown, so my husband and I decided to take a chance and move to Taneytown to be with my mother.” Kurtz originally had the floral shop in the main house but needed more space, so she moved the floral shop to the carriage house directly behind. Kurtz uses the carriage house to sell silk and live flowers, quilts, pottery and country-inspired accessories. Her mother runs the Boutique in the main house selling handbags, jewelry, women’s fashion, baby items and lotions. “You won’t find these things in a department store. This is shopping the way it’s supposed to be, shopping at a slow pace in a tranquil setting, with the owner,” says Kurtz. Kurtz encourages visitors to also take part in one of the guided or self-guided walking tours of Taneytown, which boasts historic churches, homes and an eclectic mix of architecture.
As a Main Street Maryland designee, Westminster’s downtown is pedestrian-friendly – with wide sidewalks, mature trees and brick crosswalks – and boasts city-like shopping and restaurants in a small town setting. “Downtown’s thriving restaurant scene includes international cuisine,” says Stan Ruchlewicz, Westminster’s Main Street manager. Ruchlewicz touts Giulianova, a wonderful Italian deli; a new Thai restaurant, Thai Classic III; Maria’s at the Westminster Inn serving veal, lamb, pork, seafood and other traditional fare; Johansson’s Dining House’s chicken, seafood and steak entrees; Rafael’s with its amazing crab soup; O’Lordan’s Irish Pub; and The Poor House, a Seattle-style coffeehouse with live entertainment. Ruchlewicz says that O’Lordan’s gives diners a true Dublin feel, as some of the furniture and furnishings for the restaurant came straight from Ireland. And, if you’re looking for a sweet treat, check out the Starry Night Bakery and Coffeehouse, located just off Main Street in the Fairground Village Shopping Center.
So, after you’ve tasted the international fare downtown, it’s time to walk off lunch by hitting the shops! Westminster has a wide array of shops … there are flowers and gifts, fashion, jewelry and art, several stores with hand-crafted items, books, music, antiques – you really can find something for everyone! Ruchlewicz says that a key element in the success of Westminster’s Main Street program are the number of special events that brings visitors to Westminster. “On First Thursdays throughout the year, shops are open late, and on Nov. 2, we’ll have a Cookie Walk where shoppers can visit shops and a get a cookie sample. The Downtown Tree Lighting and Holiday parade on Nov. 25 is huge, as is the Festival of Wreaths from Nov. 29-Dec. 3 at the Carroll Arts Center.” The Carroll Arts Center, a historic art deco theater on West Main Street, is home to a 263-seat theater, the Tevis Art Gallery, two classrooms and the offices of the Carroll County Arts Council. The theater brings people downtown for performances of live music, theater and movies. On Dec. 7, downtown will host a Holiday Walk, while on Dec. 8, shops are open until 10pm for “Starlight Shopping.” Another holiday favorite is Santa Claus’ house, which is open every Saturday from Noon-4pm in December.
Hampstead has been called a quintessential American small town with farming roots that has retained its small-town atmosphere even as it has continued to develop and grow. A Main Street Revitalization Plan has seen the renovation of an old bank building on Main Street as the new police station and the restoration of a 1912 train station, while a planned new bypass road aims to alleviate downtown traffic congestion.
Hampstead has several quaint shops, including the Curiosity Shoppe, Country Sunshine and Rusty Stars Country Store. Jim Hutchins, who runs Rusty Stars with his wife, opened about two years ago. “We try to carry unique items that aren’t always easy to find at a great price.” Rusty Stars carries primitive style furniture, lighting, rugs and other period collectibles. We love the look. It’s homey, relaxing and you can dress it up or down. All of our furniture is American made, too.” Hutchins adds that he has customers from as far away as New Jersey, Delaware and West Virginia. “And, of course, we carry stars ranging in size from one-inch to 6-feet large.”
Another town in Carroll County enjoying a resurgence is Manchester, where home prices have well exceeded the $300,000 mark and the downtown area is thriving, led in part by the Manchester Area Merchants Association (MAMA), says Lynne Bare, vice president of MAMA and 20-plus-year resident of Carroll County. “We support and help promote the local businesses with activities and partnerships with local organizations,” Bare says. “For example, we help the police department with the block parties they hold in the fall. Our big holiday event coming up is our Black Friday Christmas Open House. Held the day after Thanksgiving from 6-9pm, we’ll have carolers, Santa Claus on a fire truck, wagon rides, raffles and games, and local businesses will be open late serving cider and cookies.
“Manchester is changing all the time. There are always new businesses opening and new faces downtown,” Bare adds. Manchester is also the home to Cygnus Wine Cellars.
“I’m always asking people, ‘Have you been to Sykesville lately?’ If they say, ‘no,’ I tell them that they have to come for a visit because it’s always changing,” says Craig Taylor, president of the Sykesville Business Association and owner of Sykesville Clocks and Collectibles. Taylor, who moved to Sykesville 22 years ago, says that residents move to Sykesville for the low cost of living, the quiet and the fresh air that rolls over the mountains from Frederick. However, people also need great shopping and dining. “We don’t have a grocery store or department store downtown. Instead, we have small businesses that deliver great customer service and unique finds with an old-time friendly flavor with free parking and no traffic lights.”
Taylor says that great shops like Contrary Mary’s, Purkey’s Toy Trains and Alexandra’s Attic have anchored Sykesville for years. But the addition of a bookstore, coffee shop and several antique stores make for a great destination any time of year. “Sykesville makes for a great daytrip from Baltimore, Washington or Frederick, as there is more to do than just shop,” says Taylor. Sitting on the deck of Baldwin’s Station is the perfect place to pass a summer evening.
“We have two of the best restaurants in Carroll County in Baldwin’s Station and E.W. Beck’s. Also, there’s the Sykesville and Patapsco Railway, which operates model train displays in a 1910 Pullman passenger car and a 1925 vintage wood caboose.” Taylor says that annual events – such as the Spring Flower Festival in May, Strawberry Festival in June and Fall Festival in October introduce a lot of visitors to Sykesville. And, the town really puts on the decorating charm for Christmas. “On Dec. 2, we’ll have a Christmas Open House where Santa will be seated on a red train caboose. The Business Association will take a photo of every child who sits on Santa’s lap for free, too.”
Union Bridge/New Windsor
If you’re looking to experience true small town living, check out some of Carroll County’s smallest towns, including Union Bridge and New Windsor. Each offers the opportunity to step back in time, while also serving up great food and small shops to explore.
The small town atmosphere is what drove Jim Rowe to stay in Union Bridge when he opened the home-style restaurant, The Buttersburg Inn, four years ago with Frank Tunzi. Rowe grew up in Union Bridge, while Tunzi grew up in Italy. “Frank’s mother comes in and cooks authentic Italian food once a week, but we are primarily a restaurant serving comfort-style food – stuffed pork chops, turkey and roast beef. All of our food is homemade, all the way down to the gravy,” says Rowe, who also bakes the cakes and pies served. “I learned how to cook from my grandmother, who owned a dairy farm. Then, when I started my career in nursing, I cooked for a Jewish family to help put my way through school,” adds Rowe.
Rowe adds that The Buttersburg Inn is a hit with locals, but they also draw from Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Pennsylvania, Rockville and Frederick. The restaurant is open every day except Wednesday, and Rowe says the country-style breakfast is delicious, the kind of food that “sticks to your ribs.” On Sunday, they change the menu a bit to try out such entrees as fried rabbit and hog balls – meatballs made with pork.
“Union Bridge is changing. It’s still small, but there are some new businesses, such as the Union Bridge General Store next door to us, which carries great gifts, including collectibles and retro items from the 1920s and 1930s,” says Rowe. “It’s such a great small town. I really enjoy running this restaurant with Frank. We’ve met so many nice people, and it’s been fun watching our customers’ kids grow up. Our customers have become extended family to us, and the kids even call us, ‘Uncle Jim’ and ‘Uncle Frank.’ ”
Also, check out New Windsor, especially A Greater Gift, the local shop for SERRV International, a non-profit organization that promotes the social and economic progress of people in developing regions of the world by purchasing and marketing their handcrafts in a just and direct manner. Visit A Greater Gift for rugs, jewelry, children's toys and Christmas decorations, all at reasonably prices.
For more information on what to do in Carroll County, call the Carroll County Visitor Center at 1-800-272-1933. The center is located at 210 E. Main St., Westminster and is open Monday-Saturday, 9am to 5pm, Sundays and most holidays, 10am to 2pm.