Where simple is worth preserving

Special To The Sun

The eclectic collections of bric-a-brac hocked at Takoma Park's trademark vintage shops have a uniqueness matched only by the burg's mishmash of people, cultures and lifestyles.

Here, the pace is slow, and the inhabitants embody a small-town sincerity that soothes the soul like a pat on the back - an atypical atmosphere for a community so close to the hustle and bustle of Washington. In fact, the District line bisects the city, but locals agree that the pride and joy of Takoma Park is on the Maryland side.

"There's a certain amount of comfortableness. There are no tall buildings and mostly small shops with independent business owners," says longtime Takoma Park resident Janet Walker, owner of The Gazing Globe garden shop.

Labeling this city as liberal would be an understatement - during a single visit, Takoma Park was called the Berkeley (Calif.) of the East on more than one occasion by its townsfolk.

This community openly abhors corporate America, Savory Cafe owner Philippe Duverger says matter-of-factly. Chains and franchises are unwelcome here, as CVS experienced when it fought - and eventually won - a battle to break ground in Takoma Park.

"For somebody who likes the safety net of finding a Starbucks and Ben & Jerry's, it's going to be disrupting," Duverger says. "People come here looking for real food for real people [and] real shops for real people. It's very much oriented toward fair trade and communities helping communities."

Takoma Park was established in 1883 as one of the first railroad-accessible bedroom communities for downtown D.C., boasting a healthy lifestyle, clean air and uncrowded living -attributes that still attract residents.

Strident political activism, civic involvement and participatory government were also encouraged ever since the city's inception, and this mentality is the hallmark of the community. Citizens rallied to stop plans for a freeway in the 1960s and blocked construction of a parking garage for the nearby Metro rail station in the 1970s.

A decade ago, residents objected to a strip mall in the center of town. More recently, when the natural foods co-op began selling beef, and vegetarians loudly protested, a shopper's poll was taken to determine the fate of the market's meat.

Most of Takoma Park's hip happenings are on Carroll and Laurel avenues, quaint shop-lined streets that crisscross at the city's center. Don't come here for fancy boutiques and high-priced dining, business owners warn. Old Town's attractions aside, Takoma Park's residential architecture - an amalgam of stately Victorian mansions, brick ramblers and quaint bungalows - is worth a glimpse.

Where to eat

Mark's Kitchen (7006 Carroll Ave, 301-270-1884): Patrons come from the farthest reaches of the region to dine at this laid-back, family-friendly restaurant featuring a delightful blend of American and Asian fare.

Savory Cafe (7071 Carroll Ave., 301-270-2233): Enjoy patio seating and an ever-changing, eclectic menu at this relaxed cafe and coffee shop on the edge of Old Town. Customers rave about Chef Philippe Duverger's stuffed baked potatoes and "macaroni for grownups," and vegetarian and vegan selections are plentiful.

Takoma Station (6914 Fourth St. N.W., 202-829-1999): Boasting a relaxed yet sophisticated atmosphere, this small restaurant has been graced by such musical greats as Wynton Marsalis, Stevie Wonder and Jean Carne, as well as emerging jazz musicians.

Taliano's Restaurant & Bar (7001-B Carroll Ave., 301-270-5515): Fine Italian dining in the center of the city can be found at this Takoma Park mainstay.

Summer Delights (6939 Laurel Ave., 301-891-2880): Enjoy more than 60 flavors of homemade ice cream that are as unique as the city itself. This memorabilia-filled, old-fashioned ice cream shop is a must on steamy summer days.

Special attractions

Takoma Park Farmer's Market (Laurel Avenue, between Carroll and Eastern avenues, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays only): Pick up fresh fruits and vegetables galore at this unique assembly of local growers.

Takoma Park Silver Spring Food Co-op (201 Ethan Allen Ave., 301-891-2667): Serving the community for over two decades, this vegetarian-friendly natural foods store is owned and operated by citizens of Takoma Park.

Old Town Gazebo (Carroll Avenue): This pink and blue gathering place in the center of town has long been the site for dancing, musical performances, art exhibits and more.

Where to shop

Takoma Underground (7000 Carroll Ave. No. B, 301-270-6380): This shop's fun and funky selection is equaled only by its outlandish decor and chatty sales staff. Look for the "We're Constantly Open" sign out front, and climb down the narrow stairwell for wall-to-wall knickknacks, clothes, furniture and more.

The Gazing Globe (1 Columbia Ave., 301-891-1444): This brand new garden studio not only offers a wide range of plants, seeds and garden art, but also holds classes, seminars and shows to help customers cultivate their green thumbs.

PollySue's Vintage Shop (6915 Laurel Ave., 301-270-5511): Stop by PollySue's for top-notch threads from days gone by. This boutique boasts an extensive collection of vintage women's gowns, dresses and hats. The men's clothing selection is modest, but the duds are divine.

Rerun (7001 Carroll Ave., 301-270-1664): The former College Park retro superstore now calls Takoma Park home. This shop sports one of the nation's only exclusively retro (1960s-1970s) collections.

S & A Beads (6929 Laurel Ave., 301-891-2323): In need of beads? Look no further than this boutique in the heart of Old Town. Customers can create their own jewelry with the help of the store's bead gurus or buy pre-made pieces.

House of Musical Traditions (7040 Carroll Ave., 301-270-9090): A mecca for musicians from around the world, this unique store has an extensive collection of acoustic instruments, accessories and books from across the globe.

Now & Then (6927 Laurel Ave., 301-270-2210): This store's extensive collection of playthings and novelties can make anyone feel like a kid again. A sizable collection of cards, stationery, kitschy linens and picture frames can also be found for small-town prices.

Takoma Book Exchange (7009 Carroll Ave., 301-891-4656): Bookworms will adore this city treasure. With more than 10,000 books in stock - most priced at $5 or less, this is the perfect place to stock up on summer reading.

Getting there

From Baltimore, take Interstate 95 south to I-495-West toward Silver Spring. Take exit 28B toward Takoma Park. Turn right on Ethan Allen Avenue/Maryland Route 410, which becomes Carroll Avenue.

For more regional trips, see Page 44.

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