It's been so long since the Towson stretch of York Road has been a bustling shopping area, you may have forgotten there's anywhere else to shop but Towson Town Center. Not so.
True, York Road looks a little like Main Street in Small Town America these days, with many storefronts deserted and boarded up. But if you get out of your car and walk up and down York and its cross streets, you'll find some great stores, many small eating places and more day spas and salons than you can shake a stick at.
Why not spend part of an afternoon exploring the Other Towson? If this interests you, here are some suggestions for good shopping and a route to follow.
It hardly seems right to park in the Towson Town Center lot if you aren't going to shop there; but be warned that if you park in the Towson Commons garage without getting your ticket validated, this jaunt will cost you $11. Metered street parking is available, and there's always the paid parking lot at the library.
1) 11 a.m. Hudson Trail Outfitters
It's worth taking a look at this wilderness-outfitting specialist even if the outdoors doesn't interest you much. The space is so big, it has its own waterfall and goldfish pond.Inside the multilevel store is everything for the active lifestyle - including kayaks hanging from the ceiling, what looks like dozens of bicycles and a whole floor of camping gear.The clothing lines include North Face, Patagonia and Under Armour, with everything from yogawear to ski jackets. Of course, if you need flip-flops or hiking boots, the store has a wide selection.
424 York Road
2) noon JFriendly Outfitters
This is a different kind of outfitters. JFriendly is, as the owner describes it, a "young men's urban skate brand," including T-shirts, polos, button-downs, shorts and pants. You'll see young women in here, too, eyeing the silk-screened hoodies ($50). Older adults are, of course, shopping for their children (wink, wink).The owner, who likes to be known as JFriendly, is a Towson University grad on the verge of national success. He's picked up accounts at two New York chains, and his clothing line will be appearing in their35 stores. You can get it here now.
408 Delaware Ave.
3) 12:30 p.m. aParadox
Walk back to York Road and hope this tiny boutique near the Recher Theatre, popular with Towson students, is open. Hours can be funky; if it's not open, go have lunch and come back in an hour.The shop specializes in vintage-looking clothing for "socially conscious" women and has its own line of T-shirts called Gimmickwear. You'll find trendy lines such as Stop Staring Dresses, Free People and EC Star. Cool hats are a specialty. Looking for Incognito sunglasses? You'll find them here.And aParadox's sales are great, regular customers will tell you.
508 1/2 York Road
4) 1 p.m. Burger Bros.
Time for lunch. Walk up to the circle and go across to Allegheny Avenue. On the right, you'll see the new Burger Bros., owned - surprise - by two brothers. You can indulge in freshly ground beef, brioche rolls and fresh-cut french fries. There are also chicken sandwiches, a Gourmet-magazine-endorsed brand of hot dog and salads.If burgers aren't your thing, there are two good alternatives for lunch on the other side of Allegheny: Zia's organic cafe and the Kebab Hut, with its pita bread made while you watch.
14 W. Allegheny Ave.
5) 1:30 p.m. M'Jourdelle
Backtrack a little to York Road north of the traffic circle and you'll find M'Jourdelle in what may be the oldest building in Towson. Supposedly, this is the 18th-century house of the original Towsons. Be that as it may, for the past 27 years it's housed a bridal and formalwear shop.
At the shop this season's gowns for proms come in all colors of the rainbow, with lots of sparkles ($120-$400). It's fun to browse even if you don't have an event coming up.
This is also one of the few places where you can find the long, white graduation dresses many local high schools demand. And you've never seen mother-of-the-bride dresses like these, with feathers and sequins. As saleswoman Debby Cleary says, "We're not frumpy here."
617 York Road
6) 2 p.m. Grillo & Co. Inc.
Now back to Allegheny (it's hard to do this excursion in an orderly fashion because of the traffic circle) and Grillo & Co. jewelers. New clients from downtown Baltimore have been streaming here since this small shop was voted Baltimore's Best jewelry store in 2007 by City Paper, says owner Philip Grillo.
Most of the jewelry is designed here, and it ranges from silver earrings for $25 to an aquamarine and diamond ring for $5,000. Enjoy the Murano glass in bright colors, the Tahitian black pearls and the Swiss quartz watches with the Grillo name that average about $200.
17 W. Allegheny Ave.410-832-5272
7) 2:30 p.m. Ten Car Pile Up
Walk south on the other side of York and you'll quickly come to Ten Car Pile Up. This is one of the area's best-known shops for vintage clothing from the '20s to the '80s. Whether you need a costume or like vintage for everyday wear, you're bound to find something. The selection is enormous.Look up at the ceiling and you'll see the real antiques hung there, like a pair of gold sequined burlesque dancer's shorts from the '40s ($50). On the floor are square-dance and other dresses, oxford shirts that never go out of style, shoes, purses and necklaces.
511 York Road410-832-5246
8) 3:30 p.m. Wilson Lighting & Interiors
Head south on York Road past the library, and you'll come to Wilson Lighting & Interiors, which is best known for having the largest selection of lampshades on the East Coast. If you're in need of a lamp or a light fixture, Wilson carries everything from a brass table lamp for $89 to a Waterford crystal chandelier for $3,500.The company is also known for its collection of specialty light bulbs and accessories, such as prints and mirrors.
208 York Road410-823-0423
Got more time? Here's more to do:
Towson has so many day spas and salons that it's hard to choose just one, but try the new Green Leaf Asian Bodyworks. It specializes in skin care, fusion massage, reflexology and acupressure. 22 W. Allegheny Ave., 410-296-1428
Take in a show at AMC Towson Commons. It isn't state of the art, but the blockbuster movies are never crowded, either. York Road and Pennsylvania Avenue, 410-825-5233
Have dinner at Cafe Troia, a family-owned Italian restaurant. 28 W. Allegheny Ave., 410-337-0133, cafetroia.comIf you're a bride-to-be, the high-end Gamberdella Salon for Brides is a must stop, if only to give you ideas. An appointment is necessary for a bridal gown. 30 W. Pennsylvania Ave., 410-828-7870, gamberdellabridalsalon.comThe Health Concern is one of the area's largest natural-foods stores, family-owned and -operated since 1971. 28 W Susquehanna Ave., 410-828-4015, healthconcern.com
Stop in at the Chamber of Commerce office to see maps and plans for the ambitious Towson redevelopment. 23 W. Chesapeake Ave., 410-825-1144, towsonbusinessassoc.org
Catch an indie-rock show at the Recher Theatre. 512 York Road, 410-337-7178, rechertheater.com