When Enalee Bounds' mother asked her out of the blue if she'd like to join her in opening an antique shop on Ellicott City's Main Street in 1962, she did what any daughter of a strong-willed parent would do: She said yes.
And so it was that Mildred Werner and her daughter, joined for awhile by Bounds' younger sister, Barbara, became the proprietors of Ellicott's Country Store, located in a two-story stone building near the intersection at Old Columbia Pike and next to the huge outcropping of granite boulders that is a well-known landmark in town.
In the 50 years since Bounds boldly entered into what was then a male-dominated enclave of businesses, she has been a driving force for change in the Ellicott City historic district, say those who know her. For her ongoing efforts, she recently was named 2012 Person of the Year by the Ellicott City Restoration Foundation.
Bounds' contributions were celebrated at a reception June 1 at the Howard County Historical Society Museum, where she was awarded a framed certificate for her "dedication and concern" for her beloved town.
"Lots of people say that when Enalee opened her store, it was a turning point for Ellicott City and that she was the catalyst for the town's rebirth," said Ed Lilley, foundation president.
Back in the '60s, Main Street was the site of head shops and mod clothing stores that people described as being "run by hippies," Lilley said. But Ellicott's Country Store, where Bounds still holds court behind the counter on weekdays, introduced "an upscale element" to the low-lying shopping district, he said.
The businesswoman also played an important role in getting the town listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The Ellicott City Station of the B&O Railroad had appeared on the register 10 years earlier.
After she was given her award, Bounds said modestly that she figures "they gave me this award because I'm still here."
When her store opened, "the men in the shops across the street placed bets as to how long we women would last," she recalled. None of those merchants, she added, are still in business on Main Street today.
Bladen Yates of Yates' Market and Paul Corun of Paul's Market, both of whom are now deceased, were the only men who treated them kindly, she said.
"A friend in Annapolis had told me, 'If you're doing preservation work, don't count on having many friends,'" she recalled. Some townspeople opposed to the new requirements imposed on them as property owners in a historic district would cross Main Street and walk on the other side to avoid her, she said.
But the naysayers' poor attitudes and predictions of failure had no bearing on the ladies' plans, Bounds said.
"We (women in my family) are all brave that way. After all, you can't tell what might happen if you don't take a chance," she said, adding that what some viewed as a gamble at the time has obviously paid off as visitors now come to Ellicott City because of its historic designation.
Though she mainly deflects or shares praise with others, Bounds, who was born and raised in Catonsville, noted that many of the people who were already in business when she arrived didn't seem to realize what a gem the old mill town was, and she believes she helped open some people's eyes.
"Visitors would often ask me, 'Why are you in this hick place?' " she recalled. "I told them, 'That shows what you know. The last place I'd like to be is Route 40.' "
She would go on to give them a quick education about Ellicott City, she said, where she has lived for many years with her husband, Roland, an attorney.
" 'Route 144, or Frederick Road, is the National Road, and it's one of the oldest in the country,' I would tell them. 'And we have the Patapsco Female Institute, the second-oldest finishing school in the country.' "
Fred Dorsey, president of Preservation Howard County, said many merchants did pick up and leave Main Street for what they perceived to be greener pastures when Normandy Shopping Center opened on Route 40 in the early 1960s.