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Catonsville historic home reborn as jewelry and tobacco shop

Tom Quirk

From its dominant perch on Catonsville's main street, the stately 19th-century house has over the decades been the home of a neighborhood post office, a newspaper, a pharmacy and a long list of retail shops, selling everything from dry goods to tobacco.

Now a $300,000 restoration has returned the 1830 Albert Smith House, once home to a founding family of Catonsville, to its Victorian grandeur and again given it a prominent role in commerce. The remodeled two-story stone building at Frederick Road and Bloomsbury Avenue now holds a jewelry store, tobacco shop and smoking lounge with walk-in humidor.

The family behind the change, the McCabes — jewelers and clock vendors for two generations — moved their House of Time and Jewelry business from a suburban mall to the heart of the neighborhood.

"We love this building," said Brenda McCabe, who started the business 42 years ago with her late husband. "It's also something that we can eventually own."

Her son, Jon McCabe, called it an ideal spot. "It's a busy corner with a lot of foot traffic, and it comes with a parking lot."

His wife, Tasha McCabe, who will oversee Slow Burns Cigar Shoppe, said she liked the idea of doing business in the historic district. She has ordered leather seating and a flat-screen TV to make the lounge more inviting.

"It will all be about relaxing and enjoying the moment," she said. "Something we all need to do."

The family staged a ribbon-cutting Friday, though business will be limited until the end of the month, when the final interior touches are completed and the display cases filled.

"I like everything about this location," said Ronnie Jantz, a longtime employee of the store. "It's all new with the feeling of old."

The nostalgia may stem from the reused materials and exposed stone walls in what many merchants said is the oldest surviving commercial building on Frederick Road.

"There was a home-based business here 150 years ago," said Jim Himel, one of four partners who own the building. "Customers just walked right in the front door like they will today."

It took the past seven months to take the walls down to 180-year-old stone and bare the timbers that now accent the cathedral ceiling. Crews found new uses for much of the salvaged lumber. They painted the interior in earth tones that complement the fieldstone. The front door is terra cotta, and olive green frames the bay windows, which remodelers installed to resemble those found in old photos of the building's facade.

"Our objective was to take what had become, over time, one of the ugliest store fronts in Catonsville and restore the historical Victorian storefront look," Himel said. "Our biggest challenge was to strip away 100 years of 20th-century layers of ugly."

Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk, who attended the brief opening ceremony, thanked residents for supporting local businesses.

"Everywhere I go, people ask what is going on with Catonsville and why is it so successful," Quirk said. "I tell them that people who live here are investing here, too."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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