At the end of March, Lauretta Nagel's Constellation Books will join a group of "gone but not forgotten" Main Street stores. The book store wasn't just a business opportunity for Lauretta. It was her lifelong dream to own and operate a book store as she has "always loved books." Lauretta was so committed to this venture that she has held an outside job in software testing to pay the rent and keep the lights on.
Lauretta says that she loves the town and the people in it, but that there was "not enough of a customer base to support this endeavor," nor are there "enough businesses on Main Street to create a critical mass." That's a very diplomatic way of saying there is little on Main Street to engage consumerS and draw them to shop and dine on a regular basis.
Constellation Books, "where every book is a star," is the third book store in recent memory to close its doors. Mary Leone's A Novel Idea went into the space formerly occupied by Cindy Morano's New England Carriage House and barely toughed it out for a year. Long before Lauretta took up residence at 303 Main Street, it was home to Stone Soup Books.
Lauretta says she "hasn't given up on Main Street Reisterstown." She says she still feels it has "great potential to become an Ellicott City." As such, she plans to continue as a board member of both the Reisterstown Improvement Association and the Recreational Council. She will continue her involvement with the Bloomin' ArtsFest and the Library Book Club. Lauretta also intends to have Constellation's Book Club and her group of the Baltimore Free Space Writers continue meeting. at
You don't have much time left in which to stop by Constellation Books and let Lauretta know how meaningful her involvement in our community is and has been and perhaps take home some of her "dear bound friends."
If actions speak louder than words, then Lauretta surely is a star herself in this constellation we call Reisterstown.
The business viability of Main Street has long been an issue for its merchants, who not only find themselves at the whim of the consumer, but sometimes at the mercy of what comes out of left field.
In 2010, then Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith launched the Shop Your Neighborhood Downtown program. It had a great kick-off at Java Mamas and accorded Main Street brick sidewalks and street lamps. However, when elections took place, the momentum of this programming was lost.
From the ashes of past efforts by the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council has risen an umbrella organization, the Reisterstown Improvement Association. Their efforts have garnered grant funding that has been used to make Main Street more "shopper friendly" by adding benches, trash receptacles and signage.
Subsequently, RIA again sought the counsel and assistance of Baltimore County government. Through Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, they have "on loan" Baltimore County Department of Planning Western Sector Planner Amy Mantay. She and what is called the Main Street Committee, an arm of RIA, have been meeting weekly to formulate a "grassroots effort to enhance, promote and preserve the vitality of Reisterstown".
Issues at hand center around better parking, better lighting from street lamps and safety for pedestrians.
Mantay will be guiding the group in an effort to make more grants and monies available for revitalization and historic preservation. Judging by the number of business people that attended the early morning meeting at Bubb's Deli on Tuesday, Feb. 26, she certainly has their attention.
Joining her and the Main Street Committee was the Baltimore County Department of Planning Commercial Revitalization Coordinator Laurie Hay, who brought with her a power point presentation that again explained programs and services that could help Main Street merchants. These included an Architect on Call, an interest-free Building Improvement Loan Program , a Small Business Loan Partnership, a Commercial Revitalization Tax Credit according a five- or ten-year freeze on property taxes, Commercial Revitalization Action Grants and Business Growth Loans.
Tina Johansson, owner of Tina's Antiques & Jewelry, was excited about the aforementioned options. As an owner of several properties on Main Street, she has made out-of-pocket improvements and welcomes the opportunity for an interest-free loan that will also allow her a five or ten year freeze on her property taxes.
The Main Street Committee and Amy are preparing to take their plan to the community to solicit their participation.
Look for my next column on Thursday, April 11.