The developer, San Diego-based Newland Communities, also has said it lacks the money to finish some of the town center's internal roads, after the county council refused to go along with plans to levy a tax or fee on all property owners to help pay for infrastructure.

The lack of a retail core apparently has hindered commercial development in outlying neighborhoods as well. The county planning board has balked at approving a supermarket in another neighborhood because the master plan requires development at the town center first.

"The challenge … is really that the slowdown in the economy caught Clarksburg just as it was beginning to flower," Floreen said. "We have not yet seen the town center part of it develop as vigorously as we wanted to see happen."

The county's priorities for Clarksburg, she said, are increasing school capacity, building a library, and attracting more retail.

On Thursday, DeArros attended to the two or three customers who arrived looking for beer and cigarettes. He helped one longtime customer, Doris — "one of the originals," he said — carry her purchases to her car, and tut-tutted at a young woman buying a cigar.

His dream in moving to Clarksburg in 2002 was to own a burger joint and be able to live next door or upstairs, like storeowners in south Philadelphia, where he grew up. At the very least, he said, he should be able to walk to work from his home in Clarksburg Town Center, less than a mile away from the liquor store.

But the road isn't safe, he says, and the promised bike and walking paths have yet to be fully built.

Still, residents make do, and have come together while they wait for retail to arrive.

Wine tastings at Upcounty are well-attended, DeArros said. Women have their bunco clubs, men have their poker games, and neighbors look out for each other during snowstorms. And in the summer, neighbors order pizza from the shop next door, pop open cans of beer, and sit outside on Upcounty's patio.

If a proposed transit line is built in the I-270 corridor, DeArros said, the last decade's explosive population growth will look modest in comparison.

"As desperate as we are for retail and the social life and some offices and businesses and jobs, and jobs and jobs, it's still a bedroom community that is right next to the highway and can get people to work," he said. "If they bring us the light rail, Clarksburg will grow by a geometric proportion."

Baltimore Sun staff writer Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.