With the ringing in of the New Year, changes are afoot along Main Street in Historic Ellicott City.
Two Main Street mainstays — I Love Theatre and Taylor's Antique Mall — closed their doors for the last time Tuesday, Dec. 31. A short-lived Subway franchise closed its doors earlier in December.
"I think we naturally experience turnover in our town," said Andy Hall, interim president of the Ellicott City Historic District Partnership. "There's always some ebb and flow to stores. ... Right now, we're wondering what's going to happen in those spaces, but really, in a business district like ours with close to 100 businesses it's not unheard of to have a few vacancies. ...Given that it's the end of the year, it seems to be a time for people to make changes."
Still, Hall said, some people are concerned to see so many vacancies at once, especially after a year of changes for the historic district's businesses: toy store Mumbles and Squeaks closed last summer, with Craig Coyne Jewelers moving into that space, and JoanEve moving from its spot opposite the B&O Railroad Museum to Craig Coyne's old location. On top of those moves, two new shops are set to open on the lower end of Main Street, Hall said.
"But I think if you take a longer-term view of it, you see these vacancies come and go," he said. "There's a shuffle, and some of that natural turnover you see with any business district."
More turnover is on its way. John Fisher, the owner of the buildings containing Subway and I Love Theatre, said a renter has already been secured for the I Love Theatre space, and he's in negotiations over the Subway location. When the Subway opened in 2011, residents and business owners were concerned that the only chain restaurant along Main Street wouldn't mesh with the historic feel of the district. Fisher wasn't concerned about that then, he said, and he's not concerned about that now.
"I want somebody who's financially strong," he said. "That's all. I have no pre-determined thing that I want or don't want. I need someone who's business-savvy."
Fisher wouldn't say who would be renting the I Love Theatre building. Michael Kornstein, who has run the Maryland gift store since 1997, is retiring, Fisher said. Fisher said the Subway corporation rented the space next door, and he had "no idea" why the restaurant closed.
"Whatever it was, it was," he said.
Meanwhile, up the street from I Love Theatre and Subway, Taylor's Antique Mall is about to be redeveloped as a restaurant, said new owner Don Reuwer.
"We have great plans," he said. "The entire building needs renovated so we're going to have to close it down for a bit, to gut it and re-do it, but we're working with a local restaurateur to come up with a cool concept for it."
Reuwer's business partner in the venture is Bruce Taylor, medical director at Sheppard Pratt in Ellicott City. Between Reuwer and Taylor, Reuwer said he figures the two own "about 40 percent" of the buildings on Main Street — including the old Caplan's building, which is now home to the home goods store Sweet Elizabeth Jane. Purchasing Taylor's was of interest to Taylor because the building was constructed by his grandfather, Irving Taylor, Reuwer said.
Taylor's interested Reuwer because of its location and size, he said.
"It's probably the most centrally located building in Ellicott City," he said. "It's certainly one of the largest."
After the building is renovated — new HVAC, new electrical systems and the facade restored — the basement and the first floor will be a restaurant, Reuwer said, and the top two will likely be office space.
"We're not going to change the building, we're just going to fix it up," Reuwer said. "It's still going to be Taylor's."
Taylor's has been a Main Street icon since 1924, which was the fourth location for Irving Taylor's business, according to a plaque on the building. The business grew from jewelry and optometry to music boxes and then home appliances, according to the plaque. The building was purchased in 1970 and run as a furniture store by Marvin Sachs, who closed the department store in the 1990s and ran the business as an antique mall. Sachs passed away in August 2012, and Reuwer and Taylor purchased the building from his estate about three months ago, Reuwer said.
"This building is a big part of history," said Susan Hurd, manager at Taylor's Antique Mall. "This has been here for years and years and years."
Hurd said the building's 101 rental spaces were completely filled among 56 antique dealers. About 15-20 of those dealers are moving down the hill to the Antique Depot on Maryland Avenue, and furniture dealer Fox Run Antiques will be selling at Savage Mill. Other dealers are moving to antique malls in Frederick and Annapolis, Hurd said.
With the antique mall closing, it's "like 56 little shops closing at once," Hurd said.
"A lot of customers have been here as long as we have and they're sad to see us go," she said.
Customers are also nervous that the antique mall's closing will "change the flavor of the town," Hurd said, and Taylor's employees hadn't been given any indication what the building would become. Still, she said, she and the other employees and owners wished Reuwer and Taylor the best.
The historic district, Hall hopes, will be a "welcoming town to whoever moves in." He said he would like to see "vibrant businesses," with a possible focus on small or local businesses "that adds to Ellicott City."
"We have a vibrant, eclectic group of businesses in town that offer a little bit of something for everyone, no matter their age or demographic," he said. "They all bring something unique to this town that's hard to find anywhere else."