Towson Arts Collective returns holiday shopping to Commons

It my be just a hiccup for the holidays, but the Towson Arts Collective is breathing some shopping spirit into the vacant Towson Commons building.

The nonprofit arts collective is staging a sale of art works and collectibles — dubbed the "Off the Mall Craft Ball" — on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Towson Commons rotunda, on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and York Road.

"We're hoping for 50 vendors selling one-of-a-kind things that won't be found at a typical shopping mall," said Diane Margiotta, the member who is organizing the event. "It's a beautiful space. It's beautifully decorated and full of light. I've been dreaming about something like this for years."

Parking is free in the Towson Commons high-rise garage.

When the $70 million Towson Commons complex was completed in 1992, Les Graef lauded it as "absolutely the salvation of downtown Towson."

Graef was speaking on behalf of the Towson Development Corporation, the nonprofit that lobbied for the project, and envisioned its five dining establishments and eight movie theaters drawing 500,000 customers to downtown Towson each year.

But things change, given time.

The building has been sold, resold and auctioned off. The Towson Development Cor. is now the Greater Towson Committee. The movies are gone and there are no restaurants — save for the Kyodai Rotating Sushi Bar.

Next to Kyodai, the 10-story Commons office tower at 1 W. Pennsylvania Ave., which has been near fully leased since the complex was built, stands like a lone beacon of success beside the stylish bulwark of vacancies that fail to produce the foot traffic that would help nearby shops and restaurants thrive.

Members of the arts collective hope that, for a day or two, they can help recall the days when Towson Commons bustled with a bit of holiday sales cheer.

"Hopefully, we can make this building come alive again — and bring shoppers back to the downtown area," said Margiotta.

"The collective's mission is to give artists and artisans a venue to display their work, so that the public and see it, and buy it," she said.

Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, said she is always open to ideas that bring shoppers to downtown Towson.

"I'm pleased that the owners of Towson Commons are allowing somebody to use the building," she said. "It will being more life to that area."

Will the sale provide unfair competition for store owners and operators?

"No," said Hafford. "The business community wants things happening at Towson Commons because of the spillover. The more that's going on, the better it is for everybody."

Like Margiotta, Hafford hopes the Towson Commons rotunda can be used for other artistic ventures in the future, she said. "I'm hoping for a conversation after the holidays."

Staging the sale in the rotunda will enable passersby to see the art, pottery, sculpture and crafts. Owings Mills resident Christine Pettie will be there with her Lilies of the Valley hand-made purses.

"Towson will be a new market for me," Pettie said. "This is how I'll get the word out."

Other artists include those working in metal or wood or clay. There also will be lots of jewelry, some of it imported from Mexico and India.

"We're also including the collectible side of flea markets as opposed to the nearly broken blender, Margiotta said. "Call it an upscale garage sale, with vintage clothing, tchotchkes, sports memorabilia and vinyl records."

Most of the items will be unique, including the Beatles albums that Steve Rader is bringing, she said. "Some are worth hundreds of dollars."

There also will be beverage coupons, a "goofy gift" swap, music and a kids art table, Margiotta said. .

The Arts Collective is welcoming vendors, who will handle their own displays and sales. For members the fee is $20 per day or $35 for both days. For non-members the fee is $25 and $45. Proceeds go to the collective and help to fund further exhibitions

For information email or call 410-916-6340.

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