A site for the senses

Sun reporter

A monthly feature exploring the stores, restaurants and sights of Maryland neighborhoods.

Catonsville's shopping district is already known for its splendid hodgepodge of possibilities for artisans and musicians. It's easy to get lost in the corridor's sensory pleasures, from looking at bolts of mesmerizing batiks at SeminoleSampler to listening as a customer tries out a 12-string guitar at Bill's Music Store.

Proclaimed "Music City Maryland" by the state legislature in 2002, Catonsville has long drawn musicians from afar to its cluster of music shops.With a side-by-side trio of stores specializing in the needle arts, the shopping district is also a haven for lovers of traditional crafts.

Now, after a recent streetscape makeover supported by the national Main Street program and the repurposing of several historic storefronts, the commercial districtcentered on Frederick Road awaits new visitors in search of an afternoon's diversion -- and perhaps a ukulele. Here are some ideas for spending time in Catonsville:

1. Seminole Sampler, 10 a.m.

71 Mellor Ave.410-788-1720seminolesampler.com

Begin in the soothing atmosphere of Seminole Sampler in the Mews shopping complex, where employees guide quilters around tricky corners and through piecingpuzzles. Bolts of gorgeous fabrics, coordinated by color, are therapeutic, even for thenon-sewer. But even she or he may leave with a pack of "fat quarters," inexpensive fabric remnants that may inspire a first foray into an enduring art form.

2. The Stitching Post, 10:30 a.m.

67 Mellor Ave.410-788-7760

Next door, the Stitching Post has everything required for doing cross-stitch andneedlepoint, including all-important magnifiers for fine work. Needlepoint charts(patterns) range from $4 for small designs to $40 for large, intricate projects. Business has prospered in part from the economic downturn, says shop owner Melinda Zachary. "People are staying home and looking for something to do with their hands in the evening."

3. Appalachian Bluegrass, 10:45 a.m.

643 Frederick Road410-744-1144appalachianbluegrass.com

Around the corner from the Mews, Appalachian Bluegrass holds plugged-in popculture at bay with its collection of acoustic guitars, mandolins, dobros, autoharps,banjos and ukuleles. On Saturdays, the shop is a "destination drive" for musiciansfrom as far away as New York and Pittsburgh, says owner Emory Knode. Theycome to buy, to have instruments repaired and to share lore with the shop's knowledgeable staff. And if you've ever thought about picking up an instrument but feared you'd flop, take heart from Knode, who says, "No one is truly tone deaf." Besides, starter ukuleles only cost $29.

4. Plymouth Wallpaper, 11 a.m.

720 Frederick Road410-788-8500

Because it is a mainstay -- and a quirky one at that -- the Plymouth Wallpaper company is a must-see. You'll find miles of wallpaper patterned with apple blossoms, sunflowers and such. Beyond the sign "Welcome to Border City," there's a room dedicated, naturally, to wallpaper borders. You can also score a genuine sea sponge for $1.89, a secondhand fur coat or a cookie jar shaped like a Hawaiian shirt.

5. SugarBakers Cakes, 11:15 a.m.

752 Frederick Road410-788-9478sugarbakerscakes.com

Duck into SugarBakers to ogle its stupendous wedding cakes or purchase an apple-pie cheesecake for $24 or a lemon tart for $3.50. When a frilly little room in the bakery isn't in use for wedding-cake consultations, you can take a seat there and sip some coffee before continuing on your Catonsville idyll.

6. Objects Found, noon

818 Frederick Road410-744-9000objectsfound.com

Get lost in Objects Found: Antiques, Art and Stuff on Consignment. Owner Reggie Sajauskas has also scheduled a rotating roster of art exhibits, displayed onthe walls among other decorative items. Her shop, located in a former Army/Navy recruiting center, meanders through a warren of rooms filled with jewelry, vintageBarbie and Ken clothing, original Fiestaware, Depression glass and wonderfully kitschy pieces such as a mint-condition 1950s planter in the shape of a marlin for $50.

7. Peace of Sunshine, 12:30 p.m.

819 Frederick Road410-788-0942peaceofsunshine.com

Across the road, Peace of Sunshine will make your 1960s dreams come true in the form of tie-dye T-shirts and Grateful Dead souvenirs. Pseudo-psychedelic fleecy pajama bottoms make a groovy purchase for the college kid.

8. Catonsville Gourmet, 12:45 p.m.

829 Frederick Road410-788-0003

The upscale Catonsville Gourmet meets a long-term need for a white-tablecloth establishment, but without too much fuss. In the former Muir Hardware store, the restaurant is a fusion of Eastern Shore comfort and yuppie sensibilities. "The Ultimate Soup Meal" ($11.99) included a delicious cup of spicy seafood gumbo, artisan potato chips and half a turkey sandwich. Had I room for dessert, it wouldhave been a slab of Smith Island cake from SugarBakers. In the rear of the restaurant, there's a butcher, a seafood dealer and carryout items.

9. Little Sugar Shack, 1:45 p.m.

821 Frederick Road410-744-4330

If you didn't order dessert at Catonsville Gourmet, be sure to stop at the Little Sugar Shack to sample the hand-dipped caramel/chocolate apples, chocolate-covered marshmallows and peanut paws. Shoppers with a nostalgic streak will find aselection of penny candy, including nonpareils and green-apple-flavored sourballs.

10. Bill's Music House, 2 p.m.

743 Frederick Road410-747-1900billsmusic.com

The afternoon draws to a close, but a stop in Bill's Music House, the mother lode for garage bands and countless other combos, is mandatory. Revel in the infinitemusical possibilities found in a shop where entire sections are devoted to drumsticks and cymbals.

More of Catonsville:

If you have more time, Catonsville has more to show you

Record & Tape Traders, where thousands of used and new CDs beg for your ear. 806 Frederick Road, 410-788-6767, recordandtapetraders.com.

A.W.O.L. skateboarding store. 827 Frederick Road, 410-788-2965.

Jennings Cafe, a long-time Catonsville establishment. 808 Frederick Road, 410-744-3824, jenningscafe.com.

Cloverhill Yarn Shop, which specializes in knitting supplies. 75 Mellor Ave., 410-788-7262, cloverhillyarn.com.

The Candy Box, a local landmark filled with sweet treats as well as candy-making supplies. 1610 Frederick Road, 410-747-5291.

The Benjamin Banneker Historic Park & Museum is dedicated to the self-taught African-American astronomer and surveyor. 300 Oella Ave., 410-887-1081.

If the suburban wilderness calls, take a stroll on Trolley Trail No. 9, a paved route for bikers, runners and walkers that runs from Edmondson Avenue to EllicottCity. Streetcar Trail No. 8 is a shorter path between Catonsville Junction and Frederick Road. For an interactive map, go to home.comcast.net/~crtt/.

Nearby Patapsco Valley State Park offers a wealth of trails and picnic spots. Call 410-461-5005 or go to www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/patapscovalley.html.

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