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Production crews start filming in historic Ellicott City on Saturday in ‘special event’ that’s still a big secret

Production crew members film inside Phoenix Emporium in Ellicott City on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.
Production crew members film inside Phoenix Emporium in Ellicott City on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.(Baltimore Sun staff)

It became clear by Saturday evening that a "special event” in historic Ellicott City that’s been wrapped in secrecy and the subject of much speculation had to do with the production crews filming along Main Street.

Howard County government officials posted on Facebook earlier in the week that the unspecified event would close a chunk of a public parking lot, disrupt traffic, limit Main Street parking and cause intermittent road closures through next Friday. The county has refused to comment, and local officials and business owners complained they were given no details.

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Production crew member standing outside Phoenix Emporium on Main Street in Ellicott City on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.
Production crew member standing outside Phoenix Emporium on Main Street in Ellicott City on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.(Baltimore Sun staff)

On Saturday afternoon, a director and crew operating three cameras and a microphone filmed inside the popular Phoenix Emporium bar and restaurant at the base of Main Street, where customers filled tables and crowded the bar. A manager would not talk about the filming and said owner Mark Hemmis was unavailable.

“It was a happy, jovial Saturday afternoon crowd in Ellicott City,” said Ellicott City resident Gary Limon, who was at the bar having a drink while his wife and daughter shopped on Main Street after the family had lunch in town. “I noticed all the camera crews and let them know that, hey, there’s camera crews down here, so they came running down, and we had another drink.

“The staff was clearly under [a non-disclosure agreement] not to discuss what was going on," he surmised.

Limon and his wife, Joy, and daughter, Jami, were all asked to sign release forms agreeing to be filmed but weren’t told anything about the production.

Short of official details, they speculated the production had to do with the restaurant’s planned move to the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company.

The restaurant’s owner announced in December that the business will purchase and merge with Ellicott Mills Brewing Company, located higher up on Main Street, and close its current location March 31.

Howard County officials are acquiring the Phoenix building at 8049 Main St. as the last of 10 properties it needs to carry out a flood mitigation plan. The county plans to raze four buildings and tear down the backs of another six, a plan reached after two historic floods hit Main Street in 2016 and 2018, killing three people and destroying numerous businesses.

Phoenix owner Hemmis said previously that the floods took a financial, physical, and emotional toll on his family and staff.

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But whether or not filming is focused on the Phoenix, other businesses or the historic district as a whole is unknown. Crews were spotted elsewhere along Main Street, and several tents connected to the production took over much of public parking lot D on Main Street.

A film crew has set up in the parking lot near the Phoenix Emporium in historic Ellicott City.
A film crew has set up in the parking lot near the Phoenix Emporium in historic Ellicott City.(Lorraine Mirabella/Baltimore Sun)

Jennifer Newcomb, founder of the Reclaimed by You shop on Main Street, said she met a producer and was interviewed for the show — but wasn’t told which show or any details. She said the production crew asked her about the town.

“Any publicity is good publicity,” she said.

On Saturday, shops and restaurants along Main Street were jammed, some said thanks to the buzz about the “special event," combined with unseasonably warm weather and the previously planned Mardi Gras on Main. That event, organized by local businesses, included a band in a tent at The Wine Bin and special events and promotions at shops.

Arleen Herman, owner with her husband of Blush Republic florals and gifts on lower Main Street, said she has been trying to find out the reason for road closures, to no avail.

“It’s like, hush, hush, hush,” she said.

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Baltimore Sun Media reporter Ana Faguy contributed to this story.

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