Amid dump trucks and debris, signs of life are returning to historic Ellicott City’s business district.
Just beyond the county’s fenced access perimeter to Main Street, shops on Old Columbia Pike are reopening nearly three weeks after a deadly flood damaged the town for the second time in less than two years.
The ClayGround pottery studio has been open since June 1. Linwood Boutique opened Tuesday with limited hours and Manor Hill Tavern will open Saturday. Envy Salon hopes to reopen next week.
While some say the openings are the start of a return to normalcy, getting to the stores is a multi-step process. Individuals must go through a police checkpoint, sign a safety waiver and receive a wristband.
Howard County's shifted focus to disaster recovery in Ellicott City has meant other public works projects have had to shift their timelines. Other projects, including highway maintenance and annual storm drain repairs, have been pushed back as much as a month.
Leah Kable, who oversees the Linwood Boutique, said that while she’s happy to be open, it feels a bit “eerie” without her neighbors on Main Street. Linwood Boutique provides employment and training for individuals with autism and Kable said a major reason they reopened was to provide “consistency” for the store’s 12 employees.
After three days, the store had served four customers. Kable said the store is using the slow time to do programming and retail evaluation.
“You kind of have to make the best of the situation,” she said. “No matter if we have customers or not, we’re grateful we can provide the services [to our employees].”
Access will change again on Sunday, when the county plans to open public access to parking Lot D, with 150 available spaces and access off Roussey Lane by way of Old Columbia Pike. Once the lot opens, county spokesman Paul Milton said visitors will be able to come and go from Old Columbia Pike without a wristband or waiver.
The current process to find a route to the stores and get on the street has slowed business, said ClayGround owner Michael Koplow.
ClayGround’s art classes and studio space make it a destination, drawing people to the shop even if they can’t get onto Main Street, Koplow said. However, like Linwood Boutique, the shop’s gallery space has still suffered from the loss of foot traffic on Main Street.
Despite the difficulties, Koplow said he’s happy to be back, but saddened that the same can’t be said for other businesses. Koplow is donating half of the proceeds from sales for classes at the studio to flood recovery.
Manor Hill Tavern has been open since June 2 to serve free food and drinks to Main Street workers, residents and business owners. Owner Randy Marriner said the restaurant has served hundreds of people in the last two weeks.
“It was the right thing to do,” he said.
Manor Hill will open to the public at noon on Saturday with a limited menu and no reservations. It will return to its normal schedule and menu on Monday.
Whether the restaurant is able to draw crowds this weekend isn’t the priority, Marriner said.
“We need to show that the town is alive. We’ve been open to feed the town, now we need to start to draw some folks to the town,” he said. “And will we be full, probably not. But we need a bright light, we need to say Ellicott City is ‘EC stronger.’”