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Main Street gallery owners decide to stay, or leave, following flood

Main Street gallery owners decide to stay, or leave, following flood
Mat About You owner Charles Gruss, who reopened his store in Ellicott City after last year’s flood, chats with Joan Grauman about her adult coloring book of sketches depicting Ellicott City. (Algerina Perna/The Baltimore Sun)

For many gallery owners in historic Ellicott City, the decision to either stay or leave after the flood hinged on their concerns of future storms. It was a decision each arrived at differently.

On the weekend of the flood, The Artists' Gallery was packing up its space in Columbia in preparation for its move to Elliott City's Main Street, according to Marian Gliese, president of the gallery's board.

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Instead of moving its collection into a new, larger space, The Artists' Gallery's board of directors held an emergency meeting to decide to extend its rent and remain in place. While none of its art collection was damaged, the building at 8197 Main St. suffered structural damage and it was not clear if it would reopen.

"A big, big chunk of basement came out," Gliese said "They filled it with a huge block of concrete. After they fixed it, it looked pretty solid."

In mid-November, the Artists' Gallery successfully opened its doors on Main Street. Its new location has provided more foot traffic than its previous one, especially as more shops have opened. Still, Gliese admits that she has worries.

"You're always concerned about storms," Gliese said. "You hear thunder and you cross your fingers. It will be like that for awhile."

The possibility of future floods played into Jodye and Randell Russell's decision not to reopen their gallery. The Vintage Vault and Gallery had been open 15 months when the flood ripped through its first floor, destroying its lavender shop and washing away art and the majority of its jewelry pieces.

"We had six feet of water," Randell said. "A lot of stuff was gone."

There was no damage to the top two levels of the store, which featured vintage clothing and bridal gowns on the second floor and a gallery showcasing local artists on the third level, Jodye said.

"Some of the most spectacular, eye-catching pieces were on top of the jewelry cases," Jodye said. "One artist had just brought in seven paintings. We were very excited to feature them. Of course, all of those were destroyed."

Amazingly, the Russells were able to retrieve a few pieces of jewelry by digging through the mud on their hands and knees. Those pieces are now part of Jodye Russell's "Survivor" series, which is available online as she has no plans to reopen another shop. Instead, she has returned to her original career.

Before opening the gallery, Russell had been an engineering manager and was responsible for Washington, D.C.'s water and sewer system, as well as its storm water management.

"It's kind of ironic," said Russell, who now works part time as a chief operating officer for a small D.C. firm. "I went back to my roots, something I know well. That's where life is headed. Not brick and mortar and not in a flood-prone zone."

As storm patterns are changing, severe storms are going to happen with greater frequency, she said, and reopening the Vault was not worth the risk.

"We just did not feel financially it made sense," Randell said. "Financially, we couldn't make it make sense for us."

David Dempster and his wife, Sara Arditti, are not reopening their gallery, Still Life Fine Art Gallery, as their former location at 8173 Main St. was rented to another business, according to Dempster. As to opening at another Main Street location, Dempster is undecided.

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"We're not so sure Main Street won't flood again," Dempster said. "They never had a flash flood before. We don't have faith."

Dempster and Arditti both miss the community, he said.

"We miss everybody down on Main Street and wish them all the best," Dempster said. "We really believe in the arts. We miss it."

When the owner of the The Clayground Studio and Gallery at 3715 Old Columbia Pike decided not to reopen two weeks after the flood, Michael Koplow decided to buy it. Koplow's son, Matt, had created mosaics at the studio and had lived nearby, so Koplow was already familiar with the business and saw only possibilities.

"Our building did not get any physical damage," Koplow said. "Obviously the city shut down but it was too neat of a place to let go. When we bought it, the roads were not open."

The Clayground reopened in September. It supports 40 artists, has 15 pottery wheels and offers a variety of classes.

"The concept of Ellicott City flooding is not necessarily new," Koplow said. "The town is not back yet. There are still some closed buildings. But you gotta like little towns like this. It is a fabulous community. It looks out for people."

"The outpouring of support from folks who came down to help this community get back on its feet was amazing," said Charles Gruss, owner of Mat About You and a retired police officer. "Twenty-eight years I saw people at their worst. Last year, the outpouring of support; I was speechless and very touched."

Gruss' shop at 3751 Hamilton St. was not damaged by the flood. While the water was in the parking lot behind La Palapa Grill and Restaurant, Mat About You stayed dry on its perch.

"Fifteen steps, they saved me that day," Gruss said. "People come up huffing and puffing. I tell them, 'You can't complain about those steps. They saved us last summer.'"

The business, which features the works of 12 artists, handmade jewelry and a farming shop, was closed for a month. Emergency trailers remained in the parking lot until the fall.

"I never thought I would be so excited to see trailers rolling off the parking lot," Gruss said.

Robin Holliday reopened her HorseSpirits Gallery after last year’s flood.
Robin Holliday reopened her HorseSpirits Gallery after last year’s flood. (Andrew Michaels/BSMG)

While the holidays were good, business is picking up again.

"This town is coming back on its feet," Gruss said. "People are coming."

It was the community and the support of her artists that gave Robin Holliday the confidence to reopen HorseSpirit Arts Gallery at 8090 Main St. in October.

"As bad as the flood was, I saw the best of people," Holliday said. "Because of the community, I built an art gallery in a flood plain."

Holliday said saw her gallery fill with water the night of the flood. The months that followed found her dealing with insurance issues while cleaning up her business.

"There is a watershed management problem," Holliday said. "We have to take actions to make it better. Significant actions need to happen."

Her gallery features the works of 48 artists. All of them realize they are taking a risk in her gallery.

"You can't get flood insurance for art," Holliday said.

After a successful holiday season, Holliday said there was a lull in business. She is encouraged by more foot traffic as businesses at the lower end of the street are reopening.

"This is going to be okay," Holliday said. "I know I have the risk. This is a great community. I feel hopeful about the future."

She admits, however, that the flood, though washed from her store, still remains.

"It is not completely gone," Holliday said. "I wake up sometimes thinking about it in the middle of the night. It is honestly still challenging."



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