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Main Street Festival is one of the festivals hosted by Laurel Board of Trade.
Main Street Festival is one of the festivals hosted by Laurel Board of Trade. (Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Positioned perfectly between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., the city of Laurel’s historic Main Street is open to a bright future filled with unique shops, long-standing businesses and a variety of restaurants that should become a reality soon, city employees say.

“Our centralized location is the number one thing going for us,” said Leigha Steele, economic development coordinator for the city. “It’s not going to change. We need to take advantage of that on Main Street. It is such a positive thing for us.”

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In October 2018, Laurel’s Main Street was designated part of the Main Street Maryland program. Created in 1998 by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, the program provides support to help Main Streets grow and flourish, Steele said.

“We are working on a plan for revitalizing Main Street,” said Steele, who is the city’s Main Street contact. “Right now, we are just getting feedback.”

There are five points that Main Street Maryland tackles when creating a plan, Steele said: design; organization; promotion; economic development; and sustainability or clean, safe and green.

“That is a very broad overview. There is a lot more detail to it,” Steele said. “We need a solid base plan before moving forward.”

The city’s Main Street Business Grant Program offers a Main Street Business Relocation Grant and a Main Street Storefront Façade Improvement Program.

“Before the designation, we had Main Street grants in place to support businesses,” Steele said. “They helped us and now the designation is a symbol of growth.”

Several local businesses owners believe Main Street is doing OK, though there is room for improvement.

“Laurel has a great vibe,” said Reggie Abreu, owner of Rise Up Nutrition, a new business on Main Street that offers power drinks. “People are very supportive.”

He would like to see more foot traffic, however.

“You see a lot of closed store fronts and that’s not good,” Abreu said. “You need more things open on Main Street to increase foot traffic.”

When a coffee shop opened next door, Dana Bankard, general manager of Poist Gas Co., a propane service company, noticed more people on the street. While Poist Gas does not rely on foot traffic, she realizes it is important for others.

Maureen Rogers is the administrator of the Laurel Board of Trade and is also the public liaison and artistic directory at Laurel Mill Playhouse.
Maureen Rogers is the administrator of the Laurel Board of Trade and is also the public liaison and artistic directory at Laurel Mill Playhouse. (Staff photo by Brian Krista)

“If you look at Main Street Ellicott City, it’s a bustling, bustling street,” Bankard said. “We would like ... to see people walking around. Stores that rely on that foot traffic don’t stick around as often."

Poist Gas, however, has been on Main Street since 1949.

“We’ve been here a long time,” Bankard said of the business her great-grandfather started in December 1949. “We have sentimental value to being here.”

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She said however, that parking is an issue, but not for the customers. As the parking lot behind Poist’s building is filled with the company’s trucks, the staff at Poist have to find street parking and have to move their cars regularly so as not to exceed the limited hours allowed.

“Everyone will tell you their Main Street has an issue with parking,” Steele said. “It’s because Main Streets are not a traditional shopping center as we know it.”

Main Streets are more about “parking the car in one space and walking to businesses,” Steele said. “Main Street is more of an experience.”

Part of the Main Street Maryland plan includes designing walkways that are enjoyable and safe, as well as adding more greenery and possibly even public art.

“These things benefit Main Street,” Steele said, and with the addition of more lighting and crosswalks, safety is enhanced.

The majority of Main Street is also in Laurel’s Historic Designation, which requires businesses to accept certain restrictions on outside facade changes and the type of signage allowed.

“It preserves that authentic feel and keeps it true to Laurel’s history,” Steele said. “It creates a cohesive feel.”

Sterling Gallagher, owner of The Crystal Fox, a witch shop and home store, opened his business on Main Street in 1991. He has built a loyal clientele and does not need foot traffic to survive, but he longs to have the freedom to present his business as he sees it.

“The historic designation makes it difficult to paint the building and mount signage,” Gallagher said. “Parking is a little issue, and I don’t think any place is immune to crime.”

Gallagher has seen a lot of changes over the years, most recently the closing of Laurel Meat Market last year.

“Some places prosper, some struggle,” Gallagher said. “It takes perseverance and patience to keep a shop up and open doors.”

As the owner of both Kipper’s Barbershop on Main Street and the new Caribe Express restaurant, Randolph Shawn Williams believes in Main Street.

“I love to serve the community,” said Williams, who is also a Laurel resident. “All is good."

Caribe Express, he believes, is just what Main Street needs — a unique Caribbean restaurant.

“I’m looking to help the Laurel community and business owners,” Williams said. “What better place to do business than where you live?”

On the other end of Main Street, Christina Thomas recently opened The Little Chickadee restaurant.

“When I first drove down Main Street in early 2018, it came across as needing something,” said Thomas, a native of New England. “I like food. I wanted to create a place where people are happy and the staff are happy.”

Though it has only been open a few weeks, Thomas’ restaurant is gaining recognition.

“I knew I would have to build a clientele,” Thomas said. “I already have regulars. It’s been doing good.”

Maureen Rogers, Laurel Board of Trade administrator, is pleased with Main Street’s prospects.

“There was a point when businesses were moving out,” Rogers said. “Now, there are all these restaurants. all these boutiques. All we need now is a little grocery story. I do miss the meat market."

Laurel Board of Trade hosts numerous events throughout the year on Main Street to bring attention to it, including a Main Street Festival, numerous parades and the recent trick-or-treat night on Main Street.

“We do all kinds of things ... to get people to the street," said Jim Cross, an honorary board member. “The Main Street Festival draws 7,500 people to the street. That’s a lot of foot traffic.”

Though Judy Ashwell has been the owner of Rainbow Florist & Delectables for only three years, the business has been on Main Street for more than 13, and Ashwell has no plans to move.

“It’s well known here,” Ashwell said of her business. “We like the historic Main Street and all the activities they have.”

Laurel’s location provides easy access to major highways and various means of transportation while still maintaining its small-town feel, Steele said.

“I really believe Main Street has so much potential,” Steele said. “That charm we have and the historic feel ... I’m excited."

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