On breezy mornings, before the noon heat sets in, the Baltimore-Annapolis Trail is a giant magnet for joggers and cyclists racing by in loose T-shirts and Lycra shorts.
Now the 14-mile trail that has become a favorite refuge for fitness fanatics is attracting local businesses.
Glen Burnie's oldest bike shop is moving from the downtown shopping district to the trail this fall. The Bike Peddlers, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, will relocate in October to a building on Central Avenue, a stone's throw from the hiker-biker trail.
"It's been surprising how many people come in here already off the trail," said Ronald W. Freeland, while fixing a crippled bike inside his store on Delaware Avenue.
When he moves out, the triangular shopping center bounded by Delaware Avenue and Baltimore & Annapolis Boulevard will have seven vacancies. Half the building's stores have moved out in the last year, leaving a row of empty windows plastered with "For Lease" signs.
Freeland and other tenants attribute the high vacancy rate to the softening real-estate market. Other area shopping centers offer similar space for less, they say.
The owners did not return calls last week. Agents with the building's management company, Frederick Realty, said each of the stores left for different reasons. Several store owners retired, and others were seeking more space.
For Freeland, a vacant building next to the trail offered a perfect opportunity to expand his business.
He grew up surrounded by bikes. His father, a West Virginia native who worked for BethlehemSteel, one day decided to start his own business and opened a bike shop. Freeland, who remembers riding his bike on the rough, concrete streets of Brooklyn Park, would help his father repair bikes on weekends at the Brooklyn Bike Shop.
When Freeland was laid off from his job at a brick yard, he followed in his father's footsteps. He found a small store facing Ritchie Highway and leased it for $150 a month.
As his business expanded and the rent increased, Freeland began scouting around for a new store. He kept hearing rumors of plans to create a linear park along the old railroad line. But Freeland wasn't sure he should wait.
"It's funny, it was so long coming that I thought I'd have found something," he said. "But I didn't."
His store has become a Glen Burnie institution, a favorite spot both for cyclingenthusiasts to hang out and for families to shop. Even novices who were drawn to the sport by the B & A Trail have found their way to theBike Peddlers.
Unlike some bike shops that have specialized in high-end racing and mountain bikes, the Bike Peddlers has kept a steadyclientele by offering a fuller range, Freeland said. Children come to buy their first bikes. Teen-agers drop by to pick up racing caps. And serious racers compare the latest Fuji models.
Freeland plans to keep the same line of bikes but expand some services when he moves.The Central Avenue building is three times the size of his current store. He says he hopes to use some space for storage as well as beef up his inventory and sell more than 700 bikes a year.
With cyclists racing by his store, Freeland will have instant advertisement and aready market. He plans to capitalize on these advantages by offeringto change flat tires and selling popular accessories -- water bottles, caps, sunglasses and backpacks.
"I won't need to advertise too much," Freeland jokes.
Advertising has been a touchy topic for nature lovers ever since the county park administration offered to sell merchants 36-by-10-inch signs along the trail for a $250 annual fee. Environmentalists promptly protested the commercialization of the trail.
For Freeland, the trail's appeal is important to his business.He's also a fan.
The fit 44-year-old owns two racing bikes and a mountain bike, a conservative number for most bike shop owners.
But he has a dirty secret. He enjoys riding his Harley motorcycle just as much.