The chicken was frying in the heavy iron skillet and the sign outside the restaurant announced "Yes, We're OPEN." But the seven counter stools were vacant and Elizabeth "Sweet Mama" Parker stood alone at the stove.
"I haven't had a customer here this morning," said Parker, who owns Sweet Mama's Home Cooked Food on Route 214 in Davidsonville. "I'm here since 8:30."
It was 11:30 and Parker was preparing chicken, potatoes and pork chops for the lunch crowd, the lunch crowd that might or might not appear. She had six or seven customers in nearly 10 hours on Monday. It's been this way for months.
After a number of newspaper and television stories in the last 18 months reported on a developer's plans to raze her little restaurant and put up a shopping plaza, Parker saysmany of her steady customers seem to think she's out of business. She's not, but if this keeps up, she says she might have to close.
"A lot of people who were coming think I'm not here," said Parker, whohas run the restaurant for 15 years. "That's what people say in the streets."
The recession has also hurt her business, as many of hercustomers were truckers working at local construction sites and sandand gravel operations.
And the recession has apparently stalled plans by three Montgomery County developers to build Davidsonville Station, a strip of stores and offices at the corner of Route 214 and Patuxent River Road. George Pearce, who was to act as project leasing agent, has been saying that the developers have put the project on hold until economic conditions improve.
The developers had hoped to include a Sweet Mama's restaurant in the new plaza, Pearce said. But Parker does not have the money to invest in a new place, and efforts to find backers for a new business have been unsuccessful.
In the meantime, Parker wonders aloud how long she can hang on through these doldrums. She's down to $20, $30 in sales some days, less than it costs to run the place and only a fraction of what she was making in thebest days of the mid-1980s.
"It's not worth my standing here," said Parker, 60, who retired in 1976 after supervising kitchens at a number of state institutions. She said she's been putting her own moneyinto the business, but can't afford to do that much longer.
"I just don't know, it all depends," said Parker. "But definitely by the first of April, I'm gone unless it gets up to $150, $200 a day."
CHURCH MAKES PITCH ON SIGN BY HIGHWAY
The Severna Park Church of God wastes no time making its pitch.
As you drive down Route 2 through Severna Park, the first thing you notice is the tiny church with a stone foundation and a steeple.
You see the white-board church, almost doll-house size and looking like it belongs on a Little House on the Prairie set -- and then you see the sign.
All churches have signs, usually listing the hours and days of services and sometimes the minister's name and a phone number.
But this church's painted sign,positioned out along the highway, exceeds all norms.
It squeezes the entire Christian Gospel, and a few clouds, onto a space a few feet wide by a few feet high.
First the sign quotes Jesus saying thata person must be born again to enter God's kingdom. It quotes several Scripture verses and cites Bible references.
Then comes what is known in some Christian circles as the "sinner's prayer."
"If you want your life to change, pray this prayer," invites the sign. "Dear God, in the name of Jesus, forgive me for my sins. I know your son Jesus died on the cross, and the power of God raised Him from the dead.Come in to my heart and save me. Thank you for my salvation in Jesus' holy name. Amen."
This may be the quick version of truth, but itworks, asserts the church's pastor, the Rev. Theodore Watts.
"I tell you what, it does help," says Watts, who has been minister of the20-member church for several years. "When you get new people who haven't heard the plan of salvation, we can just refer them to the simple prayer on that sign."
The roadside plea has engendered good response in the year it has been there, Watts says.
"I've seen people sitting there reading it," he says. "Once I was down on the Eastern Shore ministering, and a woman found out where I was from and said herboss had passed that sign every day and talked about it, flashing byin his face. It's making people think."
The sign came free from atraveling man who asked Watts if he could put it up, free of charge.Watts said yes, because the existing sign gave only the name of the church, which dates to 1940.
"It's helping them think about God," says the minister, and chuckles. "You can't miss it."