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A slow start for Towson Commons But many expect project to rejuvenate downtown


On its first official day of operation, Towson Commons saw more of a trickle of customers yesterday than a flood, but even the controversial project's loudest critic found time to wish it well.

"I'm still mad about it," said LeRoy Haile, a longtime Towson real estate agent who fought to stop the project from being built across from his Chesapeake Avenue office. "But I do wish them well, and I'd like to see them succeed."

"My grudge is not with them," Mr. Haile said of LaSalle Partners, the Chicago-based firm that built Towson Commons. "It's with the former county administration [of Dennis F. Rasmussen] that allowed it."

The giant development combines 140,000 square feet of retail space, anchored by an eight-screen movie house, with 190,000 square feet of office space in a 10-story office tower.

Many believe that Towson Commons will draw people back to downtown Towson, especially at night, and the foot traffic could boost business for other shops, restaurants and bars in the area.

Joseph A. Vavaro says he thinks Towson Commons will help him. Mr. Vavaro owns Angel's Grotto, a narrow pub across York Road from Towson Commons.

"As new as it is," Mr. Vavaro said, "I've had people in already who said they went to the movies over there. So, yes, it's going to help.

"I'm very happy to see it opening because that side of the street has been dead for a long time."

General Cinemas opened its eight-screen theater Friday, while L&N; Seafood, an upscale restaurant, has been open for about a month. A handful of other shops and one eatery are also open now.

Others will open soon, including several more restaurants and mall-style eateries. A Bassett Book Shop, described as a 20,000-square-foot book "superstore," will open in the fall, said Greg Arnold, general manager of Towson Commons.

On several nights last week, General Cinemas had free movie nights as trial runs before the official opening Friday.

"It's given everyone a chance to see our project, as it's coming into bloom," Mr. Arnold said.

Carl Trudel, a manager with General Cinemas, said business was light but steady Friday.

The theaters are accessible to people who use wheelchairs and to the hearing impaired.

Patrons who park in the Towson Commons parking garage can get their parking tickets validated.

One of the stores that opened Friday was Watson's Gift Garden, a specialty shop featuring garden tools, sundials and other garden-related gifts. One item read: "Gardeners know the best dirt."

Watson's sales clerk Renee Collomb says she wasn't besieged by customers on the first day, but she thinks it'll improve.

"Right now, people are looking but not really buying," she said. "I think they're coming in because they're curious, but they'll come back."

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