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A Boomtown Store Fights Area's Name


Jackie Clark works so hard that I want to stand out in the middle of Route 175 and wave the cars into her little soul-food restaurant.

More than that, I wish I could transport her rented storefront out of Boomtown in western Anne Arundel County, away from the liquor stores and loiterers and the memories of massage parlors and adult bookstores.

Boomtown has changed for the better in recent years.

Its bawdiest, sleaziest tenants are gone, thanks to changes at Fort George G. Meade. The thousands of soldiers who used to inhabit the post and patronize the strip's tawdry shops are being replaced by government bureaucrats.

Garrison commanders, such as the recently departed Col. Kent D. Menser, are turning the installation into a swank mixture of government offices and college campus.

Businessmen like William Chewning, the Clarks' landlord, and community leaders like Col. Alfred Shehab are haggling over ways to revitalize the strip as part of a plan to design a new Odenton.

Still, this is far from the ideal environment for a family restaurant such as Jackie's "Cooking With Soul."

In many ways, the restaurant is at the mercy of the strip and its problems.

And Jackie, 29, and her husband, Jimmie, 31, don't believe anyone will solve the problems soon.

The strip still looks gritty, with many buildings in need of paint or repairs, others boarded up. The character of the place still scares away many families, the kind of clientele the Clarks would like to attract.

Colonel Shehab infuriated some Route 175 businesses last month by saying that, despite efforts to change the strip into "North Odenton," "it's still Boomtown, and always will be."

But the outlook of the Clarks themselves is not so very different. They are skeptical that the corridor will change as long as the people who own the properties and lease them to liquor stores and bars are making money.

Almost every time buildings become vacant, Jimmie says, "what [the landlords] replace them with is something which they know works, which is alcohol and sex. It's really sad; they won't take a chance on other businesses. Instead of a liquor store, I wish they'd put in a baby [goods] store."

Colonel Shehab, chairman of the county-appointed Odenton Town Center Growth Management Committee, says the Clarks are precisely the kind of people who ought to become more involved in his group,which has been working on ways to improve problems such as a lack of parking, which plagues the Boomtown strip.

Jackie says she's more than willing to do that.

But she and Jimmie wonder how much their opinions as mere tenants matter. The changes they want go beyond planting trees or cosmetic improvements. They want to change the kind of businesses along Route 175. They sense that the landlords do not.

"I don't see it changing," Jimmie says. "I don't see change tilsome people with a lot of power go to sleep one night and wake up with a whole different outlook on life."

Until then, he and Jackie will just keep doing what they're doingworking hard enough to have at least a chance of beating the problems that surround them.

"I'm optimistic about our future in business," he says. "Jackie's .. real keen on planning, planning, planning. And I'm for adventure; I know I can do anything. So we make a good team. We'll be all right."

But success, he is careful to note, might come "in another part of the country," instead of here on the Boomtown strip.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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