For years, the dilapidated Woodmoor Shopping Center stood in marked contrast to the neatly kept homes in the neighborhood just behind it.
"If you looked at it, you would have thought, I wouldn't want to live in this neighborhood," said Joan McCain, who moved two years ago with her husband, Glenn, from a Mount Washington apartment to Doycron Court.
"But if you got beyond that, you see that people really take care of their homes. It's a beautiful neighborhood -- very beautiful."
Today, the shopping center is finally undergoing a face-lift -- residents had fought for years for improvements. And they say the center is now a better reflection of the neighborhood behind it.
Ms. McCain, 33, an agent for the Equitable Insurance Co. in the city, said she found homes in Woodmoor much less expensive than homes just a few minutes away toward Randallstown -- though the quality of life was about the same.
"It's an established neighborhood that has been kept up," she said, noting the old trees here, unlike newer neighborhoods that look sterile. "We're trying to keep it up. . . . And we're trying to keep the negative things out."
Ann Burnett describes Woodmoor as "fairly safe" and "very stable." In the 23 years she's lived on Paris Road, only one family has moved out.
She and her husband, D'Armond, retired from the military, had lived lots of places but settled in a three-bedroom split-level in Woodmoor to raise their three sons. The children are grown and gone now, but she's staying.
"I'm not going anywhere," Ms. Burnett says. "I just don't feel the need to. Many people could leave this neighborhood, because they have equity in their homes. But they don't."
"Most of the children who went through the educational system here have done well. You have a sense of commitment to a neighborhood when you've seen what it has produced."
Many of the residents here are older; they have raised children and have decided to remain.
The smattering of residents who have moved out have relocated for new jobs, divorced or grown too old to care for their properties, according to John F. McPhaul, an associate broker for Otis Warren Real Estate. Most homes here, mainly brick Cape Cods and ranchers, sit on about one-fifth acre.
William Scott, a Minna Road resident and two-time president of the Woodmoor Neighborhood Association, has raised four sons here with his wife, Annie.
"Everybody looks out for each other here," he says. "Everybody on my street and on several streets beyond -- I know their children."
Residents point to two main problems here -- one of which is already being fixed.
Woodmoor Shopping Center has been a blight on the neighborhood for years, but over the past month the rundown strip of stores has been spruced up with new signs, paint and better lighting.
"We've been trying to fight the foundation which owns the shopping center for years," Mr. Scott says.
Pushed by the Coalition of Concerned African-American Organizations, the county and shopping center's owner agreed to pay to fix up the center. It is owned by the estate of Harry Weinberg, a billionaire businessman. "The changes are very new, and there are more to come," says Ed Dudley, owner of African-American Fashions, a clothing and accessory store which moved into the strip about three months ago.
The parking lot will be the next to benefit from better lighting and resurfacing, according to Chanel Brooks, the assistant manager of the Rite Aid drug store in the center. She says the place was "gloomy" before its recent face-lift.
"A lot of people were skeptical, scared of coming here," says Ms. Brooks, with Rite Aid for 2 1/2 years.
Now, the neighborhood is turning its attention to crime.
A number of Woodmoor homes, such as George Richards' place, prominently advertise the presence of security systems.
Mr. Richards says his alarm system has been in place for years, not so much in response to specific crime, but more as prevention.
"We have concern about crime," Mr. Scott says. "It's one of our main topics to stay on top of," he says. "So we're going to start a neighborhood watch to patrol the streets, because you can't let your guard down."