A close-knit community of Cape Cods, old friends


There's a community in southwest Baltimore County where businesses get passed down from one generation to the next, where people can get everywhere on foot, and the few people who do move away are often lured back.

It's Arbutus, a close-knit, older blue-collar community of about 20,000 tucked between Baltimore and Anne Arundel County. Here, people support each other's businesses, often live in the same house for decades and have known their neighbors and merchants for years.

One person everyone seems to know is Harvey Fordham.

"I work at Super Fresh -- I flirt all day long," says the 56-year-old, who has stocked produce in one of the community grocery stores for 18 years. "I think everybody in Arbutus knows me. If I'm not there, they ask about me."

Some new homes have gone up, and Interstate 95 and 695 came in and replaced the woods and cornfields. Strip malls replaced the neighborhood rink, milk bars and lovers' lanes that one of Arbutus' matriarchs, Ruth Parkent, remembers from her youth.

"Walker Avenue used to be where we'd smooch with our boyfriends and drink our beer," she says, referring to a narrow strip of land on the Arbutus-Catonsville line -- now an outlying street of the University of Maryland Baltimore County campus.

"Many old families were born and raised here and are still here," says Mrs. Parkent, a 65-year-old former telephone operator with eight children and nine grandchildren.

Reached by the Southwestern Boulevard exit on the Beltway, Arbutus is what TV's Mayberry might look like today: A restaurant advertises breakfasts for $1.50; dentist offices, repair shops and laundromats are set up on ground floors of two-story wood-framed houses; and red-white-and-blue poles decorate the windows of a barber shop.

There's also a volunteer fire department, a recreation league and a town hall where couples have wedding receptions and men hold weekly meetings.

Cape Cod homes

Most homes are detached, generally Cape Cods on small lots. The average price for a home is about $100,000. There are some newer rental complexes -- built in the last 10 years or so.

"It's the greatest place in the world. God made Arbutus and forgot everything else," says George Kendrick, 73, who has lived in Arbutus and operated Kendrick's bakery for more than 50 years. "Arbutus is made up of close-knit family ties."

Dipping freshly fried crullers into cinnamon sugar in the back room of his bakery, he exclaims, "We have it all. You don't have to go out of the community for anything." Other residents say getting from home to church to the grocery store to school is easy enough to do on foot.

Mr. Kendrick's son, Ross, is also his partner at the bakery. Like many Arbutus residents, they both spent a recent workday dressed casually, in T-shirts and sweat pants. The younger Mr. Kendrick says Arbutus is a community of small, thriving businesses that enjoy neighbors' support despite an infiltration of malls in the county.

Residents say some businesses are leaving while others are coming in. When Mike Tiso opened Mike's Pizza House 35 years ago, it was the only pizza place in town; now there are seven. "There's enough business for everyone, so that shows the community has grown," he says.

Even though Arbutus has grown from the rural, woodsy place it was earlier this century, it still seems unsullied by major development because the changes are subtle. Mrs. Parkent pointed out a florist shop that was once a church, an antique store that was once a grocery store, an auto parts store that used to be a supermarket that doubled as a gossip-depot.

Kamar Hair/Port, Arbutus' oldest business, opened in 1926. Now it is modern and high-tech. Owner Wayne Bartholomee, 46, remembers growing up in an adjacent house behind the salon, and noted that Arbutus, too, has grown since his childhood. "It's becoming more commercial, more upbeat, more main-line metropolitan than the sleepy little Arbutus of 30 years ago," says Mr. Bartholomee, whose 14-year-old daughter, Stacey, helps out the store.

Families work together

Having family around the workplace is common in Arbutus: Mr. Kendrick's son cuts pastries, Mr. Tiso's daughter works at her father's pizzeria and sub shop, and at Leon's restaurant on East Drive, owner Leon Lineburg, 63, has his son and wife doing "just about anything that has to be done."

The restaurant, with a lounge attached, is now a community landmark, having been there almost 36 years. It serves homemade soups, corned beef and cabbage, liver and onions, franks and beans, scrapple and pork loin cutlets, most of which are under $10. "We're local -- local prices," Mr. Lineburg says as customers lingered over their plates.

But Arbutus is certainly not without problems. Mr. Lineburg says juveniles are involved with some rowdiness possibly because there's not enough for them to do. Mr. Tiso's daughter, Deanna Penyak, says activities once available to youth have disappeared. "Kids used to go to dances on Friday night. Kids really enjoyed it. They don't have it anymore. Now, they hang at the phone booth and High's parking lot. It's sad."

Segregation appears to be another problem. Black families have traditionally lived in one enclave in town and are buried in a separate cemetery, Mrs. Parkent says. Few black people were seen walking the streets recently.

Others say that safety has also become an issue. The younger Mr. Kendrick says: "There used to be a time when you can leave your house wide open and go anywhere."

Those days are over. Mrs. Parkent notes that she now locks her car doors, and Mr. Bartholomee, who has moved to Pasadena, says, "Growing up, it was safe and family-oriented. But now it's different. I'm worried about crime, stick-ups, the safety of my employees." He says no crime has befallen the shop.

But Mar Ambrose, 30, a funeral coordinator at Ambrose Funeral Home -- another town landmark passed down through three generations -- thinks crime has no toe-hold in Arbutus. "I think most people feel it is a safe area," he says. "When something does happen here, and that's very seldom, people say, 'Not in Arbutus!'"


Population: 19,750 (Baltimore County Department of Economic Development)

4 Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes

Commuting time to downtown Washington: 45 minutes

Public schools: Arbutus Elementary, Arbutus Middle, Lansdowne Senior High

Shopping: Strip malls, supermarkets, discount chains, antique and flower shops, small merchants in downtown area

Nearest mall: Security Square Mall, 6 miles northwest

Points of interest: Arbutus Arts Festival, to be held downtown May 21, where crafts people from the East Coast show and sell homemade crafts; Arbor Manor Park; Gay Oaks Park; Maiden Choice Park; Ryan Memorial Gardens, a community-created sanctuary

ZIP code: 21227

Average price of single-family home*: $101,650 (90 sales)

*Average price of homes sold through the Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies multiple listing service over the past 12 months.

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