Westminster's Main Street is home to a variety of businesses -- gift shops, lunch counters, law offices -- but none resembles the Independent Underground. If this store were set in a big city, it would hardly raise an eyebrow. But located as it is in the heart of Westminster, the youth-oriented coffee shop and retail store has elicited a disproportionate -- and undeserved -- number of police calls and complaints.
The Independent Underground's clientele are mostly teens and twentysomethings. Because of their, um, hip appearances, these customers wouldn't be subjects for a Norman Rockwell depiction of Main Street. Men wear earrings. A few women sport rings on body parts other than ears. Younger patrons arrive on skateboards and use language that some older people thought was mainly spoken by sailors. Given the clientele's attire, some people unfamiliar with today's youth figure the worst. They assume the shop attracts people from outside Carroll County and that drugs must be freely transacted.
These conventional assumptions are wrong. The two entrepreneurs who opened the store -- Rocky L. Cockrell II and Tara Cariaso -- have made an effort to be good neighbors. When crowds of kids congregate on the shop's front steps, they try to keep the sidewalk clear. They have posted signs warning minors under the age of 18 that they cannot smoke cigarettes in the store or on the steps in front of it. They dropped skateboards from their wares when it didn't seem to jive with the store's image. They have good relations with Westminster's police department and intend to keep it that way.
Saturday, the shop is sponsoring a Pride Awareness Day, an all-inclusive celebration that will focus on AIDS education. The event will attract a wide spectrum of people from throughout the county. The appearances and lifestyles of the participants may upset some members of the community, but they have every right to congregate.
Westminster won't become another Greenwich Village or Haight-Ashbury, but the Independent Underground may thrive if it continues to strike a chord with young people. It certainly seems a diversion more acceptable than many other options. Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan is on the mark when he asks other city residents to adopt a "live and let live attitude."