'Antiques capital' keeps its historic charm intact

THE BALTIMORE SUN

If ever a town seemed misnamed, New Market would be it, since things in this Frederick County town aren't new at all.

Old houses, old fences, old bricks and old furniture predominate here -- the town even passed an ordinance in the late 1970s barring any new businesses from the historic district that sells new goods.

Dubbed the "Antiques Capital of Maryland," New Market has made a name for itself promoting its many antique shops and charming old houses along a half-mile stretch of Main Street.

"It's a lovely old town. And it's amazing it's in such incredibly good shape," says Terry Rimel, who co-owns and manages the National Pike Inn on Main Street with her husband, Tom.

The Rimels bought a 1796 house, with 1802 and 1804 additions, restored it and opened the inn in 1986. The couple gets all sorts of visitors, Mrs. Rimel says, from business travelers to relatives visiting family members nearby to couples trying to get away from the big city hubbub for a weekend.

"That's definitely the bulk of our business -- people looking to get away for a nice, quiet weekend," she says. "This is a small, historic town where you can park the car in one place, stay in a nice inn, go to a fine restaurant and stroll the streets at night in complete safety. You have quality all the way."

Founded in 1793, the town developed as a stopover for travelers along the Old Baltimore National Pike on their way to Baltimore to the east or to Ohio or other points to the west.

In the early 1800s, the town boasted eight hotels and taverns along Main Street. Up and down North and South alleys, which run parallel to Main, barns and pens would hold livestock overnight, when they were being driven to Baltimore from outlying farms.

Since the first antique store opened in this town of 500 in 1939, more than three dozen have sprung up. Some have closed over the years, but others opened to take their place, continuing the tradition of Maryland's antiques mecca.

Rick Fleshman, who grew up in Hyattsville, remembers traveling with his parents to New Market as a boy so they could look for antiques for the family business.

His parents sold antiques at shows throughout the region, and Mr. Fleshman always hoped to open a storefront antique shop some day.

Five years ago, he and his wife, Nancy Sponseller Fleshman, fulfilled that dream when they moved into the historic district and opened Fleshman's Antiques in a big Victorian house they have been restoring ever since.

"We really liked the charm of the town and the business opportunities it provided for antiques," he says.

"Another thing that attracted us was buying and restoring an old house, which as anyone can tell you, is a never-ending process."

Mr. Fleshman, who also serves as chairman of the town's planning and zoning committee, says the town's ordinance allowing only antique stores in the historic district -- with the exception of pre-existing businesses that were grandfathered in -- has helped preserve its historic characteristics.

"The town is set up to be mostly residential, which is what keeps it so nice. If the zoning hadn't been changed, I think the look of the town would have changed over the years," he says.

Some merchants agree they need the ordinance to retain New Market's Colonial atmosphere, adding that they don't want a lot of new "junk" shops popping up.

But others say the town has gone too far. There are many "compatible uses," such as a blacksmith's shop, they say, that could add diversity and help keep the town viable without hurting its historic ambience.

Rick Buckel, who sold an 18-acre farm in Catonsville and moved to New Market nine years ago, says he got the "peace and tranquillity" and small-town atmosphere he was looking for -- maybe too much of it.

A long-time collector of American and English sporting art, he opened a shop with his wife, Susan, in their large Colonial home on Main Street.

"Quiet it is. Quaint it is," says Mr. Buckel, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1993. "But I have seen a real decrease in foot traffic, compared to what it was even a few years ago. The town has got to do a better job at promoting itself."

Several residents say the decrease in tourist traffic through town is due to increased competition, not a decrease in New Market's appeal.

When New Market starting "doing antiques" more than 50 years ago, says Mrs. Rimel, it had limited competition.

"Now there's competition everywhere," she says, adding that more and more small towns have realized they can revive aging downtowns and historic districts by bringing in antiques and specialty stores and trendy boutiques.

Still, several antiques shops and businesses in town continue to do well, including two inns -- the National Pike and the Strawberry Inn two doors down -- Mealey's, a popular restaurant with locals and tourists, and the Village Tea Room and Antiques Shop, where lunch and afternoon tea are served.

Edward and Jane Rossig opened the Strawberry Inn 22 years ago after relocating from Plainville, N.J. Eight years ago, they renovated an old log house and opened an art and frame shop as well.

When the couple grew weary of running both businesses, they put the inn up for sale but were dismayed to find no potential buyers who wanted to continue running it as a bed and breakfast.

At the same time, clear across the country in Kirkland, Wash., their daughter, Ellen Harkins, was dreaming of a quieter, small-town life.

So she and her husband, Mike Pierce, relocated to New Market and now live in and run the inn. Her parents live in residential quarters on the second floor of the art shop.

"We just love it. We love the town," Ms. Harkins says. "It's relaxed and laid back."

Soon, however, the town will become a flurry of activity when it hosts the popular, annual New Market Days from Sept. 22 to 24.

The event is a festival of food vendors, craftsmen and entertainment, with blacksmithing, quilting, soap making and other demonstrations and Civil War re-enactments. Locals say the event pulls in day-trippers from across Maryland and surrounding states as well.

"We've had years when we've had 10,000 people in a single day," says Franklin Shaw, New Market's mayor for the past 22 years. "People love the small town, the old houses, browsing through the shops. It looks like the town that has stood still, something from the past."

In recent years, maintaining that look and appeal has become an issue, he says, as more and more developers have bought up tracts of land surrounding New Market.

Within the next five years, another 500 to 600 new homes will be built in and around town, causing more strain on already overcrowded roads and schools, Mayor Shaw says.

"We're going from cornfields to condominiums all over this county," says Mr. Shaw, a retired biochemist who runs a reproduction furniture shop in town.

"The county has never been very good at providing amenities for this growth. There's not adequate roads and not adequate schools. The middle school here has 10 portables."

Still, New Market's tiny historic district manages to shut out as much of the bustling modern world as possible, a trait outsiders are willing to pay for dearly.

Mrs. Fleshman, a real estate agent for Long and Foster and also a member of the Town Council, says one house on Main Street sold recently for $450,000. Most historic properties in town continue to increase in value, she says, and now sell for about $150,000 on the low end (for a house that needs work) to more than $400,000 on the high end.

Newer homes in subdivisions outside the historic district sell for about $110,000 to $150,000 for townhouses and about $120,000 to $250,000 for single-family homes, she says.

"There's a lot of variety really," Mrs. Fleshman says. "It's appealing to people who like the little town district and still like to feel they're out in the country."

New Market:

* Population: 500 (Town of New Market, 1995)

* Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 45 minutes

* Commuting time to Washington: 90 minutes

* Public schools: New Market Elementary School; New Market Middle School; Linganore High School

* Shopping: New Market Shopping Center off Route 75. Also, numerous shopping centers in Frederick, seven miles west, and Mount Airy, eight miles east.

* Nearest mall: The Francis Scott Key Mall and Frederick Towne Mall, about 10 miles west.

* Points of interest: Historic New Market with antique shops; historic Frederick, seven miles west, with historic buildings, antiques stores, the Barbara Fritchie House and Rose Hill Manor Children's Museum; Sugarloaf Mountain, 13 miles off U.S. 270.

* Zip code: 21774

* Average price of a single-family home: Nine sales over the past 16 months at an average sales price of $183,200.*

* Average price for houses sold through the Frederick County Multiple Listing Service over the past 12 months.

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