Conservative Catonsville, a town long known for its Mayberry-like appearance, is getting a new-age face lift.
Along Frederick Road, the town's main street, a decades-old pharmacy and a dusty hardware shop sit near a health food store and a building offering classes in massage, yoga and vegetarian cooking. A trendy bagel shop has opened, t'ai chi lessons are available, and ceramics classes attract both neighborhood folks and "Yuppie types."
The changes have come over the past five years, as Catonsville has made room for comfort-oriented, holistic businesses alongside the more traditional merchants that have served area families for decades. The new businesses have revived some of the vacant storefronts along Frederick Road, while attracting a new kind of consumer to the once-staid corridor.
"More and more businesses have been moving into Catonsville that work toward the theme of quality leisure time, health care, quality of life ," said Diane Jones, who owns the Holistic Wellness Center in the Catonsville Professional Building and the health food store. "People are starting to say it's taking on a new-age flavor."
Plenty of other flavors are inside Ms. Jones' health food store, Good and Good For You.
Bulk granolas, vitamins, aromatherapy candles and ethno-jazz compact discs are for sale. A rack holds books, such as "The Kama Sutra for Cats" and "I Can't Believe This Has No Sugar," as well as magazines, such as Healthy! and Delicious!
Ron Richardson, who has been a pharmacist at the Medical Pharmacy on Frederick Road for 30 years, enjoys having the health food store nearby. "They have good food, good stuff. I'm into that a little bit."
Some neighboring shop keepers are oblivious to the changes. "If it doesn't happen between these four walls, I don't know about it," said Jay Muir, owner of Muir's Hardware.
His views were echoed in several older shops -- which comes as no surprise to Ms. Jones.
"Many people who live in Catonsville value that Mayberry RFD lifestyle," she said, characterizing the area as one with many stay-at-home mothers and families that stay put for generations.
But John Mulhall, a salesman at Catonsville Auto Parts, says the trend does more than just reduce commercial vacancies, which have hindered Catonsville in recent years. It also "attracts a different kind of consumer, someone who's not usually around here."
Some of those people find their way to Marty's Ceramics, which sells ceramics tools and offers classes for $4 most evenings.
Students sit at large tables and learn to paint, glaze and decorate clay vases, cookie jars and flower pots, before firing them in a kiln. The students include elderly folks looking for hobbies, youths sent for therapy by the juvenile justice system, and friends who make it a regular Friday night outing.
Are young urban professionals taking classes there, too? By the carload, says manager Mona Martin. "Yuppies? Yes -- very much so. I think it releases a lot of stress. A lot of people come right from work."
A few doors down, Karen Atsaides started offering t'ai chi classes last year at the Rehabilitation Team. The martial art involves a slow, gentle, fluid sequence of movements she describes as "a kind of moving meditation. Your mind is focused in such a way that it creates a sense of well-being and centered-ness and stress relief."
Others beat stress at the Holistic Wellness Center, which Ms. Jones launched four years ago. It offers classes in couples massage, vegetarian cooking, yoga and Feng Sui -- a design technique based on the theory that arranging furniture in certain ways is conducive to proper energy flow. There are also hypnotherapists, acupuncturists and massage practitioners.
Catonsville Community College teacher Lisa Parelius, who also frequents the health food store, gets massages from Ms. Jones. "It's amazing," Ms. Parelius said. "I've noticed a big difference in how I feel."
Ms. Jones said she opened her businesses in Catonsville because she guessed that area residents would embrace new services geared toward well-being.
Her health food store, open about four years, has expanded its selection and space. And the wellness center, she says, has had "such a demand that we've had to bring more practitioners in and get a second suite."