Towson's retail growing pains have brought about a surprise. It's quietly becoming a player in Maryland's antique market.
Several shops have opened recently in the heart of town. And the owners of the newest store, Fitzgerald's Antiques, are scheduled to begin restoring an abandoned garage -- one of Towson's worst eyesores -- in the next few weeks.
"There's a phenomenon happening in Towson. We're having more antiques stuff," says Carol Allen, executive director of Historic Towson Inc. "I'm not sure why. But I'm quite delighted."
For many of the antique shop owners, Towson offers an intriguing blend of past and present. "It still has a lot of historic charm," says Karen Maccabee, owner of Blue Moon Antiques and Collectibles on East Chesapeake Avenue.
And even the proposed tattoo parlor on York Road isn't a deterrent. "There are worse things," says Anna Klein, who opened L.A.'s Antiques on Allegheny Avenue six months ago. "Towson is a very diverse area, a one-stop shopping place."
And that's what appealed to Lauri Fitzgerald when she and her husband, Patrick, decided to locate a store on East Chesapeake Avenue across from the Towson library.
"Towson is becoming more street-friendly. It has an artsy, villagey feel," says the Towson native, who has operated an antiques store in Cockeysville for three years. "A big store like this will affect the others positively."
When completed, the 4,800-square-foot, one-level store will showcase period furniture from antique dealers in a co-operative setting.
"Antique shops always complement each other," says Ms. Maccabee, whose store is two doors from Fitzgerald's. "People like to go in and out of lots of them."
So far, each of Towson's six antique stores has its own personality to add to the draw. For instance, Portebello Sq. specializes in fine jewelry and Continental furniture; Velveteen Rabbit in reproductions; and Classics Consignments in furniture and collectibles, such as carousel horses and old Coca-Cola signs.
Meanwhile, patrons will have to wait until the end of the year to visit Fitzgerald's Towson store when the restoration of the 1920s building is expected to be completed.
"We're taking an ugly building and making it attractive," says Mrs. Fitzgerald, who has been working with Martin Azola, a preservation architect, to retain the block structure's historic integrity.
The building, vacant for more than a decade, was an auto service station from the 1920s to 1950s. Later, it was a liquor store before closing in the early 1980s.
"It's wonderful to have someone coming in who realizes its value, even if it's not an architecturally significant building," Ms. Allen says.
"I've always believed in Towson," Mrs. Fitzgerald says. "It needs these positive things."
And the antique shop owners already are looking ahead to the future.
"I'd like to see Towson become like Ellicott City," Ms. Maccabee says. "It has the potential to go in that direction. It's just taking a while for it to happen."