Main Street Blues' fire-damaged building in the heart of historic Ellicott City will get new life, but the restaurant won't be there to see it.
Restaurant owner Dennis Martin has sold the building to Michael A. Baldwin, a home builder who plans to refurbish it and rent it to commercial tenants. They didn't disclose the selling price.
Main Street Blues, a popular restaurant that also offered blues and jazz shows, was one of six businesses affected by the fire that swept through a block of Main Street in November. Fire officials think the blaze began when a discarded cigarette ignited trash behind the restaurant.
Martin had been renting space in the building before the fire. Hoping to salvage the business, he bought the building in January with plans to renovate it. But the structural damage was worse than he expected, and the expense was more than he could afford.
While the other damaged buildings were being dealt with - one is fully renovated, another was demolished and will be rebuilt, and the owner of a third is applying for waivers - Main Street Blues has been vacant, its interior exposed to passers-by.
Enter Baldwin, who owns Baldwin Homes in Arnold.
He heard about the building from his architect, who drew up renovation proposals for Martin. It piqued Baldwin's interest because he feels he missed opportunities in another historic area.
"I go to Annapolis a lot, and I see all the old buildings and how nice they've been over the years," he said. "You always wish you'd gotten in when it was affordable. Now it's really not affordable."
Martin and Baldwin went to settlement Wednesday.
The new owner expects to start renovation next week - the plans are approved -and said it will take about four months.
"We'll try and keep as much of the historical building there as possible," Baldwin said. "The outside will remain the same."
He is not sure how the building will be used, but he thinks the first floor will be a restaurant or a retail store. He envisions offices on the second floor and an apartment on the third floor.
At one point after deciding to sell the building, Martin had hoped to reopen Main Street Blues as a renter. But he has had enough delays and wants to get back to work. He has accepted a job in fast-food management in Philadelphia.
"For right now, I'm moving on with my life," he said.
The sale leaves some fellow Main Street business owners with mixed feelings.
"We're very sorry to see Dennis go, but very happy that someone's picked up the building and will rehab it," said Rich Taylor, vice president of the Ellicott City Business Association. "I'd like to see Ellicott City looking like it was before the fire."
Bill Andrews, owner of the the Source Unlimited, whose building also was damaged in the fire, said it's "a little unsettling" that Martin felt he had to move on. Andrews - who is frustrated by the amount of time it is taking to get permission to renovate his building - said he understands Martin's situation.
"I think that Main Street Blues was quite an asset to the town," he added. "It saddens me that they're not coming back, because I really enjoyed having them as a neighbor."
But Martin - despite disappointment and delays - hasn't entirely let go. He said he is holding onto the Main Street Blues corporation, just in case. He might try again someday.
"I'm not closing the door," he said.