French bakery bids adieu to downtown

Mention the closing of Alice's Country French Bakery to someone who works in downtown Westminster and prepare for wails of sadness.

"Aw, don't make me cry - I'm already so sad," said Lynn Aaron, owner of The Olde Liberty Shoppe on Liberty Street in Westminster, who went to the Main Street bakery daily for a cup of mochaccino or French vanilla coffee.


"It's a very disappointing and depressing thing," said Lou Salafia, who works across the street at Banking Automation and often took his daughters, Rachel and Katie, to Alice's for raspberry Danish and pain au chocolat. Salafia, who lives in Finksburg, said he hadn't missed a day at the bakery since it opened in November 1999.

But while store owners and lawyers, county office workers and business types came to Alice's for croissants and chicken wraps, hot chocolate and espresso, the small bakery didn't have enough customers beyond its core of loyal regulars to stay open, owner Jim Constantine said.


After 15 months in business, Alice's closed its doors for good yesterday.

Maybe Westminster is more of a devil's-food than a dacquoise kind of town. Maybe the promise of sugar, butter and caffeine wasn't enough to balance having to feed a parking meter to eat at Alice's. Constantine wasn't sure.

He did know this: "We didn't have enough business to make a profit."

A lack of downtown foot traffic hurt the bakery, he said. "I bet 90 percent of people in town didn't know we were downtown, and last year we spent $30,000 on advertising."

Cosmopolitan air

Located in a former Rexall drugstore, Alice's was cosmopolitan and crisp. With its big picture windows, French garden chairs and tables and collection of antique cookie jars lining the shelves, the atmosphere was bright and airy.

The food was good. The coffee was strong. And every so often one might catch a glimpse of Jim's wife, baker Alice Constantine, her face dusty with flour, sliding a plate of peanut butter cookies or a tray of sticky buns into a glass showcase before she dashed quietly back into the kitchen.

"It's just a real social hub," Jan Flora, chief of the county Bureau on Aging, said as she finished up a bowl of cream of potato and leek soup at Alice's Friday. "Alice's has that personal downtown flavor you don't get at the mall."


A former computer software saleswoman, Alice Constantine trained at L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda and has been a home baker for years. Jim Constantine, an architect and antiques dealer, designed the bakery.

Before opening the bakery, the couple sold their baked goods at a series of farmers' markets around the state for three years to determine where to locate the business. They picked Westminster because they were attracted to the building and to the city's downtown redevelopment efforts.

"They were great for Main Street," said Aaron, co-vice president of the Westminster Business Association. "Their building was charming. They fit downtown and the image we'd like to see downtown." It's been a bad year for foodies in Westminster, Salafia noted. Chameleon, a popular Main Street restaurant known for its paella, closed in October after owners Michael and Jessica DeCesare were unable to find qualified kitchen help. Cockey's Tavern, also on Main Street, was badly damaged in a fire in March.

Filling the void

"I'm waiting to see what fills the void," Salafia said.

According to an application filed with the county liquor board, Alexander M. Fantone of Westminster has applied to have Chameleon's liquor license transferred to Sofia's, a restaurant and bar he plans to open at 32 W. Main St., the former site of Chameleon. A hearing has been set for March 13.


The contents of Alice's - the restaurant equipment, fixtures, cookie jars, French posters, tables and chairs - will be auctioned Feb. 27.

As for the Constantines, who live in Glenville, Pa., they plan to continue catering and baking wedding cakes from their home. They hope to eventually move to Costa Rica and open a bed-and-breakfast there.

Jim Constantine is looking forward to playing with his yellow Labrador retriever, Diana, on the beach. "She's going to love Costa Rica," he said.