A monthly feature exploring the stores, restaurants and sights of Maryland neighborhoods.
Catonsville's shopping district is already known for its splendid hodgepodge of possibilities for artisans and musicians. It's easy to get lost in the corridor's sensory pleasures, from looking at bolts of mesmerizing batiks at Seminole Sampler to listening as a customer tries out a 12-string guitar at Bill's Music Store.
Proclaimed "Music City Maryland" by the state legislature in 2002, Catonsville has long drawn musicians from afar to its cluster of music shops. With a side-by-side trio of stores specializing in the needle arts, the shopping district is also a haven for lovers of traditional crafts.
Now, after a recent streetscape makeover supported by the national Main Street program and the repurposing of several historic storefronts, the commercial district centered on Frederick Road awaits new visitors in search of an afternoon's diversion -- and perhaps a ukulele.
Here are some ideas for spending time in Catonsville:
10 A.M. SEMINOLE SAMPLER
Begin in the soothing atmosphere of Seminole Sampler in the Mews shopping complex, where employees guide quilters around tricky corners and through piecing puzzles. Bolts of gorgeous fabrics, coordinated by color, are therapeutic, even for the non-sewer. But even she or he may leave with a pack of "fat quarters," inexpensive fabric remnants that may inspire a first foray into an enduring art form.
71 Mellor Ave. 410-788-1720 seminolesampler.com
10:30 A.M. THE STITCHING POST
Next door, the Stitching Post has everything required for doing cross-stitch and needlepoint, including all-important magnifiers for fine work. Needlepoint charts (patterns) range from $4 for small designs to $40 for large, intricate projects. Business has prospered in part from the economic downturn, says shop owner Melinda Zachary. "People are staying home and looking for something to do with their hands in the evening."
67 Mellor Ave. 410-788-7760
10:45 A.M. APPALACHIAN BLUEGRASS
Around the corner from the Mews, Appalachian Bluegrass holds plugged-in pop culture at bay with its collection of acoustic guitars, mandolins, dobros, autoharps, banjos and ukuleles. On Saturdays, the shop is a "destination drive" for musicians from as far away as New York and Pittsburgh, says owner Emory Knode. They come to buy, to have instruments repaired and to share lore with the shop's knowledgeable staff. And if you've ever thought about picking up an instrument but feared you'd flop, take heart from Knode, who says, "No one is truly tone deaf." Besides, starter ukuleles only cost $29.
643 Frederick Road 410-744-1144 appalachianbluegrass.com
11 A.M. PLYMOUTH WALLPAPER
Because it is a mainstay --and a quirky one at that -- the Plymouth Wallpaper company is a must-see. You'll find miles of wallpaper patterned with apple blossoms, sunflowers and such. Beyond the sign "Welcome to Border City," there's a room dedicated, naturally, to wallpaper borders. You can also score a genuine sea sponge for $1.89, a secondhand fur coat or a cookie jar shaped like a Hawaiian shirt.
720 Frederick Road 410-788-8500
11:15 A.M. SUGARBAKERS CAKES
Duck into SugarBakers to ogle its stupendous wedding cakes or purchase an apple-pie cheesecake for $24 or a lemon tart for $3.50. When a frilly little room in the bakery isn't in use for wedding-cake consultations, you can take a seat there and sip some coffee before continuing on your Catonsville idyll.
752 Frederick Road 410-788-9478 sugarbakerscakes.com
Get lost in Objects Found: Antiques, Art and Stuff on Consignment. Owner Reggie Sajauskas has also scheduled a rotating roster of art exhibits, displayed on the walls among other decorative items. Her shop, located in a former Army / Navy recruiting center, meanders through a warren of rooms filled with jewelry, vintage Barbie and Ken clothing, original Fiestaware, Depression glass and wonderfully kitschy pieces such as a mint-condition 1950s planter in the shape of a marlin for $50.
818 Frederick Road 410-744-9000 objectsfound.com
12:30 P.M. PEACE OF SUNSHINE
Across the road, Peace of Sunshine will make your 1960s dreams come true in the form of tie-dye T-shirts and Grateful Dead souvenirs. Pseudo-psychedelic fleecy pajama bottoms make a groovy purchase for the college kid.
819 Frederick Road 410-788-0942 peaceofsunshine.com
12:45 P.M. CATONSVILLE GOURMET
The upscale Catonsville Gourmet meets a long-term need for a white-tablecloth establishment, but without too much fuss. In the former Muir Hardware store, the restaurant is a fusion of Eastern Shore comfort and yuppie sensibilities. "The Ultimate Soup Meal" ($11.99) included a delicious cup of spicy seafood gumbo, artisan potato chips and half a turkey sandwich. Had I room for dessert, it would have been a slab of Smith Island cake from SugarBakers. In the rear of the restaurant, there's a butcher, a seafood dealer and carryout items.
829 Frederick Road 410-788-0003
1:45 P.M. LITTLE SUGAR SHACK
If you didn't order dessert at Catonsville Gourmet, be sure to stop at the Little Sugar Shack to sample the hand-dipped caramel / chocolate apples, chocolate-covered marshmallows and peanut paws. Shoppers with a nostalgic streak will find a selection of penny candy, including nonpareils and green-apple-flavored sourballs.
821 Frederick Road 410-744-4330
2 P.M. BILL'S MUSIC HOUSE
The afternoon draws to a close, but a stop in Bill's Music House, the mother lode for garage bands and countless other combos, is mandatory. Revel in the infinite musical possibilities found in a shop where entire sections are devoted to drumsticks and cymbals.
743 Frederick Road 410-747-1900 billsmusic.com
MORE OF CATONSVILLE
If you have more time, Catonsville has more to show you
Record & Tape Traders, where thousands of used and new CDs beg for your ear. 806 Frederick Road, 410-788-6767, recordandtapetraders.com.
A.W.O.L. skateboarding store. 827 Frederick Road, 410-788-2965.
Jennings Cafe, a long-time Catonsville establishment. 808 Frederick Road, 410-744-3824, jenningscafe.com.
Cloverhill Yarn Shop, which specializes in knitting supplies. 75 Mellor Ave., 410-788-7262, cloverhillyarn.com.
The Candy Box, a local landmark filled with sweet treats as well as candy-making supplies. 1610 Frederick Road, 410-747-5291.
The Benjamin Banneker Historic Park & Museum is dedicated to the self-taught African-American astronomer and surveyor. 300 Oella Ave., 410-887-1081.
If the suburban wilderness calls, take a stroll on Trolley Trail No. 9, a paved route for bikers, runners and walkers that runs from Edmondson Avenue to Ellicott City. Streetcar Trail No. 8 is a shorter path between Catonsville Junction and Frederick Road. For an interactive map, go to home.comcast.net / ~crtt / .
Nearby Patapsco Valley State Park offers a wealth of trails and picnic spots. Call 410-461-5005 or go to www.dnr.state.md.us / publiclands / central / patapsco valley.html.