White Marsh

Special to SunSpot

The expression "shop till you drop" seems to have been tailor-made for a place like this. A 20-minute drive north of Baltimore, White Marsh is a consumer-friendly town in Northeast Baltimore County. Easily accessible from I-95, this is an ideal place to explore an eclectic cornucopia of stores that make up this densely populated retail borough.

But buyer beware: In addition to spending a considerable amount of time examining White Marsh's various attractions, you'll also spend a considerable amount of money. White Marsh's something-for-everyone atmosphere makes it virtually impossible for shoppers to leave empty-handed.

Mining, developing and building

White Marsh was a shadow of its current bustling self 70 years ago. In the 1930s, it existed as a natural sand and gravel deposit mining site owned by the Harry T. Campbell & Sons' Corporation. The Campbell family then merged with an international building supply company and began looking into rejuvenating its property, which was covered in pits and craters as a result of the mining.

This classically suburban home in a residential area off of Route 40 is a reminder that there's more to White Marsh than malls. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)

By the 1960s, plans were under way to advance the land farther, developing it for business and residential purposes. In 1965, the plans for a town center were proposed and justified with the 1969 construction of I-95, which runs through the White Marsh area. In the early 1970s, White Marsh underwent rezoning to make town center plans a reality. , owned by the prominent community developer Rouse Company, opened in 1981. To this day, it remains one of the largest regional malls in the Baltimore area, second only to .

The ensuing decades were building booms for White Marsh. After the creation of White Marsh Mall, some 2,400 residential units were also constructed in the 1980s, as were 74,000 square feet of office, industrial and research space. An , the Swedish home-furnishings giant with less than two dozen locations in the country, opened in 1986.

White Marsh's public , post office and police station were built during the late 1980s and early 1990s. And in the late 1990s, another popular addition was made in the form of , an outdoor strip of anchor stores, small shops and restaurants designed to mimic the old-fashioned village settings of another era.

Big spenders welcome

The predominant lure of White Marsh is its bountiful shopping options, guaranteed to turn even the thriftiest penny-pincher into a shopaholic.Chief among them is The Avenue with 300,000-square-feet of retail space spanning the quarter-mile "Main Street"-type setup. The Avenue's retro ambiance comes from its unusual building structures, a layout that places parking behind the store entrances, and hidden speakers pumping out classic and contemporary tunes. During the chilly holiday shopping season, the streetlights are fully decked out in tinsel and holly and you'll hear Bing Crosby crooning "White Christmas" while you hustle toward your store of choice. It's hard not to imagine you've suddenly been transported to a Frank Capra movie.

Avenue restaurants cater to just about every taste. Ethnic fare includes Mexican at and Japanese at Kobe Steakhouse. American light fare and bar cuisine offerings include , Della Rose's and .

The Avenue at White Marsh brings a "Main Street" feel to shopping. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)

A giant water fountain and outdoor seating area in The Avenue's midsection is an ideal place to cool off on hot summer days with a cone from or a specialty pretzel from Pretzel Mania. The anchor retail outlets include and Old Navy, but arts and crafts enthusiasts will want to visit for an enormous selection of supplies. Meanwhile, entertainment-seekers will find comfort in the 16-screen, 4,000-plus-seat Loews Theatres, where the lobby -- with its teen loiterers, nonstop audio assault on the senses and multi-colored spotlights -- might make some feel as if they've just stepped into a video game. But, hey, the auditoriums have stadium seating.

The Avenue is also home to the furniture stores Jennifer Convertibles and Pier 1, but if the selections there don't fit your decorating scheme, just head to IKEA. Whether you're searching for couch cushions or drink coasters, a garlic press or a magazine rack, an end table or a headboard -- you're sure to find it somewhere on IKEA's spacious two levels. The styles are generally hip and the prices are usually good, so it's the kind of place you enter with one small item on your mind, but leave with a full cart.

White Marsh Mall's two-tiers boast a bountiful food court; anchor stores such as Hecht's, Macy's, Sears and Lord & Taylor; and specialty offerings like Gymboree (clothes and toys for tykes), Hot Topic (teen apparel and accessories), Spencer's (gag gifts and costumes) and Things Remembered (personalized gifts). And between Sam Goody, FYE! and Suncoast Motion Picture Co., there's also a nice assortment of entertainment-related stores.

If you're trying to get a bite to eat, but you can't find parking close to one of The Avenue's restaurants, there are more dining options along Honeygo Boulevard. You'll find the bar-and-grill menu of , the all-you-can-eat egg rolls of , pasta and mouth-watering breadsticks at the Olive Garden, an impressive salad bar at Ruby Tuesday's and the unique flavors of brick-oven pizza at .

People live here, too

Believe it or not, White Marsh isn't just a shopping haven for consumers who are passing through. There are area businesses geared toward the people who call White Marsh home, too. The nearby , approximately one mile from The Avenue, offers more practical retail stores such as Best Buy, Party City, Target, Lowe's and Dick's Sporting Goods. White Marsh Plaza, on the opposite end of Honeygo from IKEA, is more service-oriented with a Giant, The Hair Cuttery and Kinko's. Farther down the road, other strip malls feature Kindercare, 7-11, Casa Mia's pizzeria, office parks and business communities. Nearby restaurants featuring homestyle cooking include and the .

Travel beyond the umpteen shopping centers, and you'll find diverse neighborhoods. There are townhouse and apartment communities with a stylish 1970s look and others that are modern in appearance; dense clusters of homes that alternate between quaint brick facades and earth-tone siding; and sparsely-populated suburbs where the houses are larger and more elaborate with bigger yards, decks and even the occasional gazebo. If you are planning a move to White Marsh, you can probably find a place that best suits your needs.

Patrons of Checkered Flag Go Kart Racing fulfill their need for speed. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)

Shopping isn't the only outdoor family activity in White Marsh. Parents and children can enjoy activities at the White Marsh Family Branch of the YMCA, where there's an amphitheater, playground, pool and tennis courts, and an ongoing list of seasonal events. Additional tennis courts and playgrounds can be found at Linover Park, a 13.8-acre recreation site that also has ball fields, picnic sites and nature trails. Within 12 miles is , where the list of activities includes canoeing, biking, hiking, boating and hunting.

Thrill-seeking older kids can become speed demons at Checkered Flag Go Kart Racing, while younger revelers can ride with mom and dad. If you're searching for a more hands-on way to break a sweat, athletically inclined families can find a wealth of energetic entertainment at the , where people of all ages can busy themselves with baseball, soccer, gymnastics, skating and martial arts. And , located behind Freestate Sports, hosts three races each week.

Despite the convenient locale and living accommodations, shopping is what White Marsh does best. With so many choices, it's easy to be overwhelmed. Just stop, take a deep breath and give in to the call of consumerism.

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