Stores on Main Street try to maintain business as usual

A previously scheduled meeting to discuss the revitalization of historic Ellicott City went on as scheduled Tuesday night, less than 24 hours after two Ellicott City teenagers were killed when a CSX train derailed over the Main Street bridge.

After expressing his condolences to the families of Rose Louese Mayr and Elizabeth Conway Nass, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman talked briefly about strength and resiliency of the historic district.

"We've been through hurricanes, floods, an earthquake and now derailment," Ulman said. "This is a tough group down on Main Street, battle tested. We will open stronger than ever."

Ulman then encouraged those in the audience to "get down this weekend to support Main Street businesses."

Reggie Durden, a CSX representative who was at the derailment site all day, told last night's meeting that CSX expects to have the train cars "removed by about 10 a.m." Wednesday. "And then we're looking at about 10 hours to restore the track."

Durden added: ""Our goal is to completely restore anything that was destroyed during the damage."

Ulman reminded people that even when the train cars are gone "they'll have to check the structural integrity" of the bridge that goes over Main Street.

Ulman thanked people for their patience, and added: "I want everything open as fast as possible."

Much of Main Street, filled with quaint stores and restaurants, was turned into a bustling hub of activity Tuesday.

As local law enforcement personnel and crews from CSX and the National Transportation Safety Board swarmed the street along with hoards of onlookers, local shop- and restaurant- owners tried to keep their stores up and running, business as usual.

Brenda Franz, who owns Attic Antiques 'N Things, said she had never seen so many people on Main Street on a Tuesday afternoon, walking by her shop on the non-restricted part of Main Street to get closer to the scene.

"So many people are walking by, coming down here after they heard about it," she said. "I don't think it's going to have an impact on business. I've had plenty of sales today."

The accident shut down a portion of Main Street, starting at Old Columbia Pike.

Pedestrians were able to walk down to Maryland Avenue, however, and some Main Street businesses opened as scheduled Tuesday. Others remained close through the late morning hours. Some business owners had not yet decided what to do.

Taylor's Antique Mall opened, but employee Susan Herd said she wasn't sure for how long.

Her colleague Noelle League said she felt really sad about the accident and noted: "It doesn't feel right to open."

Ed Williams, co-owner of Mumbles and Squeaks Toy Shoppe in Ellicott City, had just arrived at his shop shortly after 10 a.m. and said he hadn't decided whether to open.

"It's a tough call ... I don't think there would be any business," he said.

Like League, Williams said he felt it wasn't "appropriate to capitalize on a tragedy."

Some businesses, however, were benefiting from the incident, as the crowds of onlookers and workers also chose to patronize the stores.

"It actually hasn't fazed us," said Jacob Boffen, a Subway employee. "It's brought us more business than we usually have. We had our first customer at about 8 a.m. Usually, we don't have our first customer until 9 or 10 a.m. ... People want to see it, and I guess after they see it, they get hungry. I guess we'll have to see if (clean-up is) prolonged."

Lauren Ward, who works at Ooh La Lal hair salon on Main Street, said early Tuesday, as she observed the crews at the accident scene, that her boss was planning to open.

Ward, who lives in a third floor apartment above the salon, said she was awake when the train derailed.

"It was like midnight. … I heard the train. And it was screeching so loud, as loud as I'd ever heard it. And I thought to myself it sounds like it's derailing," Ward said.

The general manager and sommelier at Pure Wine Cafe, Mark Bowman, said things were "a little odd, a little crazy" as he prepared to open at 4 p.m. Pure Wine Cafe is situated right at the top of the restricted zone, and it was too soon to tell if business would be affected, Bowman said, though any time something creates traffic or parking issues, it has an effect on customers.

"To have half the street blocked off, it's going to cut into our daily routine," he said. "Short of that, we have to keep it business as usual. This is just sad, and surreal, that's the best way to describe it. ... At this point, we'll take what we can get."

Staff writer Lindsey McPherson contributed to this article.

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