The history of Reisterstown’s Main Street goes back to the 1700s, when town founder John Reister first bought land and built an inn. Some 300 years later, the shape of the historic buildings, brick sidewalks and small-town feel are reminiscent of Reisterstown’s deep roots.
In recent years, Main Street seemed to be on the decline. With shopping center vacancies, an aging population and the Great Recession, Main Street took a hit. While several shops were able to weather the storm, the area experienced a bit of musical chairs as restaurants opened and closed.
Enter the Reisterstown Improvement Association, formed in November 2010. The group has been working to beautify Main Street and re-establish it as a destination through partnering with Bloomin’ Artfest, the annual spring art festival, and Music on Main Street, a Friday night
summer concert series.
“It seems evident to me that this is a community that creates activity and really wants to grow as a community,” said Irwin Kramer, a Main Street-based attorney.
Last November, Baltimore County noticed the RIA’s efforts and decided to put some of its own muscle behind the group, assigning Amy Mantay, western sector coordinator at the planning department, as Main Street manager for two years. With Mantay on board, the Reisterstown Main Street Committee grew out of the RIA. Its aim is to earn the historic district Main Street Maryland status.
The achievement wouldn’t just be a fancy title, the program offers towns on-site visits and design assistance, training on commercial revitalization, education about grants and loans and opens the area to additional funding possibilities.
“The time is now to make a move on Main Street,” Kramer, who heads the Main Street Committee’s design subcommittee, said. “The time is now to take what was once the center of all activity in Baltimore County and restore it, so that future generations can enjoy the history of this place.”
In order to apply for Main Street Maryland status, Main Street needs five active subcommittees — organization, promotion, design, economic restricting and clean, safe and green, and it must have a program manager, a board of directors, a budget and a defined central business district with historic commercial buildings.
The committee hopes to apply for the designation this fall.
“We’re trying to make Main Street a destination instead of a drive-through,” said Calvin Reter, 83, a lifelong resident of the Reisterstown/Owings Mills area.
Reter, like many other longtime Main Street advocates, has seen revitalization efforts come and go over the years. This time, with help from Mantay, the effort seems to really be taking off, and the community is taking notice.
“I think when you see new things going on, it makes you … want to be a part of that excitement,” said Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond. “I think enthusiasm and good work spreads.”
In addition to Music on Main Street, which has been drawing hundreds to Franklin Middle every Friday night this summer, a new farmers’ market has also brought hungry crowds to Main Street every Sunday. An effort to refurbish Reisterstown’s historic community cemetery is also under way in conjunction with the RIA. Members of the clean, safe and green subcommittee have held two Main Street cleanups, filling dumpsters with trash that was strewn about.
“I think we’ve made a great deal of progress,” Mantay said. “[The effort is] meeting a need that’s been missing out here for a while.”
Jonathan Schwartz, Almond’s senior council assistant and a member of Temple Emanuel in Reisterstown, said he thinks Reisterstown has a good opportunity to piggyback on Owings Mills’ development and position itself as a unique shopping district. With small business such as Java Mammas Coffee Shop and Eatery, Iced Gems cupcakes and Italian ice shop The Cow, Reisterstown strays from cookie-cutter chains that are present in nearby towns, he said.
“Longer term, I’m hoping that as more people buy local and shop local, they’ll look to Reisterstown Main Street,” Schwartz said.
An issue the Main Street Committee has become aware of is the lack of manpower in Main Street’s small businesses. Many are run by the owners and a couple, if any, part-time employees. This forces shops to close on Mondays or Tuesdays (none want to close on the weekends) and close doors in the evening hours.
While a solution has yet to be found, Main Street Committee members hope business will pick up as time goes on and the group gets closer to achieving Main Street Maryland status.
Glenn Barnes, president of the RIA, thinks the future is bright for Reisterstown, evidenced to him by the smiling faces he’s seen each Friday this summer at the concerts.
“The enthusiasm is actually overwhelming. When I go back to our booth and start talking to the other committee members, my eyes start to water,” he said. “So many have said, ‘I never thought Reisterstown would have anything like this.’”
Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter