September 18, 2007

DeVille Ink

On September 17, DeVille Ink opened on Frederick Rd. DeVille Ink specializes in body art. They were obviously drawn to Frederick Rd. because the town is known as Music City and Tattoos are very popular among musicians.

September 9, 2007

Arts & Crafts Festival 2007

I would like to commend everyone that was involved in organizing and facilitating this years Festival. It was Awesome! I heard that it was a record turn out.
It was great to see many of our local businesses highlighted. I heard several people say that they didn't know that there were so many nice shops in Catonsville. I hope they will come back before next year.
It was wonderful to hear all of the live music spread through out the street. In addition to the main stage, there was live music in front of Bill's Music House, on the front porch of the Peace of Sunshine, a few musicians strolling through the street and we had a variety of impromptu entertainment at Strawberry Fields. I even met a magician that kept popping up to perform his tricks!
Attractions like the car show ( how do they keep those old cars looking so perfect?) and the kiddie corner broaden the appeal of the festival - there really is something for everyone!
Everyone worked together this year, neighbors, businesses, the chamber of commerce, the vendors and the Arts & Crafts committee. It really showed. The beautiful weather only made the day more enjoyable.

September 4, 2007

The Two Letters

I would like to explain why I decided to share the two letters.

When I purchased the properties from the Muir's, I knew that they would be a good investment once they were cleaned up and leased out. I did not purchase the hardware store with the intent of obtaining a liquor license. I knew that this was a great property and it was adjacent to the properties that we already owned. It would be a great location for some sort of retail or many other uses.

This blog was created so that the community could share their thoughts and ideas as to what types of businesses the would be supported here. A way for the process, of creating Strawberry Fields, to be transparent. A forum for everyone, to not only see what was going on, but, also offer input. From the beginning there have been requests for, among other things a nice restaurant. That is when I looked into changing the law for the liquor license.

We have secured a tenant, whose business model seems to fulfill many of the desires of the people that have posted here. The Catonsville Gourmet, does not need a liquor license.

While I have never hid the fact that Mr. Andrews and I are not best friends, I have stated several times on this blog that I did not intend to use this site to post negative things about him. I have been asked by several people to try and work out my differences with the owner's of Ships. These two letters were not private, they have been circulated to many people, as is evidenced by the cc:s on each letter. The letters were posted here to show that an effort has been made to work together. To give insight into why things are the way they are. I made no comments about the letters other that stating the obvious - That we don't see eye to eye.

Now that the properties at Strawberry Fields are mostly leased and the liquor license is no longer an issue. I hope to keep things on a much more positive note here. To use this site to share the good things that are happening in Catonsville and more specifically at Strawberry Fields.


September 1, 2007

We Can Work It Out - (I Hope So!)

In the Spirit of improving the Village by working together for the common good. Several people and business owners have suggested that I sit down with the Owner's of Ships Cafe or that I write them a nice letter and try to reason with them, surely they will come around and see the benefits of improving Catonsville beyond their own place.
Well I tried meeting with them -Not so good. So I sent them what I thought was a nice letter, suggesting that we work together.

Here are the unedited copies, of the letter that I mailed to the Andrews' and their response.

Jim Andrews

Sharon Andrews

Ship's Cafe

828 Frederick Rd.


July 2, 2007

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Andrews,

We seem to have gone down the path of developing a less than desirable
relationship as neighbors'. I would like to take this opportunity to reintroduce myself and share my thoughts about the future of Catonsville with particular regards to your business/property and ours.

I have lived in Catonsville my entire life and really want to see the town grow in a
forward direction. I have many fond memories of the businesses that once lined
Frederick Rd.- Father's Gay Nineties, Jo Jan Archery, Fields Hobby Shop, Pete's Grill,Earl Dew's Bicycle Shop &Wilson Lumber to Name a few. These were businesses thatattracted people to the area and gave the Village, a true sense of Community. For a variety of reasons, all of the above businesses are gone. Most have been replaced by service-oriented businesses, establishments typically closed after 5pm and on weekends. A "Main Street" should have stores, shops, cafes and restaurants that bring people to the area after the workforce has gone home.

Along with this change, in the dynamic of The Village, the Residents of Catonsville
have changed as well. There are more young families and the income level is higher than it used to be. Many of these families leave Catonsville and drive to Ellicott City,Columbia and Baltimore City on a regular basis to find establishments that serve their needs. While I sincerely believe that Ship's Cafe is an asset to the community and has helped the image of Catonsville and along with ChefPaolino's offers new dining options for Catonsville. I have never heard of anyone saying "Let's go to Catonsville for Dinner". People usually will mention the specific Restaurant that they intend to patronize and if it is too crowded or the wait is too long. Then, they might say "Let's go to Ellicott City or Columbia" or another area, where they know that they can drive, easily park and then walk the street. Reading Menu Boards and checking out the specials before they decide
where to dine that particular evening. I bought the properties across the Street from you with the intention of following your example and working to continue to revitalize the area by attracting a Sushi Restaurant and/or other different dining experiences to the area. I have several letters of intent from restaurant owner's that are established in the surrounding counties and Baltimore City. Restaurants that already have a strong client base and would draw new patrons to the Catonsville area. I am being strongly encouraged by many of our neighbors to bring another restaurant to town. The benefit of attracting an existing business from say Columbia or Towson, is that Diner's from Pikesville or Ellicott City may view Catonsville as a more attractive destination. I firmly believe that a "Rising Tide, Raises
all Ships". Once a few new Restaurants open up then boutique type stores will follow.

Unlike most property investors, I have been very selective in the types of tenants to
whom we will lease space. I have recently turned down: several mental health care
facilities, a used appliance store and a Mattress Wholesaler (the one that just opened down the street) in the spirit of, attracting interesting businesses, that attract more affluent customers to the area. I have also been very hesitant to lease the space to anyone that wants to come in and create a brand new Restaurant from the ground up. While I have seen some very interesting business plans, most incorporating Bring Your Own Alcohol, these entrepreneurs have all tried to sell me on the idea that they will build their businesses buy focusing their efforts on drawing customers away from the existing restaurants on Frederick Rd. While, I am sure that they could succeed, the vitality of Catonsville as a whole would suffer from this type of competition. I believe that drawing new customers to the area, rather than competing for the finite number of potential customers that live in the immediate vicinity, would better serve us all.

This area will be undergoing some major changes in the next few years. Positive or
Negative, is yet to be determined. If the Promenade, with its multiple Restaurants and convenient parking were open today, I believe that it would flourish at the expense of the existing restaurants in the business district. It does not have to be that way. We can create the feeling that Frederick Rd. is The Place to Go, so that when the Promenade does open, its many visitors will want to travel beyond the "Bright and Shiny" new center to visit "Quaint and Charming" Old Catonsville.

When we last discussed my plans, you stated that you did not share this vision. I
would like to ask that you reconsider your position. The success of Ship's Cafe gives
testament to the fact, that Catonsville will embrace and can support more dining
attractions. We would like to work with you before we lease the space across the Street. You have the opportunity to help shape something that could have a very positive impact on Catonsville and your business in particular. I am hopeful that you will support expanding the Revitalization efforts beyond your own concerns.

The County has approved our site plan for Strawberry Fields at Catonsville. We are
moving forward to add additional parking spaces behind 821-829 Frederick Rd. As I had
mentioned to you before, I would like to work out an arrangement where you and your
customers would benefit from the new parking and I could bring an establishment to the area that could enhance your business as well.

We are neighbors. I would like to suggest that we work together and not against
each other. I have faith that if we support each other to do what is best for the community then we will both succeed beyond our expectations.


Craig Witzke


Councilman Stephen G. Moxley

Delegate James Malone, Jr.

Delegate Steve DeBoy

The Honorable Adrienne Jones - Delegate

Senator Edward Kasemeyer

The Honorable James Smith

The Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce

(I then indicated in handwriting that I included the above contacts to show them that we were trying to work together for the benefit of Catonsville)

Here is the response the I received:

Dear Mr. Witzke

In response to your letter received July 5,2007,1 too grew up in Catonsville my
entire life. The Andrews family moved to Catonsville in 1910 with a strong community
commitment. As far as me not only being bom in 1950 and raised in Catonsville I also
was a uniform police officer for 15 Yrs. and an undercover narcotics officer for 10 yrs. putting my life on the line every day for the community, the state of Maryland and the United States of America.

In February 2002 my wife and I bought the old 828 bar and opened Ships Cafe' but six
months prior we had put together a five year business plan and investigated whether or not we would be able to expand and grow the restaurant with out any problems regarding state and local laws. One of the things that was attractive about purchasing the 828 was the fact that because of state law a liquor license could not be placed on the Muhr property across the street because of being within 300 Ft. of the church.

My wife and I were able to obtain loans for the purchase and expansion of Ships Cafe
after we had to guarantee the loan by putting up everything that we own. My wife and I have worked seven days a week for the past 5 1/2 Yrs. To make Ships what it is today. The one thing I must point out is the fact that Mr. Muhr was still alive when Ships was being built and after his death the property was passed onto his son. You on the other hand purchased the property from Jay Muhr and went to settlement in August of 2006. After purchasing the Muhr property and going to settlement Mr. Witzke you contacted Dave Mister the attorney for the Baltimore County Beverage Association inquiring on placing a liquor license on the property that you want to develop. You were informed by the attorney that because of state law one could not be placed their. You further inquired with several other people about a liquor license and were told the same thing because of state law a liquor license could not be placed on the property that you want to develop.

It is a disturbing fact that you Mr. Witzke being on the planning board for Baltimore
County that you were unaware of this law. If that is the case that you were unaware of the law let me refresh your memoly. About three years ago two business men in this
community purchased the liquor license from the Westview Lounge and attempted to
open a restaurant on Frederick Rd. They too were unaware of the state law and were three feet shy of Catonsville Elementary School they were denied because of the state law. What makes you any different then those two business men? Because you are on the Planning Board for Baltimore County. Now that you are a land developer in the
Catonsville area of Baltimore County don't you find that being a conflict of interest? (I DO)

I would like to address the issue that you stated the residents of Catonsville are leaving the area and going to Ellicott City, Columbia and Baltimore City to dine to serve then-needs. Where do you get your facts from or are they your own opinion or is this another cry for wolf to help Craig Witzke attempt to change the state law to obtain a liquor license for the property that you want to develop.

Please tell me what all the Restaurants in Ellicott City, Columbia or Baltimore City have to offer that is drawing all of the residents out ofCatonsville. In Columbia you mostly have chain restaurants where you do not get the personalized service that you get in an independently owned restaurant. Chain restaurants want to get you in and out to turn those tables as quick as they can. Baltimore City is the same way unless you go to little Italy or to the Canton area. As far as Ellicott City what do they have? The Phoenix is more of a bar then a restaurant. La Palapas Mexican restaurant is more of a bar and if you check with Howard County Police on how many calls they get at that place you would be surprised. So you have Coco Lane, Jordan's Steak house or the new place Rumor Mill which is Asian-Fusion. Besides that what great restaurants do they have that is the big draw?

People are going to go out to the restaurant of their choice and if there is a wait the majority of the time they will wait why. Because by the time they get back into their vehicle and drive to another restaurant they could have been seated and there is no guarantee when they get to the next restaurant that there isn't a wait there unless the food is no good and no one is there. Where would you like to go? To a restaurant where it is filled and has a fifteen minute wait or a restaurant that is not filled and has plenty of seating available. The restaurant that is filled must be doing something right.

The statement in the letter that you sent to me and my wife Mr. Witzke that stated that you bought the properties across the street from Ships Cafe is to continue your effort to revitalize the Catonsville Area by offering more dining experiences. That you have been contacted by several restaurant owners that are interested in leasing your property but that they would have to have a liquor license before they would conceder.
Lets be perfectly honest Mr. Witzke you are now a land developer who is more interested in how much money you can make off of leasing to a restaurant with a liquor license then several boutique shops. As far as being honest Mr.Witzke the one restaurant owner in the Canton area of Baltimore City who was interested in opening another restaurant in Catonsville in your project used the same Maryland State Law to stop a restaurant by the name of Rope Walk form opening in Canton. But now would like to see the law changed.

To address the issue that you have been contacted by several entrepreneurs to open a
Bring Your Own Alcohol restaurant. This is ok by Maryland State Law and the Baltimore
County Liquor Board. You as the property owner leasing to this type of restaurant and the restaurant owner are still under Maryland Law are not relinquished from all liquor laws.
This type of restaurant must control minors from consuming alcohol on the premises,
allowing their customers to become so intoxicated that they would be driving what is
prohibited by law, disorderly conduct, assaults, fights etc.

Mr. Witzke you stated in your letter that with in the next few years the Catonsville area will be going through some major changes with the Promenade Restaurant Park being developed by Mr. Whalen and if it were opened today that it would flourish at the expense of the existing restaurants that are already in the Catonsville area. But if we act now and open several more restaurants in Catonsville before the Promenade opens that the citizens who do dine out will come to as you say the Quaint and Charming Old Catonsville men the Bright and Shiny new center. Who are you trying to kid. Number one again you were on the Baltimore County Planning When Mr. Whalen
proposed his project to the Catonsville community and approved the project. Now that
you are a land developer you are trying to suggest to Sharon and I and the elected
officials of Baltimore County that we must beat Mr. Whalen to the punch first.
I strongly disagree with your suggestion on me other side of the coin we allow several other restaurants to open with liquor license and when the promenade does open there wont be enough customers to fill the existing restaurants in Catonsville.
Besides the Maryland State Law which in your opinion is hampering your effort there is one question that hasn't been answered. Where is there a liquor license to be obtained?
Mr. Whalen has bought two from this district, will be allowed a few more because of his project and was allowed to move two or three over to the Westside from the eastside. Mr. Whalen will have approx. 7-9 liquor licenses. This will mean adding 7 to 9 more restaurants to the Catonsville area.

Mr. Witzke let me make this suggestion to you. If you feel that more of a variety of
restaurants are needed in Catonsville find a buyer for some of the ones that are already in Catonsville and are for sale. I know of three. Do your homework.

The last couple of points that I would like to address of your letter regarding the fact that our relationship as neighbors is less then desirable and that the fact that I do not support your vision as to the revitalization of the Catonsville is not true.
Mr. Witzke you and I sat down in the old hardware store the first week of November
2006. At that time you expressed to me your vision of Strawberry Fields of Catonsville and asked for my opinion of what else would I think would go over well in your project. I was very supportive of the Strawberry Fields project and suggested to you about a Star-Bucks, a card store that had candy, flowers etc., and an upper scale grocery store. I was very supportive of your project until you asked me how I would feel if you were to attempt to obtain a liquor license for the hardware store. At that time I did tell you that I would not support a liquor license and at that time I informed you of the Maryland State Law.

I further suggested to you reverse the situation and you and your wife had built Ships Cafe and along came Mr. Andrews and his wife and wanted to develop Muhrs property and circumvent the law and put a restaurant with a liquor license. Of course your response was I would welcome it. Lets really be honest if it were reversed you would fight me tooth and nail and would use the existing law to your benefit. This is when as you put it the good neighbor ended because I wouldn't support you or anybody else trying to place a liquor license across the street from Ships Cafe.
Mr. Witzke lets get down to the real issue. You and your wife don't want to own
and run a restaurant like Sharon and I if you did there are several available right here in Catonsville. You want a liquor license for your land development for the sole purpose of increasing the rent of the building.

Sharon and I have been contacted by several other restaurant owners in the
Catonsville area. They have the same opinion that any additional restaurants or liquor licenses are unnecessary due to Mr. Whelan's Promenade restaurant park already
approved by Baltimore County and set in place.

One more issue about Ships Cafe, Sharon and Jim Andrews supporting the
Catonsville community the amount of contributions that we give Saint Marks, the PTA,
all the schools in the district, the Fourth of July committee, fund raisers I could go on and on so please don't suggest that my wife and I are selfish and are only interested in our own concerns as you suggested.

repectfully yours,

James Andrews


Councilman Stephen G Moxley
Delegate James Malone jr
Delegate Steve DeBoy
Delegate Adrienne Jones
Senator Edward Kasemeyer
County Executive Jim Smith
The Greater Chamber of Commerce
Archdiocese of Baltimore

On the Lighter Side!