Walk along Main Street in Laurel, Maryland, and you won’t see any shortage of vehicle traffic.
A lot of cars drive up and down Main Street, but despite being lined with banks, churches and even some apartments, not to mention the MARC station at the end of the street, there just weren’t nearly as many people walking about as there were people driving.
“It’s quaint. It’s small, but it’s not busy enough,” said Lauro Rodriguez, a barber on Main Street.
As cars whirred by outside, he lamented that there are not enough businesses to make them stop and pull over.
“You can’t even get a decent burger on this street,” Rodriguez said. Asked if Main Street was really Laurel’s Main Street — the principal street of a small town — he answered with no hesitation.
“No. Far from it,” he said. “Route 1 is Laurel’s Main Street. That’s where all the businesses, all the restaurants — that’s thriving a lot more than Main Street is. The actual Main Street.”
And Rodriguez said that’s bad for the city.
Efforts to change that got a boost in the latest legislative session in Annapolis.
One of the first new bills signed into law by Maryland Gov. Wes Moore allows for five more liquor licenses. The law essentially limits the licenses to the heart of Laurel’s Main Street.
“The vision is to really create a destination place here on Main Street,” said Robert Love, the director of economic and community development in the City of Laurel. “We think it’ll bring more businesses, more unique businesses.”
The efforts to transform Main Street into something more than it is now started a few years ago, but the efforts got sidelined because of the pandemic.
Since then, the city has started investing the space used by the Laurel Farmers Market, adding picnic tables and an awning for instance. These new licenses, which aim to lure more drinking and dining options to Main Street, are the next step.
“We’d like to lure in … maybe some brew pubs or some wineries and those types of businesses that help out every other business that is located on the street,” Love said. But he acknowledges that it will take patience to get to the point that Main Street is a destination” the way Main Streets in Ellicott City and Annapolis are.
“We really want to make it the Main Street,” Love said. That means giving all the cars that drive by a reason to “actually stop and enjoy our businesses.”
That’s not to say Main Street is a ghost town. There’s just a belief that it can be more, or as Love put it, “not just have it as somewhere you pass through, but somewhere that’s your destination that you’re looking to go.”
Rodriguez said there’s a desperate need to make that vision a reality. And he sees the same potential Love does.
“These buildings are historic,” Rodriguez said. “This is the heartbeat of Laurel, and it’s very diverse. Why not make this the main hub?”