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Sidewalk Talk: Adaptive Joy

“Tim’s view of a fantastic adaptive reuse project creating area joy.”

BACK IN THE DAY ![endif]--

Sometimes, I come across a gem in the middle of a hay stack of redevelopment examples. In today’s recycling craze, buildings are not immune to imaginative repurposing. Though we at ESC work to create great university city downtown sidewalks and rebuild the “Art of the Stroll” all day long, our office sits among the rolling hills and exurban equestrian country of northern Maryland. (All things in moderation, right?) On the way to our country office, I glance at an all-star example of an adaptive reuse of an abandoned country station, now called, aptly, The Filling Station.

To me, the building renovation is akin to a great jeweler repurposing your grandmother’s old broach into a beautiful new necklace: Once overlooked, now shiny and bright for all to see. The station was built in the 1930’s alongside what then must have been the only road connecting Baltimore with its northern big city neighbor of York, Pennsylvania. You can almost hear the echo of a bell “ding” when a car rode over the cable (if you know this sound…you owned a black and white TV!) I can almost see Gomer Pyle with Goober at this Fillin’ Station (Now I KNOW you’re a Baby Boomer). The building later received a stone addition slapped next to the original wood structure for a mechanics garage. You’ve seen these before and drove by them like me a hundred times.

Typical old car roadside filling station

The new roadside coffee Filling Station in Sparks, MD -- all fixed up to keep you "motoring" the whole day through.


As highways got built, and traffic left the old country road, the building sat vacant for years. Weeds were the only customers in its sad deteriorating dormancy.But, as some office and residential development inevitably grew nearby decades later, a family bought the station, and converted it to todays new fuel craze – a coffee shop! What a beautiful jewel indeed! It’s such a perfectly proportioned structure and the new owners completely kept true to the building’s frame and materials. It would have been such an easy decision to simply knock this building down and place a new modern (read “cheap”) box of a building and somehow squeeze in a non-descript drive-thru to get your joe and go. But, NO! Total restoration – with a Twist.


A very small and efficient space inside the station is the coffee shop. But this place is so much more! You can see the original walls, and antique shelving holding fresh baked muffins, and other homemade breakfast goods. And the Branding of this is amazing! Old gas station signage remains. Where else would you find a sign depicting “Old Oil Contains Lead” right behind the baked goods? Simple touches make you pause and stare with delight at vintage oil cans used as vases, with burlap coffee bean bags screening the kitchen behind the counter.


It’s really cool and unique to have a gas station revival to a coffee shop and this one has a breakfast and lunch menu to boot! The old stone mechanics building even has a seating area, with an artist gallery that showcases local artists and pieces for sale!


And just when you cannot believe all that’s going on inside, out back – yep, a seating area, replete with those cool string lights that somehow says, “Party!” The back yard is a respite and on evenings, premiers local Acoustic Concerts with a chorus from the babbling brook below. Holy economic cow Batman! A CHAMPION of Branding, Redevelopment, and all bringing joy to the growing area – and most importantly – probably the areas highest retal revenue per square foot investment returns there is!

I was truly “Tankful” (haha) that I stopped inside this gem that serves coffee, makes the best fresh muffins and pastries, showcases area painters and music artists, and is a quiet respite – you could say a new garage for today’s broken-down overworked souls.And to top it all off – What a great logo and sign! Simple and elegant – one glance, and you know EXACTLY what this is.

Five Sidewalk Stars for this old broach turned necklace. It is a veritable Swiss Army knife of economic offerings beautifully packaged.

So what's the next Sidewalk Step in your Downtown redo?

The abandoned filling station is an EXACT microcosm of some downtowns where economic forces have changed dynamics beyond their control – or did it? The old filling station was just for cars. Cities too cannot depend solely on a single economic engine – or, you risk perish like the single purpose of the old country gas station. Why do I highlight this station? The new “station” kept true to its origins and now has MANY uses today within this real estate revival. It doesn’t depend on just one “economy” thing. The new owners could have stopped with just a coffee shop and muffins and take on the likes of Dunkin, or that other uniquely national coffee chain named after Captain Ahab’s First Mate. Nope! Adding a unique dining setting showcasing area artists, both musical and visual, combined with heritage (read – no cookie cutter branding here) make for long-term loyalty and success – in the name of repeat business.

Take heed downtowns – add culture, heritage, and great product, and we promise you a high octane recipe with economic results fueling you for decades!

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