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Old businesses are still recovering after the Old Ellicott City floods as new businesses set up shop

Posted at 6:03 PM, Jul 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-28 18:03:35-04

It’s been about seven months since Tammy Beideman moved her store “Sweet Elizabeth Jane” to a different location on Main Street in Old Ellicott City, and it still feels so new.

“I’m starting to feel my way here but it’s not quite home yet because we’ve been too busy to create memories here,” she said.

She’s turned the space at 8289 Main Street into a cozy atmosphere, where beautiful dresses sit next to vintage houseware and unique furniture items.

But boy, does she miss the windows in her old location at 8125 Main Street, the old Caplan’s Department store.

“The windows became our thing and I loved the window part of it,” she said. “We focused on creating really elaborate window displays because it felt like the opportunity was there in that building.”

It’s hard for Beideman to think about the store that was, where she first launched Sweet Elizabeth Jane six years ago.

It was one year ago when she lost everything within minutes, when a flood swept through Main Street the night of July 30, killing two people.

Beideman remembers getting the call from her general manager that night. Beideman was picking up her daughter in D.C., miles away from the chaos going on in Old Ellicott City.

“She had gotten a phone call from the closing manager. They were frantic that there was water coming through the floor boards and the walls were shaking and the dress racks were coming out of the building.”

Beideman’s main concern was the safety of her employees and none of them were hurt in the floods. But her store was gone, the windows smashed out, the merchandise swept to the Patapsco River. It would certainly be enough for someone to say it’s time to move on, but not Beideman.

“I just thought how long is it going to take to get me back up and running, that’s how I roll,” she said with a laugh.

“As I'm standing there, clearly my whole world is changing, but I need to get back on my feet very quickly.”

Her goal was to get back open by Black Friday, and she knew the Caplan’s store wouldn’t be done by then. So she found her new location, up the hill, and got to work transforming it into the new “Sweet Elizabeth Jane.”

“It’s the hardest thing I ever had to do ever this last year. It’s been an unbelievable ride that I'm ready to end," she said.

Beideman gained attention when she posted pictures on Facebook of her and members of her team, walking the Patapsco River to find merchandise strewn on trees and shrubs, carried by the rushing water. She called it cathartic.

“It was so much fun and we just laughed. We thought ‘this is insane.’ We're walking through the trees and we found numerous things,” she said.

On Nov. 25, 17 weeks after floods destroyed her store, Beideman opened the doors to her new shop and was greeted by hundreds of eager shoppers.

“They helped us, they helped us in so many ways. We couldn't have done it without the support of the community.”

Meantime, back down the hill at 8125 Main Street, Beideman’s former location, another business owner is doing transformations of her own.

When Shelley Sharkey was looking for a new place for her gym, Miss Fit, she says the process was grueling and she almost gave up. Then an unexpected listing came across her computer screen.

“The Caplan’s building literally popped up on the screen and I jumped out of my seat,” she said.

She took a tour of the building, which in January, was just a shell of a building with a concrete floor. But Sharkey could see beyond the bare walls.

“Everything was coming to life, even though it was just concrete floors and the ceilings were still in disarray, I could still see us here.”

Sharkey hit the ground running, transforming the building into a gym space, with a spinning room upstairs and a “recovery room” where customers can hang out. They opened their doors on July 15 and had their first day of classes on July 19.

Sharkey says she’s been overwhelmed by the support of the other business owners.

“The community here just pulled us in and our community is pulling any new faces right in, and so, it seems like it’s a match made in heaven,” she said.

Both Sharkey and Beideman have mixed emotions about the one year anniversary of the floods. For Beideman, it will be a somber day filled with reflection. For Sharkey, it’s a chance to say thank you to the community who wrapped her arms around her business, especially her building’s former tenant, Beideman.

“We recognize that we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the flood,” said Sharkey. “Its very humbling that something so tragic for so many, in turn, has created a blessing for us because we wouldn’t be here.”

“You can’t really celebrate but you can celebrate the connection with the community and the resilience of the people as a whole,” said Beideman. “You can try to remember and reflect but still respect the process that different businesses have to go through. For us, the loss was just so immense, it’s good to focus on the positive and try to look ahead.”