Main Street Turns a Corner
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Jorge Zamorano whipped out a copy of the Cumberland Times-News from behind the bar at the Starfish Cafe, one of two restaurants he owns on Capitol Hill.
The newspaper trumpeted a 17 percent increase in housing prices in the Western Maryland town over the past year. Zamorano, a Cuban-born artist and restaurateur, was pleased at his prescience.
Fourteen years ago, on a snowy Christmas vacation, he found himself in the mountain town, watching fat flakes swirl around the Victorian main street.
"I was mesmerized by the beauty of it," he said. "The first thought that came to mind was 'It's a Wonderful Life.' "
Then came the second thought: "What a shame, all the buildings boarded up and empty. This place in the right hands? The potential!"
Since then, a noticeable stream of outsiders from Washington and elsewhere have moved to Cumberland, a city of about 21,000 on the C&O Canal, to take advantage of low real estate prices and a slower lifestyle.
For Zamorano, it took 10 years of visits, watching Baltimore Street, the main drag, being revitalized by a National Trust for Historic Preservation Main Street project, before he lured his business partner, Miguel Rodriguez, to the town.
"I fell in love immediately," Rodriguez said.
They bought one building for a clone of Zamorano's other Capitol Hill restaurant, the Banana Cafe, but before construction began, Zamorano wanted to buy another.
The Manhattan Bar and Grill was the first of their two restaurants to open, four years ago. "It was the day after Thanksgiving, when they light the Christmas tree. It's a huge event in Cumberland," Zamorano said.
"Like Rockefeller Center," Rodriguez added. "There were 5,000 people out front. We ran out of food."
They now divide their time between Washington and Cumberland, switching off weeks, enjoying the town, forgetting the world.