Sporting shades and clutching groceries from Trader Joe's, a petite 86-year-old woman disembarks from a free shuttle bus provided by Rockville's Pavilion Apartments, flashes a winning smile at the driver and hands him the groceries. On this muggy day, the extra help is appreciated.

Also appreciated: All utilities, shuttles and courtesy are included in her rent.

Because of its location and the shuttle, the Pavilion is attractive to those who do not drive, including a number of elderly residents. The building is at Rockville Pike and Montrose Road next to two major retail centers, Mid-Pike Plaza and Montrose Crossing. The White Flint Metro station is a short walk away.

The 432-unit high-rise, built in 1968, is also home to diplomats and National Institutes of Health workers, in addition to retirees.

Property manager MaryAlice Stanton, who has been in the business for 23 years, said she finds the place unusually friendly. "The neighbors know each other. . . . I don't know where it comes from. We're not in Iowa. . . . This is like Mayberry."

The shuttle makes trips to several local stops, including grocery stores, the offices at the Parklawn Building, the Jewish Community Center, Congressional Plaza and Montgomery Mall. The shuttle is just one perk. In addition, the building has a beauty salon, dry cleaner, tailor and convenience store. Amenities include a pool, 24-hour fitness center and a conference room. A 24-hour concierge coordinates maintenance requests and other concerns; there's also a backup customer contact service based in Rochester, N.Y., the headquarters of owner Home Properties Inc.

Home Properties bought the complex in 1999 and is spending $20 million to renovate it. The work began three years ago. Residents who moved in during improvements got renovated apartments. Residents who predated the renovations could move to another apartment in the building during construction or stay in an old apartment. New amenities include a business center with high-speed Internet, a library and a social room with a catering kitchen.

After a fatal fire in November 2001, Home Properties installed a $12.3 million detection system. The system, controlled from the business office, monitors carbon monoxide levels as well as fire danger. It is sensitive enough to detect a candle left burning in an apartment. However, the building cannot accommodate sprinklers, according to the management, because installing them would require removing concrete floors and ceilings, possibly exposing asbestos.

Makiko Fujii, 36, said the building makes her feel safe. She moved to the area from Japan four years ago and works late nights as a biologist at NIH. "This is safer than a low-rise apartment," she said. "The concierge is always in front of the building."

Fujii likes to bike to work on occasion. A direct bike path to Old Georgetown Road makes the 30-minute ride a breeze. She also keeps a car in the garage for $50 a month.

Residents describe the Pavilion as quiet and clean, although the renovations have meant some hassles. Work on the three-level underground garage, the source of jackhammer noise during the day, should be done by year-end.

Work on the plumbing to prevent leaks will take another year, while the elevators should be up to speed by December.

Two of the building's four elevators have been renovated. The other two require extreme patience. "We now have to walk across the building to the newer elevators," said Nathalie Johnson-Noon, 27, a lawyer. "You can wait about 20 minutes if it's a bad day."

She and her husband, James Noon, a systems specialist, are planning to move. Noon, who pays from $1,500 to $1,600 a month for a two-bedroom, two-bath unit, said that even though the rent is standard for the area, it's too high for him because he is going back to school in the fall. "Rents are just insane, but it's secure and pretty quiet," he said.

The building offers short-term leases, which bring government contract workers and others who are in search of flexibility.

Urmi Trivedi, 28, who rented for six months with her husband, a government physician, said she enjoyed the neighboring retail. While her husband's drive to work downtown could take an hour, she ran errands in minutes.

"I can go grocery shopping, or there's CVS next door," she said earlier this summer, before her husband's job took them to another city. "If I want to go anywhere, I can just hop on the Metro and go."

Pavilion Apartments is convenient for people who do not drive -- it's near the Metro and has a shuttle to local stores.