The Downtime Cafe opened in downtown Frederick in May, hoping to lure a younger, pierced and tattooed clientele to its East Patrick Street locale with Italian coffee, wireless Internet, organic goodies and later hours.

Across the street, meanwhile, a new bakery that also serves coffee has been launched by a well-known restaurateur in town. And just three blocks north, a third coffee shop, the WestSide Cafe, opened its doors last month, offering concoctions for caffeine addicts by day and alcohol and folk music for revelers by night.

And that's not to mention the existing lineup of downtown cafes, lunch spots and coffee shops a muffin's throw from each other: Bagels & Beans, a few doors east of the Downtime Cafe, or the Market New York Bagel & Deli next to Carroll Creek, or the FSK Kaffe in the Frederick Scott Key Hotel, or the Market Street Cafe, which features shelf after shelf of books with its coffee and food. To the east, another popular caffeine den, the Frederick Coffee Co., is a five-minute walk.

Paris, it's not. But the 56,000 citizens of Frederick can now choose among dozens of places to sip a latte, nosh a bagel or wolf down sushi. In addition to its long-standing reputation for peddling antiques and Civil War history, the city has also cultivated its image as an artistic community and hub of a busy exurb. The thriving dining scene offers another reminder of Frederick's transformation from an economy driven by cows to one driven by caffeine.

Some question, though, whether the profusion of coffee shops and restaurants could be too much of a good thing.

"There's a lot of cafes," said Nicola Tauraso, 70, proprietor of a namesake Italian restaurant east of downtown. His son, Michael Angelo Tauraso, 40, who owns the Tasting Room, a downtown restaurant that features a large wine selection, is also opening the bakery and coffee shop on East Patrick. "We have so many restaurants, they're choking each other out."

Kara Norman, executive director of Downtown Frederick Partnership, said there are now 45 eating establishments downtown: 27 restaurants, 11 sandwich shops and seven coffee shops. That does not include 11 specialty food spots, such as Candy Kitchen or the Stone Hearth bakery.

And the variety is impressive: The city offers Mexican, continental Spanish, Ethiopian, Japanese, nouvelle American, classic American, French and Indian cuisines.

Richard Griffin, the city's director of economic development, touted a recent survey that suggests that downtown's 600 businesses, most of which are small and independently owned, generate $375 million in sales a year. About 20 are information technology firms, the survey found.

And the city's boosters are still aglow over Frederick's designation by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of five winners of the Great American Main Street Award.

David A. Snyder, the Downtime Cafe's owner, quit a job at a New York recording studio and returned to his home town to be with his girlfriend before starting his business. He has already made inroads among the lunchtime vegan set.

Snyder, too, marvels at the transformation of the city, particularly along Carroll Creek, and the money pouring in. And even as a young businessman, he worries whether the growth will be good for the city.

"They took a long time to make any changes, and now they're doing it all at once. It's thrown a lot of people off," Snyder said. "The biggest change, I think, is the desire for Frederick has skyrocketed. I'm amazed."

Roderick Deacey, who opened WestSide Cafe in May in the same building with his Market Street Jewelry business, said the key is to seize on a niche.

To compete with the lively bar and music scene in town, his cafe stays open late, offers beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks, and features acoustic music in a nonsmoking environment. His menu was selected to avoid offering fare that would compete with the pretzel shop and pizzeria across the street.

"The downtown especially has really blossomed in the last few years," said Deacey, who opened for business in 1993. "It was fairly boring. But over the years, the restaurants have really added and added."

"I would think for a full-service restaurant, it's not too crowded," said Philip Bowers, who owns three restaurants downtown: Acacia, Brewer's Alley and Isabella's.

Bowers, who is also president of Downtown Frederick Partnership, said even with the selection of dining, the lines of people waiting for tables on busy nights are an indication of the city's economic strength. "More choices bring more people," he said.

But some locals -- and not just established restaurateurs -- say the growth has gotten out of hand and worry the bustling scene could go bust.

"They'll kill each other," Joe Cohen said recently during a good-natured debate in his British goods store with Norman, Downtown Frederick Partnership's director. He and others said the traffic overflow is already enough to hamper business.

"When I moved here in 1972, Frederick County was the third-largest milk-producing county in the entire country, second only to some counties in Wisconsin," Tauraso said. "That has changed."

When Tauraso opened his restaurant 19 years ago, he said, the only restaurants were La Paz, Bushwaller's and perhaps some others that have since closed.

"It was sort of a little Georgetown, without the traffic," Tauraso said.

"It's gotten now you just walk down the street, and it's restaurant, restaurant, restaurant. It's small town getting larger, growing up."

Will Saxton of Frederick browses the free Internet hookup at the Downtime Cafe in Frederick. A proliferation of cafes and coffee shops has transformed the complexion of downtown -- too quickly, some locals worry.