© 2023 WYPR
20th Anniversary Background
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Arbutus. College Town?

Credit John Lee
One of the few indicators in Arbutus that UMBC is nearby.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Arbutus are near each other. But when you think about Arbutus, “college town” probably doesn’t come to mind. 


A business is opening Monday morning in the southern Baltimore County community that hopes to help change that. 




You know the college town vibe. Sidewalks crowded with students eating, drinking, shopping, as well as plenty of college gear for sale. That is not what’s happening in Arbutus. 


Not that the businesses don’t see students from time to time.


Jeffrey Doetzer, a barber at John’s Barber Shop on East Drive in Arbutus said, “Off and on we get visitors from the campus periodically. It seems they come in week to week and they come in small amounts.”


Camille Rhode, a junior at UMBC, was passing the time in the commons on campus. She agreed Arbutus is no college town.


“I personally don’t go to Arbutus much just because I don’t have a car so I’m not able to go,” Rhode said.


Other students said they rarely leave campus. UMBC has an enrollment of more than 13,000 students.


East Drive is the main drag in Arbutus, There’s not much there to tell you that UMBC is close by. There is one sign to remind you that UMBC knocked off Virginia last year in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. A few businesses have UMBC stickers on their windows, but that’s about it.


The types of businesses in Arbutus can be pretty much anywhere, such as a laundromat, a food mart, a couple of pharmacies, places to eat, banks and insurance offices. 


There used to be a hookah lounge on East Drive, but that building is now home for Oca Mocha, an outpost of sorts for UMBC.


Michael Berardi, a student co-founder and manager, says Oca Mocha is part coffee shop, part community affairs office for UMBC.


Berardi is a graduate student at the university. He said the idea for Oca Mocha was cooked up in an entrepreneurship class a couple of years ago. University officials and the Greater Arbutus Business Association challenged the class to come up with a way to bridge the gap between the campus and the nearby community.


Their first thought was to have a community affairs office in Arbutus.


“Then we were thinking through it some more and we were like, well, let’s be more entrepreneurial about this,” Berardi said. “How are we going to fund that? We don’t want to use just taxpayers’ dollars.”


Hence, the coffee shop, which opens Monday morning. Berardi said UMBC paid for the renovations to the building, which added up to more than $200,000.


Oca is an acronym for Opportunities for Community Alliances. And mocha, well, that’s coffee. They’ll be slinging coffee in the front of the building. Further back, there will be an art gallery and a community engagement center, where people from UMBC and Arbutus can get together and work together.


Next door to Oca Mocha is Chesapeake Bank. Kim Waldt, the bank’s branch manager also serves on the board of the Greater Arbutus Business Association. She said the bank spent $20,000 to fix up its parking lot so Oca Mocha could use it, both for parking and to put tables and chairs outside.


“We’re hoping to get students to come down and check us out and check out the businesses in the community too,” Waldt said.


On the other side of Oca Mocha is the Haircutting Zone. Owner Jeff Skipper thinks it will be good for business. But he said parking is already tight.


Skipper is concerned that rather than Arbutus becoming a college town, “It might be the beginning of turning Arbutus into a nowhere to park town.”


The UMBC campus is a mile or so away from Arbutus. But Joe Regier, the executive director of UMBC transit and community connections, said starting Monday morning a shuttle will run every 15 to 30 minute from the campus to soon-to-be college town, maybe, Arbutus.


John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2