Downtown Plan Heartens Retailers

June 06, 1991|By Cindy Harper-Evans

Larry Belt, owner of the Saeno men's clothing boutique, TC talked excitedly with employee Daniel Brasman yesterday about the sweeping 68-page proposal aimed at pumping more life into downtown Baltimore.

"I love it," said Mr. Belt, who has owned Saeno in the 500 block of North Charles Street for a little over two years. "Need I say more?"

Retailers along the Charles Street corridor had a lot of favorable comments yesterday about "The Renaissance Continues: A 20-Year Strategy for Downtown Baltimore," which Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke unveiled Tuesday.

Although the report contained recommendations from eliminating "The Block" adult entertainment zone to moving the Greyhound-Trailways bus terminal, the proposals that merchants felt most affected them were recommendations to change Charles Street back to a two-way traffic artery with curb parking and to provide tax incentives to encourage people to live downtown.

If Charles Street was made two-way, "There would be no more mass exodusfrom the city," says Mr. Belt. "It won't feel like a major artery that dumps people out of the city" instead of in to shop.

Charles Street shopkeepers have long complained about the direction of traffic on the street, which was changed from a southbound artery in the 1950s by Department of Traffic Director Henry Barnes.

The Charles Street Association concluded in 1957 that "a large number of smaller merchants on Charles Street saw a definite decrease in patronage immediately following reversal of traffic."

Inara Knight, business manager of Tomlinson Craft Collections on Charles Street, said that the craft store, which also has a shop in the Rotunda, has thought about moving into the suburbs because business downtown is very slow.

"Part of it has to do with the economy, but the other part is location," Ms. Knight said, adding that the Rotunda Tomlinson ends up carrying both stores financially. "This area is so quaint because there is the [Washington] Monument and the Walters Art Gallery, but it needs parking, promotion and publicity."

Marc Horowitz, owner of Cartuche, a gallery at 511 N. Charles St., said tax incentives to encourage more people to live downtown would definitely be a boon for his business.

"Especially if it attracts affluent people who have money to live down here and spend their money down here," said Mr. Horowitz, whose store carries art, antiques and accessories.

Laurie Schwartz, executive director of Downtown Partnership, a quasi-public downtown improvement organization, said that she is optimistic about at least some of the proposals becoming realities even though many are controversial and the issue of funds for the changes has not been fully addressed.

Merchants hoped aloud yesterday that police surveillance would be beefed up and publicity increased as well. They said that a switch to two-way traffic would slow down cars and make the streets and sidewalks more "pedestrian-friendly."

"There are a lot of good things in this report," said William F. Zorzi Sr., who was the deputy commissioner for Mr. Barnes in the 1950s when the controversial traffic changes took place and is now public relations vice president for the American Automobile Association of Maryland. "But some retailers think that you wave a magic wand and pedestrians will be happy. This business of attacking the automobile is ridiculous."

Oscar Scherr jewelers, a downtown business for more than 35 years, 15 of which where on South Calvert Street, moved out of the city in April.

"A lot of our customers were discouraged about coming into town, and business was slowly declining," said Marc Scherr, a vice president for the jeweler. "If we had stayed any longer, we would have gone under."

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