Grocer grieves for cherished store he felt forced to close 84-year-old fears retribution for shooting

September 27, 1991|By John Rivera

After nearly half a century as a grocer on Greenmount Avenue, surviving robberies and rioting, 84-year-old Neva Clark went out of business yesterday.

The violence, he said, was getting out of hand. "So much trouble out there on the streets now. I'm afraid."

The last straw fell Wednesday when Mr. Clark fired a shotgun blast and wounded a man who had walked into his inner city market and thrown a customer over the meat counter. It was the second time in recent years that Mr. Clark has shot someone in the store.

"I decided, just close it up," Mr. Clark said. "I'll soon be 85 years old. No reason to go through this trouble anymore."

Yesterday morning, he did not unlock the front door as he had virtually every day except Sundays for the past 47 years.

All day, customers walked up and rattled the door of the market or peered in the window. But Mr. Clark would not open up the store that has been the center of his life for so long.

The market, which Mr. Clark bought in 1944, is attached to the back of the two-story row house where he and his late wife, Maude, raised their two daughters. His wife ran the market for years while he worked at a DuPont chemical plant in Curtis Bay. When he retired in 1968, they worked together until Mrs. Clark died in June 1990.

He said he might miss the place, "but I'd rather live."

Violence in the neighborhood -- still scarred from the 1968 rioting that followed the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. -- has increased steadily over the years, and Mr. Clark

said he no longer feels safe.

The ceiling and front counter of the store are painted bright green. A chicken-wire screen -- a protective barrier -- encloses the front counter. Behind it are wooden shelves lined with candy, cereal, soap and canned goods.

The meat counter where Wednesday's confrontation took place stands off to one side, in the open.

Wednesday's shooting followed by nearly three years the incident in early Oct. 1988, when Mr. Clark shot a 16-year-old in the arm with a .32-caliber revolver after the youth tried to rob him with what turned out to be a BB gun.

"I didn't give him time to do anything," Mr. Clark said shortly after that shooting. "I juststarted firing."

A Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate visited the store then and praised Mr. Clark for his courage.

Mr. Clark said that he has been robbed three times in recent years -- and in one of them was bound with rope while a gunman took $30 in cash and about $300 worth of food stamps.

"The guy took me in the back room, tied me up on the floor, tied my hands up," he said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Clark was talking with a customer at 12:30 p.m. when a 42-year-old man identified by police as Robert Howard of the 4400 block of Franconia Avenue walked into the market and allegedly picked up the customer and threw him over the meat counter.

Mr. Clark said that he ran to his kitchen a few steps away, grabbed the 12-gauge double-barreled shotgun he keeps there and fired, wounding Mr. Howard in the buttocks. The state's attorney's office, which reviewed the shooting, decided not to prosecute the elderly grocer.

Mr. Clark said that he overheard a conversation outside his storeWednesday night that unnerved him. People were saying that maybe the next guy who robs the store will shoot him, and that's when he decided it was time to close.

"Someone's going to come in and kill me," he said.

He expressed hope that someone will rent the market from him, while he continues to live in the adjoining house.

Or maybe, Mr. Clark said, he will sell it all and move in with a daughter in Northeast Baltimore.

"I haven't made up my mind yet," he said.

A neighbor and family friend said many people will miss Mr. Clark and the market.

"I hate to see him close up, because there are going to be a lot of people around here with nothing to eat," said Delores Alexander, who lives around the corner. "He credits a lot of people who don't have money until the first of the month. . . . He didn't care who you were, he would give you credit as long as you said you were going to come back and pay him."

Yesterday, Mr. Clark was lamenting that generosity.

"A lot of people owe me a lot of money on credit," he said. "I know they're not going to pay me now."

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