The Hollins Market district in southwest Baltimore looks like an Aaron Sopher ink sketch from the 1940s. On a Saturday morning, produce vendors dip into wooden crates to sell their wares at Lombard Street and Carrollton Avenue. Women and their children and grandchildren emerge from the old market building with bulging shopping bags full of such items as tripe, sweet potatoes and chicken wings.
The scent of fresh baked rye bread permeates the area.
Generations who grew up in the Hollins Street neighborhood -- in the old parishes of St. Peter the Apostle, 14 Holy Martyrs, St. Luke's Carey Street and St. Martin's -- still return to the market for shopping even though they now live in Columbia, Ellicott City and Catonsville.
The old neighborhood refuses to relinquish its 19th century ways and charm, yet it is changing. New businesses have arrived. Around the edge of the Hollins Market (its market house stretches along Hollins Street from Carrollton to Arlington avenues), are new shops. The shop fronts and court yards display paint schemes found only on an artist's palette.
Three restaurants, Mencken's Cultured Pearl, the Tell Tale Hearth and the most recently, Gypsy's Cafe, are now in business. A stylish antiques shop, whose owner fled Washington's high rents, opened several months ago.
Michael Ditter, who tended bar in Columbia (Michael's Pub) before he renovated a Parkin Street home, now runs Gypsy's Cafe. The 40-seat restaurant, which made a September debut, has won enthusiastic reviews and is packed on weekend evenings. And while many people still are confused just where the Hollins Market is, the restaurants are bringing visitors to the neighborhood, visitors who scarcely ventured into this side of town before.
"I ask people do you know where the Hollins Market is and they say, 'No,' " Mr. Ditter said. "I ask people do you know where the B&O Museum is and they say, 'No.' I ask people do you know where the Cultured Pearl is and they say,'Yes.' "
Mr. Ditter's partner in the cafe is Eddy Whitely, 25, whose family ++ owns the restaurant building at Hollins and Arlington. Mr. Whitely grew up in nearby Union Square, where his parents, Bob and Joe Anne Whitely, spearheaded a massive renovation effort some 20 years ago through their real estate business.
Gypsy's Cafe reflects Joe Anne Whitely's nick-name, Gypsy, a childhood tag that stuck when she ran away from home and was found at a fortune-telling parlor at Fremont Avenue and Baltimore Street.
The cafe appears to have gained local approval, especially because so many commercial buildings in the area stood vacant.
"It's a great asset to the neighborhood," said Robert L. Kinsey, a veal and lamb butcher in Hollins Market. His father and grandfather each had stalls at the city-owned market.
Steve Sullivan, another Hollins Market butcher, said, "I don't go in the restaurants but I hear good things about them."
Hearing good things about Hollins Street drew Stephen Shugard, an artist and antiques dealer, to the neighborhood. He opened a stylish antiques shop about the same time Gypsy's Cafe opened.
"I didn't know what to expect when I opened," Mr. Shugard said. "The rent was right and the placed seemed to resemble what Adams-Morgan [a northwest Washington neighborhood] was like 10 years ago."
Mr. Shugard said the area has a large number of artists, many of whom have bought old buildings and garages as homes and studios. The streets off the market are lively with their presence.
But to some, the neighborhood after dark is risky and threatening.
"People arrive in BMW's, park and run into the Cultured Pearl," Mr. Shugard said. "They say, 'That trip was dangerous, but wasn't it fun.' "