Shopping the market from home

Baltimore Glimpses

January 05, 1993|By GILBERT SANDLER

IN what it said was a bold new idea in shopping convenience, Owings Mills Mall this Christmas began a "mall-wide shopping service." Customers are invited to call a mall representative (a very cordial Mrs. Baker), advise her what they want to shop for and how much they want to spend. Ms. Baker will then shop the mall's 150 stores, bring back appropriate selections and then invite the phone shopper to come on over to approve the choices, pay up and take them home.

Owings Mills calls it the Baltimore area's first mall-wide shopping service. But if you consider a market a mall -- and what is a mall if not a market all dressed up? -- Owings Mills is many, many days late and many, many dollars short.

The first was offered by the North Avenue Market as far back as 1928, and it lasted for some 40 years.

The market opened Feb. 28, 1928, on the north side of the block along North Avenue between Charles and Maryland. It turned out to be one of Baltimore's most prestigious markets, boasting some of the most respected (and warmly recalled) names in Baltimore's rich food-business history: Sam Sole, Arcade Fruit and Vegetables, Murray Bros., Kreiner's, Hooper's, Southern Produce, John Bien Jr., Lieb's, LeRoy K. Hill.

Forty years later, on a Thursday evening in August, fire broke out in the Woodlawn Lunch stall in the northwest corner of the market. The fire was under control in less than an hour, but smoke and water damage put the market out of business -- temporarily, it was thought at first -- permanently, as it happened.

Out of business but not out of memory.

"It was its telephone shopping service that made the market so different and so popular," said Peter Kelley, who, with three other North Avenue Market alumni, eventually reopened a few blocks south on Charles Street.

"They had phone service from the day the market opened until the day it burned down. Customers would call in their order to the market shopper -- over the years I can remember Mrs. Copeland, Mrs. Meister, Mrs. Friedman and Mrs. Chambliss. Those ladies would go down on the market floor and shop and buy for you, item for item. Then the orders would be gathered and put on delivery. The market kept four trucks going, delivering. To Roland Park, Homeland, Pikesville, Ruxton, Greenspring Valley and Gibson Island. As many as 3,000 orders a week. No other city market had that service."

Following the fire, several attempts were made to reopen the market. All failed. On the site today is a 19-story high-rise apartment complex for the elderly, with a Rite Aid on the first floor.

There is a difference between the Owings Mills Mall service today and what the North Avenue Market offered, say, 30 years ago. Mrs. Baker will take your order, shop for you and then invite you to the mall to see if you like her selections. If you do, then you buy. (Owings Mills will deliver within 20 miles.) But when you gave your order to the North Avenue Market, the next thing you saw was the market's truck in front of your house. You paid the driver, and the market handled things from there.

Granted, shopping for gifts through a third party is a far cry from shopping for groceries. But other things have changed over these 25, 30 or 40 years. Distances to the "mall" were shorter then. Credit was simpler. Small merchants flourished. (Some do today -- by offering home delivery and other personal services.)

By the way, the North Avenue Market's shopping service phone number was MUlberry 5-1112. But don't try calling it today. You'll get Legal Aid.

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