Tapping city retail market

June 14, 1993

As Baltimore City's middle-class population continues to decline, so do retail services.

Recent years have seen the departure of not only all the major department stores from within the city limits but also the demise of such bargain-basement emporiums as Epstein's and Goldenberg's. Add to that list the recent closing of Inner Harbor Lumber. Increasingly, city residents have to do their serious shopping in surrounding counties.

This is a lamentable situation in a city of more than 700,000 people. It robs the city of a great number of jobs -- and significant amounts of tax income. It produces a hardship for all those who do not have cars and cannot reach suburban shopping malls. It suggests that the merchandising barons have written off Baltimore City as a place that is too poor, too risky.

Many retail businesses seem to be doing well in Baltimore City. The Gallery, a downtown atrium mall facing Harborplace, has brought back a concentration of specialty shops that had left downtown. Jos. A. Bank recently expanded its downtown clothing emporium. There are other examples -- Walbrook Lumber and a number of similar niche stores, including several thriving antiquary book stores on 25th Street.

Now comes the news that Caldor is considering building a new store just a mile west of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

If the $7 million plan goes ahead, about half of the Mount Clare Shopping Center would be reconstructed. An existing wing -- now used for a year-round flea market operation -- would be torn down. In its stead, a building twice as big could be constructed to house Caldor. In general, the fortress-like shopping complex, which was built in the 1980s but which never realized its potential, would be opened up to take advantage of its location at Pratt and Carey streets.

"This center needs a second anchor" in addition to the existing Safeway supermarket, management representative John S. Krauser told a neighborhood meeting. "We are not a charitable organization. We feel this community is on the upswing."

A City Council bill authorizing the costly modification is about to be introduced. If the project and its link with Caldor proceeds, it would mark the first time in years a major discount department store has entered Baltimore's inner-city market.

The Mount Clare plan is a promising sign. Some retailers, made cautious but hungry from the vicissitudes of the recession, are beginning to realize that the city is a large, untapped market. There is money to be made in Baltimore City.

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