Sticking it out in South Baltimore

Baltimore Glimpses

August 03, 1993|By GILBERT SANDLER

HARRY Shofer, who founded Shofer's Furniture Co. in 1914, died July 25. He used to tell people, "I got off the boat in Locust Point and walked over to South Baltimore. I never left the neighborhood."

He got off the boat in 1904, the year of the Great Baltimore Fire. He was 95 when he died. Boy and man, he spent 88 years in South Baltimore, and he spent all of his working life at roughly the same spot, 930 South Charles St. The way he lived his long life harked back to another era: a time when you were born, lived and/or worked and died in the Old Neighborhood.

In the 1950s, Mr. Shofer's old neighborhood showed signs of weariness, and many of its businesses (including some of his competitors) chose to move out. Harry Shofer did not. He never articulated a philosophy about the future of South Baltimore, but his every movement of body and language told you he was a believer, that he felt deep in his bones that this ("his") neighborhood would survive and one day flourish, and those who left it out of fear for its future would regret it.

He was right. His store is in a valuable location near the Inner Harbor. Many of his business competitors who did not understand Harry's inexplicable (even to himself) faith are out of business.

He saw it all come and go and come around again. He was there when the old bay steamers docked on Light Street, and he carried their produce over to the open-air wholesalers on South Charles. He saw many of the familiar landmarks leveled to make way for Harborplace and the Convention Center and the new hotels.

He must have smiled when the yuppies began moving back into the neighborhood (in some cases, unfortunately, forcing out those who couldn't afford increasing real estate prices and taxes). He saw row houses become "townhouses," and South Baltimore become a mix of incomes, lifestyles, races.

Living and/or working your whole life in one Baltimore neighborhood is a lifestyle long passed. Tommy D'Alesandro Jr. was another of the genre. Born in Little Italy, he lived there and died there. When he was mayor, he added a third floor to his home and put in four trunk telephone lines, but he never moved. Every morning a chauffeured limousine picked him up and took him to City Hall; every night it brought him home to Little Italy.

There are lots of Harry Shofers and Tommy D'Alesandros, people without famous names, left in Baltimore, but they are a dying breed. A neighborhood gets a little weaker when one of them leaves it.

South Baltimore will survive Harry Shofer. Glimpses hopes it goes on forever, getting stronger as time goes by.

Which is exactly what Harry Shofer figured would happen.

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