Get your hot roasted peanuts on Lexington

Baltimore Glimpses

August 31, 1993|By GILBERT SANDLER

YOU may not think of the "Peanut Shoppe" as a monument. It's an unimposing store just off the southwest corner of Lexington and Liberty streets at 101 W. Lexington.

But a monument it is -- to the days when the once-and-famous first block of West Lexington Street included such well-remembered Baltimore institutions as the Century and the Valencia movies, Huylers Fountain Shop, Maron's candies and the Lexway movie. (Is there a better remembered block from pre-renaissance Baltimore?)

Of the establishments that made up the block in the years before they were torn down to make way for Charles Center, the "Peanut Shoppe" is all that's left. The store sells fresh roasted peanuts and all kinds of nuts and candies.

Until the 1960s, there were two Planter's peanut stores on Lexington Street. The first was at 40 W. Lexington. It opened in the mid-1930s but fell victim to Charles Center. The second opened during World War II at 101 W. Lexington. It's still there -- under the name of the "Peanut Shoppe."

Most people who were around from the 1930s through the 1960s will remember the first peanut store because of "Mr. Peanut." Costumed as a person-size peanut and brandishing a cane, he would walk up and down West Lexington Street and pass out samples of hot, roasted, heavily salted peanuts. One taste -- and you were hooked! It took more will power than most people had to pass the store without going in for a purchase.

Sylvia Slifko started to work in 1940 at the Planter's store at 40 W. Lexington. "They had already been in business a few years, since the mid-1930s, I believe, when I got there," she recalls. She worked as a sales clerk and on the street giving out samples.

"I remember the Ritz camera store and the Mary Jane shoe store. And always, right outside our door, two gentlemen sold fresh flowers, no matter how hot or cold it was. One was named 'Mr. Morgan,' the other 'Mr. Mandel.'

"We were always busy," Ms. Slifko says. "People coming out of the Century would stop in and buy peanuts for the ride home. Often, the street car would stop in front of our door. The conductor or motorman would rush in for a quick purchase. We were so busy during the war we opened a second store at 101 West Lexington, next door to Fannie Farmer's candies. That's the store you see at 101 today."

The Planter's company began to get out of the retail business in the 1950s, and Ms. Slifko, who by then had worked her way to the position of manager, bought the store in 1960 and named it the "Peanut Shoppe." In 1990 she sold it to Bonnie L. Scible.

Stop in, south side, Lexington and Liberty, and buy some hot, fresh roasted peanuts -- just as you (or your parents) did after watching a movie at the Century.

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