Waverly retains supremacy of small business

April 28, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

Waverly's Greenmount Avenue possesses a remarkable staying power.

Many similar neighborhood shopping strips have fallen apart or disappeared. But Greenmount Avenue, from 28th to 34th streets, seems to fend off the economic forces that conspire against it.

It's a place where the small business is supreme. There are not the kind of retailing rules that keep malls regulated at one level of taste and price. No mall would permit neighborhood bars, a fire house, a pornography shop and a race track bookmaker. Waverly seems to accept anybody who comes along without making too much of a fuss about decorum.

The street has no attitude or pretense. There is nothing fancy here, but people usually find what they are looking for.

But don't hold out for designer labels. The odds are against a Gap store ever being situated here.

This is not to say there aren't national chains. Just walk into the Woolworth's store. It's been there for decades. Listen a little bit. The parakeets chirp away in cages. Kids come in for two goldfish to be transported home in a plastic bag. There are $5 wall clocks, rolls of twine and videos of "The Man Who Knew Too Much."

"A couple of young kids came in here," said Charmaine Sharkey, co-owner of Pete's Grille at 32nd Street and Greenmount Avenue, yesterday afternoon.

"They had been shunned at another restaurant because they had crazy hair," she continued. "They fit right in because Waverly is mixed. We've had rehabilitated homeless people sit at the counter with corporate lawyers.

Oriole bench coach Don Buford eats there, she said. "Governor Schaefer came in yesterday with some of his people. He hadn't been here since it was named Hooper's."

A few green bus transfer slips are always blowing around in the trash at the curb at 33rd and Greenmount. And for good reason.

This portion of Baltimore geography still retains a strong allegiance to public transit. Greenmount Avenue keeps time by the ebb and flow of the blue-and-white buses. One minute a corner will be filled with waiting bus passengers; the next it is empty.

Every five minutes, from early morning until supper time, a No. 8 Mass Transit Administration bus rolls through in one direction or the other. It usually belches a puff of exhaust and deposits and takes in a few fares. Some transfer at 33rd Street to the Northwood-Loch Raven Boulevard bus or the No. 22 cross-town shuttle.

The 8 is the street's big hauler, the most heavily used and best way of getting around.

Merchants feel as if the Waverly shopping district is one of the most mixed in the city in terms of shoppers and business owners. They cite its diversity of peoples -- African-American, Asian and white; its mix of incomes and sexual preferences. Waverly's nearby neighborhoods -- Ednor Gardens, Charles Village and Abell Avenue -- have a number of gay and lesbian residents.

Greenmount Avenue is a street with a past.

It doesn't take much to get old-timers talking about such shuttered places as the Boulevard and Waverly movie theaters (a new Blockbusters indicates there is still a demand for film products here); the Martha Washington candy store; Kiddyland (a 1950s toy store); Joe the Motorist's Friend (an auto parts store); the Little Tavern (the green-roofed building survives), Arthur's Bakery and the Oxford Shop.

The last named place was a men's shop that flourished in the days when City College students were wearing cotton shirts and club ties to class.

And there are surviving shops such as Becker's, an old-fashioned place -- 71 years old -- that carries one of the city's largest lines of gentlemen's hats. Men who want a summer straw model, sporty or traditional, know the shop well.

Some people thought that Waverly would fall apart after the Orioles left Memorial Stadium for Camden Yards.

It didn't. Some merchants admit they like the quiet and peaceful summers without the droves of Oriole fans.

But just mention to them the new Canadian Football League franchise and the reopening of Memorial Stadium, and a smile appears on their faces.

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