American Joe: Let's work on Highlandtown first

September 09, 1994|By Dennis G. Olver

THERE ARE a number of reasons not to vote for Democratic gubernatorial candidate American Joe Miedusiewski.

For one thing, his wacky radio campaign commercials are amateurish. One that spoofs the old TV series, "The Andy Griffith Show," includes a sound-alike Barney Fife character; it's supposed to be a dig at rival candidate Parris Glendening's claim of being a police commissioner. As a Hyattsville city councilman Mr. Glendening helped oversee the police department.

Commercials aside, a decision on state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski ought to be made by looking in his own legislative district. I know it; I spent about 31 of my 35 years there. Specifically, I'm talking about Eastern Avenue or The Avenue as the locals call it. What used to be the pride of Highlandtown -- boasting some of the busiest mom-and-pop businesses in town -- has become an urban nightmare of boarded up, graffiti marred storefronts.

I'm not saying there are no new businesses, but The Avenue is a shadow of its former self.

Let's take a tour of The Avenue. On it I'll tell you what used to be in certain spots 20 years ago when American Joe was first elected to the legislature (he hasn't lost an election since), and what it looks like today. Let's start at the intersection of East and Eastern avenues.

The first major landmark is the Patterson Theater, which was once where most Highlandtowners went to see first-run films. The Patterson is now a bargain theater -- the last stop before the video store. Highlandtown's other movie house, the nearby Grand -- which ran B-movies -- has been history since 1985.

Across the street is a Chinese carry-out and a bar.

Vacant storefronts dot most of the next half block. Yeager's Music store once dominated this block. It dealt in records, musical instruments, music lessons and sheet music.

In the late 1960s, I went to Yeager's every Friday to buy a 45. Every fourth Friday I got an album. During its close-out sale in 1984, I picked up a trumpet for just $50. I went on to play the trumpet for about seven years. Highlandtowners mourned the loss of Yeager's.

Across Highland Avenue and down a couple blocks, you approach the boarded up Woolworth's in the 3500 block of Eastern Ave. Its lunch counter was a popular meeting place from its opening in 1923; the store closed early this year. One of my mother's fondest memories was of going there with her mother for a fountain soda on weekends.

I remember buying American flag lapel pins there after the Persian Gulf war. I bought my wife a parakeet there; it died within a week. We were both sad but we knew it would not last forever. I thought Woolworth's would.

A couple blocks down the street, at the corner of Conkling Street and Eastern Avenue, is the former S & N Katz jewelry store. My mother and father bought a watch for me there in 1981 that lasted for 10 years. I must have taken it to Katz eight times to have the battery replaced. Now Katz's former store front contains the three words common to The Avenue: "Lost our lease."

Look down Conkling Street and you see what is left of The Grand. Two doors down from The Grand is the Little Tavern restaurant. A sign in the restaurant's window says it is "open under new management." That's worlds better than "Lost our lease."

A few more blocks down The Avenue you notice Terry's, a greeting card shop, which stands between a vacant lot and a newly built building -- one sign of revival. It once stood between a McDonald's and a Polock Johnny's. Polock Johnny's, a hot dog stand, closed years ago and the hot dog joint that took its place burned down around 1990. The McDonald's burned down in early 1988.

A lot of personal memories burned with that McDonald's on that early March morning. My best college buddy and I used to eat there every time he came to town. I used to take my family there occasionally. After the fire, McDonald's officials made it clear that they would not rebuild. I guess the old avenue was not their kind of place.

When you pass Terry's you approach what was once Epstein's department store. It is now a dollar store. That is better than being boarded up.

Across the street there is something that only an Avenue connoisseur wouldn't miss. I had to look for it real hard. All that's left is vacant building that still has a sign painted on it that reads: "sword sets thirty nine cents." It was the Christmas Shop, which sold Christmas-related items year-round. I went there with my mom one September when I was in junior high. How far away Christmas seemed on that September day and how far away that September seems now. As does The Avenue of my youth.

Of course, you can't blame American Joe entirely that The Avenue has become a strip filled with places that sell lottery tickets, boarded-up buildings, lost our lease signs and dollar stores. Along with their other problems, merchants have battled prostitution and panhandlers, too.

Everyone knows The Avenue's biggest problem is that it cannot compete with places like Eastpoint, Golden Ring and countless other flashy malls that have 10 times the number of stores The Avenue ever had and one-tenth the character.

However, lots of folks feel American Joe hasn't done anything to prevent the deterioration of The Avenue. Has he talked to one landlord about staying on The Avenue? Has he tried to make it an enterprise zone? Does he have any plan to restore it? If he has tried to help The Avenue he should tell people.

If he has not, then Parris Glendening should make a commercial poking fun at American Joe.

Dennis G. Olver, Esq., writes from Dundalk.

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