Fells Point's 'Little Salvador'

October 03, 1994

What is the fastest way to change a deteriorated city area? Immigrants, of course.

Look how a rainbow of newcomers from countries ranging from Ethiopia to Uruguay have changed Adams-Morgan in Washington and are now improving businesses and residences in the once-decimated U Street corridor.

Or go to the 200 block South Broadway in Baltimore's Upper Fells Point and see what immigrants, mostly from El Salvador, are doing.

Until about a year ago, that block was defined by many vacant storefronts and such businesses as Whitey's newsstand, Sherry's bar and Baltimore Gunsmith Co. In recent months, however, a dozen immigrant businesses, often with partners from El Salvador, have moved in, drawn by cheap rents and the area's central location.

Those businesses range from restaurants and grocery stores to travel agencies. As their numbers keep increasing, this "Little Salvador" has become a magnet for Central Americans from across the Baltimore metropolitan area. They can socialize, buy familiar food ingredients or go to nearby Spanish-language churches.

"People come from all over: Owings Mills, Glen Burnie," reports Cesar Bermudez, a transplanted New Yorker who has operated a grocery on the block since August. "Other people run away, opening doors for us."

Since Baltimore's early beginnings on the Fells Point waterfront, Broadway has been a stop toward Americanization among several immigrant groups. Jews, Germans, Poles and Ukrainians are just a few; there is still a Ukrainian savings and loan association on the block.

The Fells Point area has had a sprinkling of Hispanic residents for years, mostly Puerto Ricans. The Central Americans are new arrivals.

NTC Saleh Hamshari says that Hispanic businessmen first became interested in the block two years ago. Several tried, many failed. Mr. Hamshari is about the only early survivor. He is not really a Hispanic, but a Palestinian. Yet he conducts most of his rotisserie chicken business in Spanish.

The newest arrival is Baltimore's first Hispanic-Chinese restaurant. It is operated by a Salvadoran, Miguel Rivera, who has been preparing Oriental dishes in area Chinese eateries for the past decade.

Baltimore's "Little Salvador" proves again that cities are always capable of renewing themselves.

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