Golden Arm to close in York Road Plaza

December 18, 1994|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

The Golden Arm restaurant, which opened when Baltimore football fans lived and died with quarterback Johnny Unitas and the Colts, has been sacked, bringing tears to the eyes of some of its regulars.

The restaurant that Mr. Unitas and defensive back Bobby Boyd founded in York Road Plaza 26 years ago will close March 17, blitzed by a Giant Food store expansion, a complicated parking problem, and shopping center economics.

"I feel sorry for the many elderly people who depend on this restaurant," owner Bill Grauel said. "I also feel sorry for myself. We had our best year in 1994."

Mr. Grauel bought the restaurant from Mr. Unitas in 1988, four years after the Colts and owner Bob Irsay took their late-night trip to Indianapolis.

That bitter memory lingers on at the Golden Arm. On a lavatory door is a sign that reads, "The Bob Irsay Room."

Other, happier memories linger on the walls and hang over the 40-foot bar. A mural based on the famous sudden-death victory over the New York Giants in 1958 recalls familiar names and numbers: Unitas, No. 19; George Preas, No. 60; Gino Marchetti, No. 89; Alan Ameche, No. 35. Three antique hanging lamps along the bar are embossed with the words Golden Arm, Unitas, No. 19.

"I guess I'll store everything until I figure out what to do," Mr. Grauel said.

Mr. Unitas, 61, said he was sorry to hear that the Golden Arm will be closing. "It was well established and catered to a great bunch of people," he said.

The former Colts quarterback travels extensively as a spokesman for Merck & Co., a pharmaceutical manufacturer. He also attends about a half-dozen trading card shows a year and fills numerous speaking engagements.

A Starbuck's coffee shop and a chicken rotisserie will be moving into a new building to be constructed on plaza property, but their availability seems to be of little solace to some of the Golden Arm's loyal clientele. Among them is Emma Yonych of Loch Raven Village who was eating lunch in the Golden Arm with five friends.

"We've been coming here since it opened," she said. "It's good for older people because it has no steps, good parking, and it has a friendly atmosphere. It's crab cakes, and football, and good humor. Boston Chicken won't do it."

Mary Cook, one of 40 employees, has been a waitress at the Golden Arm for 24 years. "The regulars have become very good friends, and there's going to be a lot of unhappy customers," she said. "Some were in tears when they heard the news."

The Giant supermarket that anchors the plaza at York Road north of Gittings Avenue will more than double in size, from 28,000 square feet to 56,800 square feet, wiping out the locations next to it, including the Golden Arm.

The plaza's new building is to be constructed on property that once held the Towson Cinema and a bank. Some of the displaced plaza businesses will be moving into that building, but the Golden Arm won't be among them.

Originally, Mr. Grauel said, he planned to move into the Firestone Tire building on the northeastern corner of the property. But Firestone changed its mind about moving, leaving his restaurant without a home. He said the owners of the plaza showed "no interest in putting me in the new building."

"It's in our best interest to have high-volume retailers in the new strip, and we would have had to raise Mr. Grauel's rent substantially," said Michael C. Trenery, a vice president of Mid-Atlantic Realty Trust, which owns the plaza. Mid-Atlantic bought out the last two years of the Golden Arm lease.

"I could have held the expansion up for two years by not selling the lease back, but I didn't want to do that," Mr. Grauel said. "And I would gave gotten zero then, so what's the point?"

Another problem comes from zoning limitations concerning parking, and the Giant lease with Mid-Atlantic. Baltimore County zoning requires 16 parking spaces for each 1,000 square feet in a restaurant. To conform, the Golden Arm would need 72 spaces, which it couldn't get in the new building without impinging on Giant's parking.

The plaza renovation will cost $9 million and take 18 months. The 497-space parking lot will be repaved, signs will be replaced, facades will be redone, and there will be extensive landscaping.

"The demographics and income levels in the area are good for the expansion," Mr. Trenery said.

Mr. Grauel, 56, said he has been unable to find a suitable place to relocate the Golden Arm.

"I've had a real estate company looking for places up York Road, but we need adequate parking, and they haven't found anything," he said. "Anyway, moving that far won't help our patrons. I would guess their average age is about 65.

"A lot of them come from the nearby Drumcastle and Walker Manor apartments, and we get a lot of people from Rodgers Forge, Stoneleigh and Wiltondale," he said.

One 76-year-old patron, who would not give her name, walks eight blocks each way from her home in Rodgers Forge every day for lunch. "Things change, but not for the better," she said. "What's the choice now, go to Towson? Yuk."

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