Chick Was Right: What's the Fuss?


January 29, 1995|By LIZ ATWOOD

Chick Levitt didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

When he and his wife, Ruth, opened their deli on Main Street in Annapolis 30 years ago, there was no historic district, the downtown was marred by rundown buildings, and a tourist was someone who wandered away from the U.S. Naval Academy and got lost.

But the years passed. Chick and Ruth's Delly flourished. And Annapolis changed.

Through the efforts of some ardent preservationists, Annapolis became one of the most beautifully restored colonial cities in America. Tourists flocked to see it.

State officials estimate that 4.5 million people come to Annapolis each year. Most come to the Historic District, cramming into an area of about one square mile, which is inhabited by about 2,600 people.

Chick Levitt, who died last week at the age of 67, welcomed all of this bustle. He couldn't understand why the politicians wanted to tamper with it.

He was perplexed by the City Council's attempt to ban neon signs, including the ones that had hung in the window of his deli for years.

And he couldn't understand why the city would want to reduce the number of parking spaces on Main Street.

About the only thing Mr. Levitt saw wrong with Annapolis was some meddling politicians.

Almost everybody else, however, sees something else to complain about. Bar owners complain that the distribution of 2 a.m. liquor licenses isn't fair and that they're harassed by their alderman. Residents whine about the encroachment of bars, neon signs, T-shirt shops and plans for sidewalk cafes.

The Historic Annapolis Foundation wants to try to defuse these ten sions by holding a conference this spring to solicit advice from officials in other historic cities.

Two cities that are considered models for achieving balance between tourists and residents are Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C.

I wanted to know their secret.

First I called Stephanie Churchill of the Historic Savannah Foundation. She told me that residents and the tourism industry in Savannah recently clashed over tour buses that were clogging the city's streets and spewing fumes onto the historic houses.

The city solved the problem by passing a law restricting bus access to the historic district. Annapolis already has such a law, and that, at least, is one issue I haven't heard anyone complain about.

I wanted to know whether Savannah has trouble keeping T-shirt shops from swarming the downtown area. Ms. Churchill told me that Savannah has a riverfront area that is lined with bars and souvenir shops catering to tourists. The residents, she said, hardly ever go there.

Next, I tried Charleston.

The head of the tourism management office there informed me that the tourists and the residents generally get along well in Charleston. The businesses downtown are diverse and appealing to both residents and tourists.

Most tourists stop off at a visitor's center before entering the city, park their cars and then walk or take public transportation to the attractions.

So far, so good.

Then I called up Lee Batchelder, the city's zoning director, to find out more about how Charleston maintains its diverse commercial area.

Mr. Batchelder was familiar with Annapolis, having lived on Conduit Street in the summer of 1986.

He explained that Charleston's main commercial street, King Street, remains vibrant and diverse, without any special help from the government. Problems, however, have arisen in another location called the market area.

This three-block area once was a farmer's market and warehouse district where residents could buy a variety of produce and goods. In recent years, however, the souvenir stores and late-night bars have started to squeeze out the produce market.

The residents living nearby complain that bar patrons are taking their parking spaces and making too much noise. The city recently passed a noise ordinance and stepped up traffic patrols.

I asked about the liquor licenses, which have caused such a furor in Annapolis.

He tells me that in Charleston, most bars close at 2 a.m., but a few stay open all night long.

What about sidewalk cafes? I asked.

Mr. Batchelder said the city has no laws about sidewalk cafes, although some restaurant owners have started to set up tables and chairs on the sidewalks.

And neon?

Neon signs are regulated by an architecture review board, but some folks in the city complain that the signs look tacky, he said.

Wait a minute. Here's a city that is supposed to be the model of cooperation between residents and tourists, but residents are fussing about the decline of their market area, a loss of parking spaces, noisy bar patrons and neon signs?

I've never been to Charleston or Savannah, so I can't say whether their cities look any better or worse than Annapolis. And I would have to live among them a while before I could figure out whether they complain as much down there as folks do here.

But after I finished talking with the officials in Charleston and Savannah, I got to wondering if Chick Levitt wasn't right. What's all the fuss about?

Liz Atwood is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.