Shop where you live

April 30, 1996|By A. Robert Kaufman

IT IS OFTEN said that Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods. Then why is it that so many inner-city shopping and commercial districts are in such decay?

City residents with automobiles have the option of driving to a mall, but many city residents do not own cars. Many who do would still shop in the much closer neighborhood business district if such shopping were made more convenient and pleasant.

Why can't community associations get together with the local merchants' associations for mutual gain? Such interactions might well energize both types of groups.

An alliance of neighborhood associations could, for instance, offer the local merchants suggestions for improved service that would be repaid to the merchants through an increase in business, which the community groups could encourage through their newsletters, meetings, etc.

Such suggestions might include:

A well maintained public bulletin board for neighbors who wished to sell something, baby-sit, type, clean house, do yard work, etc. -- and for the local organizations to inform shoppers of their activities and invite them to attend their meetings.

Literature table

A table for free literature from organizational and governmental agencies, including voter-registration forms.

Clean, well maintained restrooms in the immediate shopping vicinity. Every shop need not provide such facilities -- but in combination, several shops could certainly do so. A lot of folks won't or can't shop where clean restroom facilities are a hassle.

Resident-friendly change policies. Many inner-city stores won't make change without making you buy something. Modern shopping malls don't treat prospective shoppers with such contempt. Inner-city residents should not stand for it either.

Attractive, well maintained trash cans, to provide a neat, clean and attractive atmosphere.

Courtesy training for sales persons.

Back in the '30s, '40s and '50s, my mother used to get on the No. 32 streetcar to shop downtown at the department stores. Regardless of how much she purchased, she could always manage to catch a streetcar home without lugging too much in the way of purchases. Hutzler's, Hochschild's and the other such stores all had delivery vans.

Collective action

While it is true that most small merchants couldn't afford to deliver purchases to the buyers' homes with their own vans, many of them could certainly do so collectively.

Why can't local merchants make business arrangements with the local hackers, most of whom are trustworthy and responsible senior citizens from the immediate community?

At a designated time near the end of the business day -- a hacker or cab driver could stop by each store in the commercial block, pick up the various packages purchased but not carried off, and deliver them for a modest fee.

Merchants, hackers and customers would all gain. More attractive and convenient commercial blocks in turn would elevate the property values of the surrounding neighborhoods. More folks would move in. Fewer would leave. And how much could it cost?

A. Robert Kaufman is a Baltimore social activist.

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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