Morgan Allyn confesses that she abandoned the stores on grimy Greenmount Avenue a few years ago, bought a car and shopped in Towson.
But now she's back, shopping on "the avenue" a block from her home and fighting for the survival of the commercial strip where Charles Village, Waverly and Oakenshawe meet in North Baltimore.
For six weeks, Ms. Allyn has been planning Greenmount Avenue's first spring festival, scheduled today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to showcase the struggling area that has drawn an eclectic group of business owners, including Thai, Chinese, Korean and Nigerian entrepreneurs.
The festival marks the beginning of an effort by the community and Johns Hopkins University to revitalize Greenmount Avenue, the only large commercial strip between the university's Homewood campus and the old Eastern High School on 33rd Street, where Hopkins is planning a major expansion that is to open in 1998.
In a neighborhood with a handful of vacant storefronts, where men occasionally sleep on the sidewalks, Ms. Allyn and her neighbors have much to do.
"There has been a dramatic change on the avenue since the Orioles left," she said, referring to the Orioles' departure from Memorial Stadium four years ago.
"We woke up one day, and the avenue was very dirty. The city paid more attention to the community when we had the Orioles," Ms. Allyn said.
Last year Hopkins officials decided they needed to have a presence in the community. They opened an office, the Safe and Smart Center, in a former Chinese restaurant on Greenmount, just above 33rd Street.
In addition to offering tutoring programs, Hopkins brought in community organizer Sylvia Eastman to revitalize the business area.
She began inviting business owners over for coffee. "They would tell me how depressed business was and how depressed they were," she recalled.
"I said what we need to do is change the identity of the neighborhood. I said why don't we celebrate Asian New Year's, but we didn't know if we should celebrate Thai or Chinese or Korean New Year," she said.
After meeting with representatives from the People's Community Health Center and St. John's Episcopal Church -- both anchors in the community -- community and business leaders decided to plan a spring festival and recruited Ms. Allyn to help.
Today's festivities will include folk singers at Pete's Grill, a drum troupe and an a cappella group performing on the sidewalks, Thai dancers at Donna Lynn's new aerobics center, sidewalk story reading outside the Waverly library and a Baltimore Raven football player signing autographs at the Hopkins office.
Ms. Eastman and Ms. Allyn have invited most of the 108 businesses -- from 30th to 35th Street and on side streets -- to participate.
But Ms. Eastman admits she purposely overlooked the two pawn shops and the one adult video store. She'd rather not be reminded they're there, contributing to the strip's seedy reputation.
While the five-block strip struggles, Ms. Eastman sees pockets of renewal.
Ms. Lynn opened an aerobics studio just above 33rd Street five months ago. Fisherman's Wharf also opened a restaurant in the old White Tower building at 32nd Street and Merryman Lane.
The Rite Aid store has agreed to move its alcoholic beverages to the back, and the raucous New 32nd Street Plaza nightclub, just off Greenmount, has closed on Sunday nights.
And even sushi has come to Greenmount Avenue. Last year Shelly and Pong Yang bought the Stadium deli just above 33rd Street and turned it into a sushi bar and Korean restaurant called Maguro.
"When I heard they were going to serve sushi, I thought, 'Oh, those poor naive people.' But it's going great guns," Ms. Eastman said.
She and Ms. Allyn say the businesses also hope they will see more traffic on the strip when the Baltimore Ravens move into Memorial Stadium for two years.
By the time they leave, the new Hopkins campus will open across from Memorial Stadium.
"Instead of the community being hung out to dry like they did when the Orioles left, we will have a new anchor," said Ms. Allyn.
Pub Date: 5/04/96