City aims to put new shops, new life into Oldtown Mall Make-over might include supermarket, drugstore

September 08, 1996|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Baltimore officials hope to revitalize Oldtown Mall by tearing down a string of its vacant storefronts, making way for a supermarket, a bank and a drugstore that merchants hope will breathe new life into one of the city's oldest malls.

Oldtown merchants and nearby residents say a supermarket would boost business and benefit consumers -- particularly older residents -- because the nearest supermarket is about seven blocks away.

"It would be a tremendous improvement to the area," said Seymour Farbman, president of the Oldtown Merchants Association. "We're hoping it'll bring more people down here."

The Department of Housing and Community Development will begin an advertising campaign next week to attract bids from drugstores and supermarkets that want to rent some of the 112,000 square feet of space, said Zack Germroth, a city housing authority spokesman.

Demolition of the nine mall storefronts and the market building that contained two dozen stalls is scheduled to begin around December, Germroth said, and businesses should begin building their storefronts next spring.

"This is in very close cooperation with the Oldtown merchants," Germroth said. The supermarket and drugstore "are the things we and the mall merchants would like to see there."

A stroll through the three-city-block-long mall on a late-summer day found few customers in the shops. Business might have been worse if not for several sidewalk sales and the warm, clear weather.

"This is the best business this place has seen in a year," said

Isham Moore, who lives above one of the storefronts and said he has seen the mall decline.

Merchants agreed that their shops have lost about 40 percent in profits in the past three or four years, partly because of the closing of the nearby Lafayette Courts public housing project. Construction of the new Lafayette Courts, to include more than 300 apartments and townhouses, won't be complete for at least two years, Germroth said.

The losses have been accelerating, said Farbman. He said 10 stores have closed in the past six months.

"It's really hurting here," Farbman said.

But merchants of Belair Market, in Oldtown Mall, said they're skeptical that new stores will improve business -- especially for them. Although most said they do not object to the competition a xTC supermarket would bring, they fear that new buildings will make their marketplace look shabby and they are not sure a drugstore will survive.

"They're not doing anything for this building," said Scott Hardesty, owner of Hardesty seafood, of Baltimore Public Market Corp., which owns the building. "They should put some money in here to spruce it up."

Jay Ryu, president of the Belair Market Merchants Association, said he has pleaded with the corporation to make improvements and has been told there is no money for it. He said the building is very old, has structural problems and lacks a public restroom.

Germroth said that although the Department of Housing and Community Development has renovated at least two city markets within the past few years, there are no plans to renovate Belair.

"We're seriously in a bad business situation," Ryu said. "Nobody cares about the market. There's hardly any business here."

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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