The Made in America Mall

December 10, 1996|By Fred B. Shoken

THIS IS THE THIRD article in an occasional series that examines vacant and under-utilized buildings or lots in Baltimore and suggests how they can be redeveloped. The hulking Montgomery Ward's building sits forlorn and neglected at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Monroe Street, across from Carroll Park in southwest Baltimore. When it was the catalog center for a department-store giant, goods were shipped from this warehouse to customers near and far. Today, silence permeates the empty parking lot and vacant warehouse.

In some ways the building symbolizes what has gone wrong with industrial America. Throughout the country warehouses and industrial buildings are vacant. Goods produced in our country are now manufactured oversees or south of the border. So-called service ''industries'' have replaced the factories where real goods were produced. Blue-collar jobs have disappeared.

Will the label, ''Made in the USA,'' become a relic of the past?

Finding the label

Or have I heard one political speech too many from Pat Buchanan? Plenty of goods are still made in the good ol' USA, some right here in Bawlamer. The problem is sorting through the mass of foreign products and cheap imports to find that Made in the USA label. What this country needs is a place that exclusively sells our own products, and I know the perfect place for it: the old Mont- gomery Ward's warehouse.

An astute developer should convert the place into the Made in America Mall, a multi-level shopping experience featuring consumer goods made in the USA. Priority will be given to products that meet three criteria: (1) manufactured in the United States; (2) made from American raw materials, and (3) produced by U.S.-owned companies, not foreign-owned or multi-national corporations.

Although our Made in America Mall may be lacking in some products (cameras and electronics, for instance, are nearly always made elsewhere), a large variety of other goods including clothing, furniture, household items, office supplies, tools and appliances are still made in America. Frustrated consumers who want to support American industries will find a haven in our mall. Strong union supporters will be counted on to shop here.

America's best

The Made in America Mall will specialize in the work of America's best artisans and artists. Goods produced in Baltimore and Maryland will be given special attention at a central court within the store. New products will be demonstrated and exhibits will highlight local industries. A food market will carry local products from Perdue chicken and Chesapeake Bay crabs to Parks Sausages and McCormick Spices.

Not only will products be sold here, but upper-level industrial space will be available to house incubator industries producing consumer goods. These goods will move directly from the assembly line to our shelves. The cost saved on shipping will be passed on to our customers. A developer taking on this project and the industries that locate here will benefit from tax incentives, since the building is located in one of our empowerment zones.

Our Made in America Mall will be the first of many throughout the country. All will be located in former industrial buildings, preferably within formerly working-class cities and towns. If Ross Perot is really interested in saving American blue-collar jobs, he will provide financial backing for this venture.

We'll invite him to the opening of the store on the Fourth of July. Bruce Springsteen will be on hand to sing our theme song, ''Made in USA,'' a spin-off from one of his popular hits. With easy access to Baltimore-Washington Parkway, visitors from Washington will flock to our mall, as well as folks from Congress who will want our mall to carry products that are made in their home states.

It is time to stop complaining that industries don't care about our country, while we wear shirts from Malaysia and shoes from Brazil. Let's support the industries we have left. Taxes and tariffs will raise the price of all consumers goods. Only a grass-roots effort to buy American products will convince industries to stay in our country.

Working together we can put America back to work. Shop at the Made in America Mall. When we build it, you must come.

Fred B. Shoken is a Baltimore historian.

Pub Date: 12/10/96

rTC

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