Hampden's new look Home: The blue-collar neighborhood is taking on an air of down-home chic, with new shops selling everything from funky collectibles to elegant antiques.

March 02, 1997|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

In the last few years something amazing has happened: Hampden has become trendy. Suddenly this blue-collar neighborhood is where it's happening. "It" might be Baltimore's first Internet cafe or a sleek new hair salon, but mostly it's been an explosion of home-oriented shops where you can get everything from a faux leopard floor cloth to a Biedermeier

armoire.

The renaissance has taken place over the last three or four years as crafts people, collectors, young merchants and particularly women entrepreneurs have opened up businesses in this working-class neighborhood. They like Hampden's small-town atmosphere -- a small town conveniently located near the Jones Falls Expressway.

Customers are willing to shop in the neighborhood for the same reason.

"People from the suburbs feel safe here," says Michal Makarovich, an owner of Gustafson's (which sells "antiques, collectibles and junque"). Anyone opening up a crafts or home furnishings shop in Hampden can expect to have a range of customers, from suburbanites to students from nearby Johns Hopkins to Roland Park matrons. The neighborhood has a rich tradition of furniture stores. Kobernick's, for instance, won City Paper's "Best of Baltimore" used-furniture award in 1984; and on a nice day half its merchandise is still put out on the sidewalk at 835 W. 36th St. There's a very fine Salvation Army store a few doors down at 905 W. 36th.

But in the past couple of years a new sort of home furnishings business has opened. "Chic" is the operative word here, although maybe "funky chic" would be a better description. There are new craft galleries, antiques shops and decorative accessories stores. Some of them are quite upscale, although most aren't. But all are in some way imprinted with Hampden's down-home brand of charm.

It's worth taking an afternoon (toward the end of the week if you want to make sure most of the shops are open) to wander the neighborhood. Many of these stores are on 36th Street -- what Hampden residents call "the Avenue" -- or just off it. A few are along Falls Road. All are within easy walking distance of each other.

To help you with your At Home tour of Hampden, here's a list of our favorites. It's not a definitive list, though; new places are opening all the time. On the horizon: Wicked Zero, which rumor has it will sell furniture made of old automobile parts; Oh, Said Rose, which will specialize in candles and Victoriana; and Catherine Bitter Interiors -- all on 36th Street.

Avenue Gallery Inc., 845 W. 36th St., (410) 243-2500

The one criterion for what Vivian Brotman stocks in her eclectic gallery, she says, is that it be "interesting." That might mean toy cars, limited edition Erte bronzes, rugs, ornaments, advertising collectibles or odds and ends of crystal stemware. Prices start at as little as 50 cents for "premiums" -- items like McDonald's giveaways that are becoming collectibles.

Not to be missed: a large turn-of-the-century bronze by Jules Moigniez of an owl descending onto a tree branch ($7,500).

Cheap Chic Interiors and Pieces of Olde, 828 W. 36th St., (410) 662-8383

Regi Elion -- yes, the former owner of Regi's bistro -- has joined forces with Nancy Wertheimer, known for her vintage fabrics, to open an interior design service "catering to young people who have dogs and children who throw up a lot." But their affordable home furnishings have lots of pizazz.

The two have turned their rowhouse into a shop and a show house for their theatrical designs. Here you can buy bark cloth and brocades from the '40s, French posters, heart-shaped pillows made from old quilts, hand-painted glassware, custom headboards.

The stock, Elion says only half-jokingly, comes from auctions and bulk trash day in Roland Park.

Not to be missed: The kitchen shelves are lined with what must be the most extensive collection of Hadley pottery in Baltimore, maybe the world (for sale, of course).

Country Cousins, 1007 W. 36th St., (410) 662-6280

As far as owner Katherine Lavender knows, this is Baltimore's only shop specializing in country decor. The draw here is dried flower arrangements, tchotchkes, handcrafted wood furniture, candles, stuffed animals and rag dolls, country fabrics and hanging doodads for the wall.

Not to be missed: Country Cousins' tinware -- votives, shades for candles, nightlights in the shape of hearts and flowers ($1.50- $40).

David's Inc., 910 W. 36th St., (410) 467-8159

When former Gov. William Donald Schaefer visited Hampden recently, this is where he stopped to buy a file cabinet.

There's a lot of junk, true, but if you do a little exploring you'll find antiques and retro treasures like an Elvis lamp as well. Pick up a desk for $39 -- or discover the oak washstand or sterling flatware of your dreams.

Besides buying up the contents of houses, owner David Gans has a collection of more than 2,000 tobacco tins, which he will trade or sell.

Not to be missed: radiator covers for $29. (New, they would cost a couple of hundred dollars each.)

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