Northeast Baltimore loses more than a pharmacist

This Just In...

March 10, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

The Arcade Pharmacy, a landmark in Northeast Baltimore for most of the century, closed its doors for good last Friday afternoon, and that would be ho-hum news -- small drugstore gobbled by corporate giant -- if not for Lance Berkowitz. He's the pharmacist, the man who owned the Arcade, but you demean the man if you leave the description at that.

"Doc," as the folks in the heart of Hamilton call him, was the Jewish angel of St. Dominic's, the Catholic school a block away from his drugstore on Harford Road. He's been credited with helping the archdiocesan school raise thousands of dollars in an effort to become self-sustaining. The Harford Center for Senior Citizens named him Humanitarian of the Year in 1995, and U.S. Pharmacist magazine named him Pharmacist of the Year. Here's a man -- a mensch -- who practiced what he preached: "If you take from the community, you have to give back to the community."

But the Lance Berkowitz I spoke to Saturday was a profoundly sad man. "My wife and I are quite sad," he said. "We have very mixed emotions. We served literally thousands of senior citizens in Hamilton, a lot of them shut-ins."

What happened to Berkowitz and the 90-year-old Arcade Pharmacy has happened, with variations, all over the megaeverything America in which we live. Two years ago, Berkowitz sold his two drugstores -- the Arcade in Hamilton and Kaufmann's in Towson -- to the Maryland affiliate of Health Management Inc., of which he is vice president. Though HMI held several general, retail drugstores nationally, it soon moved into a specialized market -- "chronic managed care pharmaceuticals," providing medication to gravely ill people suffering from cancer and AIDS or undergoing organ transplants. So, in time, HMI's last two retail outlets were sold to drugstore giants; Kaufmann's is now affiliated with CVS and the Arcade was bought out by Revco and closed. (Last month, CVS announced that it would acquire Revco for $3.7 billion in stock and assumed debt to form one of the nation's largest drugstore chains with $13 billion in annual revenues.)

I heard that sadness in Lance Berkowitz's voice as he explained "market forces" and "market changes" to me. The Arcade was still profitable; he'd hoped HMI would hang on to it for as long as it made money. But Revco, the giant up the street, evidently made an offer HMI could not refuse. "Revco traditionally does not deliver [prescription medication]," Berkowitz said. "But because of the special needs of our [the Arcade's] customers, it says it will, supposedly." (Other longtime drugstores in the area, the Northern and Edwards & Anthony's, make deliveries.)

"Doc" Berkowitz says he'll miss Hamilton. Hamilton will miss him even more.

Keep your music to yourself

A small pleasure of life in the Greater Patapsco Drainage Basin comes right about now, in late winter-early spring, when the days are just warm enough to allow an aging rocker to roll down the windows of the car and crank up the stereo. On one of those recent 60-degree days, I heard the following during a long commute up Ritchie Highway, through South Baltimore and downtown, up Charles Street, all the way to the Beltway: Lyle Lovett's Large Band (the only thing I could readily recognize), some country-western twang-thang, some rap, some head-banger rock. The last two were played so loudly and with so much bass, I could sense the vibrations in my old tin truck. I love cheap thrills.

Apparently, young men who turn their cars into boom boxes annoy people, even momentarily, as they drive-'n'-boogie through life. Now the General Assembly wants to do something about it.

The House of Delegates approved a bill last week that would allow a police officer to pull over drivers and give them a ticket for up to $50 for playing music too loudly. Gerald J. Curran, the Baltimore delegate who chairs the committee that approved the bill, says the legislation was needed by Ocean City police, in particular, because they couldn't enforce their local noise ordinance on the main drag through town, a state highway.

The bill did not go through without generating some noise of its own. Del. George W. Owings, a Calvert County Democrat known for his love of motorcycles, good times and other politically incorrect things, points out that the reason people go to Ocean City is to have a vacation in a "lively little town."

The bill defines excessive noise as anything that can be "heard outside the vehicle from 50 or more feet." Curran says he had confidence that no cop would stop someone from playing Beethoven at a normal volume. Concern that music critics on the police force won't be quite so tolerant of, say, Public Enemy, might be one reason that many African-American legislators joined conservative Republicans in voting against the bill. (Sounds like a whole lot of trouble to me -- asking cops, with varying degrees of hearing power and musical taste, to make subjective judgments.)

More driving rules

The noise bill is just one of a pile of new traffic laws that the General Assembly could be sending our way, including one that would let police cite drivers for failing to wear a seat belt and another that would make it an offense to leave your lights off while your windshield wipers are on.

Del. James E. Rzepkowski, an Anne Arundel County Republican, who at 26 is young enough to still remember making excessive noise, asked what would happen under the following scenario:

He's driving his convertible with his top down and music playing when it starts to rain. He turns on his wipers and releases his

seat belt in order to pull down the top but, in his haste, he forgets to turn on his lights. A cop stops him. What then?

"You're going up the river," Curran said.

Pub Date: 3/10/97

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