Little Italy store fails community prefers Revco


October 20, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

I know guys who used to rush to birthday parties at Little Italy restaurants, discovering at the last minute that they forgot to buy a card for their girlfriends or wives or mothers. They'll be bummed to hear that Kelly & Poggi, the soda fountain and card shop at Fawn and Exeter, across from Mugs' Lunch and Pepino's Tavern, has closed.

Ray Alcaraz, the neighborhood kid who bought the old pharmacy two years ago and who tried to revive it as a corner convenience store with fountain service, couldn't make it work, even with his mother, Mary Ann's, help behind the counter. There were two armed robberies in two years, but that's not what made Alcaraz pull the plug. Debt did.

"The neighborhood didn't support us at all," he said the other day. "We had a handful of wonderful regulars, people who would come in every morning for coffee. And tourists loved the place. We got a good mention for our milk shakes in the Washington Post, and people from Washington would come in and order a milk shake and say, 'I wish we had a place like this in our neighborhood.' But people in Little Italy just didn't support us."

"People don't want the corner store anymore. They want the mall. They want Revco."

The corner store goes back to the 19th century and East Baltimore's busiest immigrant era. The sisters, Julia and Mary Poggi, ran their family's business for the last few decades, eventually selling it to Alcaraz, a baby boomer who had been a delivery boy back when Kelly & Poggi still sold prescription medicines.

"I used to make 25 cents for each delivery of medicine," says Alcaraz, whose grandfather laid the terrazzo floor in K&P more than 50 years ago. "I told Julia and Mary that one day I was going to own the store. When I took over [two years ago], I tried not to change it too much. I wanted to preserve what it was. We put in a [modern] soda machine, but you know what? People didn't want soda from a fountain. They wanted bottles and cans. We stocked those and they flew off the shelves."

Some people would come in to buy foot powder, aspirin or greeting cards and complain that prices were better at a chain drugstore. Those people missed the point, Alcaraz says. He wasn't there to compete with Revco or Rite Aid. He was there to provide a corner store for Little Italy. "I bought the place more out of emotion than anything," he says. "That neighborhood means so much to me."

Now the store is closed. Alcaraz gave his leftover cigars to the priest at St. Leo's.

Major League error

My apologies, sports fans. Due to an intellectual distraction -- a bad headache -- caused by the Orioles' loss Wednesday, I committed a staggering error Thursday while writing the column that appeared in this space Friday.

I had Hank Greenberg in the National League.

Such a schlemiel I am!

Except for the four years he spent in the Army in World War II, Hank was a Tiger from 1930 until 1946. That, of course, means he was in the American League when, in 1938, he tied Jimmie Foxx's record for most home runs in a season by a right-handed batter.

Three weeks ago, Mark McGwire of the Cardinals tied the Foxx-Greenberg mark when he hit his 58th home run in a season-ending victory over the Cubs. It was McGwire who changed leagues -- he started the 1997 season with Oakland -- not Hank Greenberg. (Though Hammerin' Hank played his final season, 1947, with the Pirates.)

Thanks to the 3.7 million TJI readers who called, faxed and e-mailed me to point out my mistake.

Young fan meets Foxx

I'm especially grateful to Lee Gordon, who corrected me on Greenberg, then told a story about Foxx, the Hall of Famer from Sudlersville, the subject of Friday's column.

In 1958, when Gordon was a 12-year-old Orioles fan, he heard an announcement that Foxx was seated in the stands at Memorial Stadium. "I made a beeline for Double X, who was sitting on the third base side. 'Sit down, young man,' he intoned, and for the next mind-numbing inning I actually talked to and received answers about baseball from The Great One. That, of course, is now impossible for my three sons. The only time they can talk to superstars of yore is by paying up front for the privilege of an ice-cold signature."

In the money

Funeral processions inching along the Beltway at about 40 mph can be troublesome for motorists using the access ramps. The nongrieving often find themselves unwilling participants in a long line of mourners.

During a recent funeral, the Rev. Paul Cook, pastor of St. Joseph parish in Cockeysville, was riding in the third vehicle, directly behind the hearse and the limousine transporting the family of the deceased. A Brinks armored truck came off the ramp just ahead of the priest's car and slipped into the funeral procession. (The snarled traffic would not allow the truck to move to a faster lane.)

A passing motorist got the priest's attention and pointed to the truck.

"Hey, reverend," the driver yelled, "I thought you always said, 'You can't take it with you!'

If the shoe fits

Halloween is upon us. Cereal Mom spied a nice young man -- mid- to late-20s -- sizing up a pair of faux leopard pumps, size huge, at Roland Park's nine-family yard sale last week. "I know this is going to seem weird," he said. "But I want to try these things on." And he did. No one blinked an eye. In fact, everyone was very complimentary.

Pub Date: 10/20/97

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