Neighborhood potpourri Scent: Its business is spices, and McCormick & Co.'s products send fragrances into the air in Hunt Valley. But not everyone likes the smell of success.

November 08, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

,TC From Towson to Lutherville to Sparks, an exotic blend of fragrances from McCormick & Co.'s Hunt Valley plant wafts through the autumn air.

Just as those scents -- cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and dozens of others -- once enveloped downtown near the spice company's Light Street plant, they are making many Baltimore County residents sniff and take notice. And just as people did downtown, most suburbanites enjoy the smells.

"It's invigorating," says Ginny White, a Timonium homeowner for 37 years. "I go out in the morning and smell those wonderful scents -- vanilla, cloves, ginger. It makes the air smell cleaner, rather than the gasoline smells from I-83 or York Road."

For some, though, the aromas are anything but tantalizing.

"Sometimes, it's gross," says Mindy Morgan, a purchasing agent at Serenco Inc., a machinery manufacturer on Gilroy Road. "It's a taco smell. It's a chili smell. It's not all sweet-smelling."

Since the 1980s, when the Inner Harbor factory closed, McCormick has sorted, ground, mixed and bottled an array of spices in a blocks-long, tan-brick building on Gilroy Road.

The heady scents -- released from volatile oils from the crushed spices -- pervade the area, seeping through ventilation systems and shipping doors. Just as they did on Light Street, they cling to anyone and anything connected with production.

"All your clothes smelled like it," recalls Jane Johns of Parkville, who worked for McCormick for 36 years. "You'd get on the bus and people would sniff."

Now, Johns fills orders for Webb-Mason Inc., a Gilroy Road printing company housed in a building that once was a McCormick warehouse. The spicy smells are embedded in the masonry walls, but she says she's immune to it.

The first products for McCormick, founded in 1889 by 25-year-old Willoughby M. McCormick in South Baltimore, were root beer, flavoring extracts and fruit syrups. Its motto: "Make the Best -- Someone Will Buy It."

By 1896, McCormick added spices to its products and moved to various larger quarters around downtown Baltimore. The company settled into its landmark Light Street building in 1921, and for decades, the aroma of its spices perfumed the harbor.

"The smell. It was great," recalls state Sen. George W. Della Jr., 54, a Democrat who grew up in South Baltimore and still lives there. "It was part of the neighborhood, a vibrant, working community. I was extremely sad to see them leave -- and now it's a parking lot."

Sparks-based McCormick, which had $1.7 billion in sales last year, lives, like many former city dwellers, in the suburbs. It still caters to the demand for spices, especially the hot ones. The trendiest spices, says the American Spice Trade Association, are mustard seed and peppers -- white, red and black.

But as the nation's tastes have expanded, some of the aromas have become overpowering.

"The worst are the garlic and onion powders," says Robert Bowen, a McCormick lab technician who adds that the scents can be so intense "your car gets totally stinked out."

Competing smells

The nose-wrinkling smells sometime get a bad rap, as people confuse them with the odors from a nearby landfill. Depending on atmospheric conditions, decaying yard waste occasionally emits odoriferous bursts into the air.

"People complain about it, thinking it is us," Bowen says.

McCormick officials say they have adjusted equipment to respond to complaints, but prefer not to discuss the signature smells.

"It was an integral part of the Inner Harbor," said Allan "Mac" Barrett, a McCormick spokesman. "There are those who don't think so here. We're not looking to stir up that population."

Although some suburbanites object to the smells, there haven't been many formal complaints. A state nuisance odor law says smells should not be so pervasive that they interfere with the "reasonable enjoyment of a homeowner's property," said Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the state Department of the Environment.

But calls about the McCormick scents are infrequent, he said. In the most recent incident last summer, an inspector responded to a complaint only to find the odor had disappeared by the time he arrived at the house.

Residents also haven't voiced much opposition with elected officials in recent years.

'Not good not bad'

"People complain about a lot of things. But I've been here a year and a half and there's been nothing," said Mary Pat Fannon, a legislative aide for County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a Republican who represents the north county.

Many residents simply are resigned to sharing the air with McCormick.

"It's not good. It's not bad. It's part of the environment where I live," says Kathleen Beadell, president of the Greater Timonium Community Council. "It's like if you live in Seattle, you're used to the rain."

Pub Date: 11/08/97

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