New life comes to 25th St. business district Companies try to reverse area's slide toward decay

July 20, 1998|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Alan Klug breaks into a broad grin when he surveys the flurry of construction work along a noisy industrial stretch of 25th Street near Greenmount Avenue.

He's delighted that an old coal yard is being transformed this summer into a new gas station and convenience store. He points out two large new medical buildings. He smiles at the roofing company that has just doubled in size.

"There's a lot happening here. We're over the worst," Klug said as he looked at 1920s industrial buildings in various states of repair. Residents and business owners say 25th Street is back, and they are there to stay.

Signs of decline

The trouble, as Klug sees it, became evident four years ago, when this cross-town artery lined with no-frills businesses seemed to be falling apart. "It was looking so bad that people didn't want to come to work here," said Klug, president of Klug Uniforms, an industrial overalls company his family founded in Baltimore in 1902.

As he tells it, workers hesitated to take jobs along 25th Street because its shabby appearance seemed to indicate the worst urban fears -- crime, drugs and a lack of safety.

Yet, in the stretch of 25th Street between Greenmount and Harford, some 2,000 people hold full-time jobs.

"People don't realize it, but we make 9 [million] to 10 million envelopes a day here," said John R. "Jay" Young, owner of the Oles Envelope Corp., a company founded in 1924 that employs 260 and produces paper products for National Geographic and Publishers Clearing House.

Young echoed Klug's feeling that fear of crime kept potential workers away.

"Men would say to their wives, 'We don't want you working there,' " Young said.

Klug and his fellow business owners dug in. They formed an informal group in 1994, with a lengthy title -- The 25th Street Area Business Owners Association & Neighborhood Coalition Action Group.

First Klug got curbside trash cans, then badgered the city to repave the street. Next came new street lights.

Some business owners painted or fixed up their fronts -- not always evident on a street with many automobile-repair businesses.

Both men applaud increased police cooperation since they formed the association -- a police presence they say translates into a new confidence along the street. They feel that improved buildings -- with clean parking lots -- also send a message that 25th Street is safe. And, if nothing else, the group's regular meetings help those present feel there is safety and strength in numbers.

Klug has broadened his scope to include neighbors who live on side streets in Harwood, Waverly and Northeast Baltimore adjacent to the business district.

The group holds bi-monthly breakfast meetings, and the last few have been standing-room-only successes.

The group also helped another neighborhood group build a small park at 26th and Barclay streets.

Klug's biggest goal is to get the city to build a long-discussed fire station on property purchased some years ago for this purpose at Kirk Avenue and 25th Street, the site of a 1930s barbecue and milkshake drive-in known as Orye's. On Wednesday, the city erected a sign there announcing the firehouse is coming.

"My mission is to make 25th Street more vibrant, more conducive to business and profits. I also want to outreach to the community. A new firehouse would be the centerpiece of the street," Klug said.

Business is picking up

This summer, several longtime businesses have expanded. Fick Bros., a roofing company, enlarged its plant. A dialysis unit, Gambro Health Care, moved into a former International Harvester building. A Johns Hopkins Hospital personnel unit, Broadway Services, located along the street. A second Hopkins unit, the Doris Johnson Medical Center, moved into a former warehouse, as did a Rite Aid pharmacy.

Construction is wrapping up for one of the street's oldest businesses, the Carroll Independent Fuel Co., which is making its former coal yard into a gas station, convenience store and sandwich and ice cream shop.

"A lot of our competitors are reluctant to develop in the city. It's a great market," said Carroll owner John Phelps. "We love being here."

Pub Date: 7/20/98

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