Businesses leave blanks in Waverly

Still, residents say community will rebound from recent departures

February 15, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Three familiar businesses -- a drugstore, supermarket and bank -- announced closings or shut down recently in Waverly, creating inconvenient vacancies in the pedestrian-friendly Greenmount Avenue business district, but not daunting the community's optimism about its economic future.

Provident Bank of Maryland, which has maintained a Waverly branch for 90 years, announced last month that its 3111 Greenmount Ave. operation will close March 19.

A Super Fresh grocery store at Gorsuch Avenue and Old York Road shut down last month after 60 years in the neighborhood.

Burriss & Kemp, a drugstore at 33rd Street and Greenmount Avenue, also closed several weeks ago. It had served the neighborhood since World War I. A furniture store has reopened in the building.

Word of the closures has spread through the community, which runs along the Greenmount Avenue corridor and is intersected by busy 33rd Street. Many customers do their shopping on foot.

Community leaders suggested they could weather the closings because the area has adapted to change -- be it racial, economic or real estate.

"I don't think the Super Fresh site will remain empty for long," said Morgan Allyn, deputy administrator of the Charles Village Benefits District.

"Waverly is going through a transition. Some businesses are closing, but it is not cheap to be on Greenmount Avenue. The rents there are still high. It's not a depressed market for business properties," Allyn said.

Other longtime residents feel Waverly will make it through this round of business upheaval.

"We're survivors. We have to be. We lost the football team and the Orioles," said Earleen Henderson, president of the Waverly Improvement Association, whose community includes Memorial Stadium. "Still, the closings hurt the elderly who don't drive."

Henderson said her neighborhood prides itself on its convenience -- she takes a bus downtown to her job at the Central Enoch Pratt Free Library -- and the close-knit nature of the neighborhood.

"Greenmount Avenue is really a great place, a very diverse spot. There aren't too many places like it in Baltimore," Henderson said, adding that people often fail to see beyond Greenmount Avenue's storefronts to the residential streets that intersect the main stem. "We're pinning our hopes that the plans for Memorial Stadium will give Waverly a boost and bring up some new businesses."

A meeting is scheduled at 7 p.m. tomorrow at City College to air reactions to three developers' proposals to reuse the 1950s stadium. The three proposals are a retirement community; a retail center (including a supermarket, bank, health club, restaurant and recycling center); and a technology park.

The Rev. R. David Smith, pastor of Metropolitan Community Church on Old York Road, said the Orioles leaving Memorial Stadium for Camden Yards triggered a steady deterioration of services within the neighborhood for the past five or six years.

"The streets aren't as clean as they were several years ago," Smith said. "I really began to worry when I got a notice from the post office saying it was going to remove mailboxes from some corners. Waverly doesn't appear to be as stable as it was."

City Department of Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher disagreed. "We are doing more cleaning than ever before," he said. "There is daily cleaning of Greenmount Avenue. Our equipment is new and it functions well."

Several years ago, Smith said he noticed corporate support, often from large chains, beginning to lag.

"Our church quit using the [Provident] bank branch because it stopped having consistent employees -- there was a constant turnover of managers," Smith said.

"Waverly has been a long-term struggle for us," said Gary Geisel, a Provident Bank of Maryland official. "It's just been a place where we haven't been growing."

Geisel said the bank recently purchased a larger site in Govans, about 23 blocks north of the closing branch. He also said his bank has been in discussion with community groups and might turn the bank building over to one of them.

"There have been a number of directional changes in Waverly," said Dave Briggs, president of the Waverly Business Association. "The larger firms with the regimented marketing programs aren't doing well there, but the new, smaller, more flexible businesses are."

For example, Herman's Discount, a variety store opened in the 3100 block of Greenmount last fall, is doing well. Its inventory is similar to the Waverly Woolworth's store that closed in 1997.

"We carry a general household line and are doing fine," and Ricky Herman, who bought the property and runs the business with family members.

Greenmount Avenue has a number of clothing stores, a Rite Aid drugstore, a NationsBank branch, restaurants, bars and dry cleaners -- and a weekly open-air farmers' market at Barclay and 32nd streets.

"I feel for the people who don't have transportation," said Paula Branch, a computer programmer who lives on Homestead Street and is president of the Better Waverly Improvement Association. "But in truth, the Super Fresh had seen better days. The people hated to see it go, but we're looking at the site as an opportunity for something else to move to."

Pub Date: 2/15/99

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