Renaissance is stirring on Reisterstown Road

Growth: With a new retailer anchoring Reisterstown Road Plaza and more stores moving in down the street, Northwest Baltimore is getting healthier.

April 25, 2000|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

If Reisterstown Road is the heart of Northwest Baltimore, then chances are that section of the city is feeling a bit healthier these days.

National Wholesale Liquidators, a discount store that sells everything from household goods to automotive parts to jewelry, is expected to open next month at Reisterstown Road Plaza and employ 150 people.

A Walgreens drugstore is opening soon at Reisterstown Road and Northern Parkway. Across from it, an Amoco service station, with a convenience store and carwash, will open soon. Plans call for the former International House of Pancakes building in the 6300 block to be renovated into a Caribbean-style carryout restaurant, and negotiations are under way for an office complex at Reisterstown Road and Rogers Avenue.

Those are some of the plans for Reisterstown Road.

Northwest Baltimore Corp. recently was awarded $30,000 from the state for storefront facade improvements. The group has applied for a grant from the Mass Transit Administration to improve lighting, install bus shelters and spruce up landscaping along the road, said Ted Laster, economic development coordinator for Northwest Baltimore Corp.

The vibrancy of Northwest Baltimore, those affiliated with it say, is highly dependent on the success of businesses along Reisterstown Road -- particularly in the plaza.

More development

"Other than Reisterstown Road, which runs through the heart of Northwest Baltimore, and the lower part of Park Heights, there's not a lot of commercial development," Richard Berman, president of Reisterstown Road Merchants Coalition, said last week.

"Between these major thoroughfares, it's solid residential property, a lot of rowhouses, a lot of very condensed residential homes," he said. "There are a lot of people between these streets, and people need, within reasonable distances, stores they can access. Certainly the basics, a drugstore, a grocery store and a gas station."

Berman, who recently relocated Berman's Automotive from Menlo Industrial Park, off Reisterstown Road, to the 5700 block of the main thoroughfare, said his business and others are reasons one of the city's most popular roads is making a comeback.

"Some other things are coming that I'm not privy to talk about because they're in the approval stage and I don't want to blow it," Berman said. "There's a lot of new and reinvestment on Reisterstown Road."

One of the city's best-kept secrets, Berman said, is the fact that Reisterstown Road is becoming a major used-car shopping district. "In about a six-block area there are about eight used-car dealers," he said.

Plaza is the base

The main business along Reisterstown Road is the plaza, which opened in March 1962 as a shopping center but was covered years later.

Steven Erlanger, vice president and general manager, says the plaza is doing well, and gives National Wholesale Liquidator as a prime example.

Erlanger points out that the mall has capacity for 118 stores, has five vacancies and is negotiating leases for those spaces. While Pic 'N Pay Shoes has going-out-of-business signs on its windows, that is nothing to get alarmed about, he says.

"National Wholesale Liquidators will definitely make a tremendous difference," Erlanger said. "My perception and my whole outlook for the future is very positive. The mall is definitely on the upswing."

A depressing view

Not so, say Northwest Baltimore residents such as Oprah McLean, 20, who considers the mall "dead" and said she much prefers Towson Town Center, Owings Mills mall or Security Square Mall, where she can shop at stores such as Macy's, Hecht's and Old Navy.

Elderly residents who have seen the plaza lose major department stores over the years also disagree with Erlanger's bright assessment.

"Once your top stores move out, they never replace them with other top stores," Adam Lesane, 82, lamented while sitting on a bench in the mall with retired buddies Benson Harps, 73, and Charles Lancaster, 63.

That major department stores including Hecht's, Caldor and Stewart's have pulled out of the mall, forcing would-be patrons such as McLean to shop elsewhere isn't a problem central to the plaza or Reisterstown Road, says Harriet B. Saperstein, president of HP Devco Inc., a nonprofit economic development agency in Highland Park, Mich., a Detroit suburb.

"Most black shoppers are willing to go to white areas, and they can't find what they want at home," Saperstein said. "They can't find the quality and the style in their neighborhoods because the retailers have been unwilling to take what they consider the risk. Until recently, the major franchisers have been unwilling to come into city areas. There are all kinds of excuses. Some of it's real. Some of it isn't."

Needed services at mall

Despite its lack of major department stores, people affiliated with the plaza say it provides much-needed services for Northwest Baltimore residents. It has a branch of the Social Security Administration, a Vital Records office and a Food King, enterprises lacking in more upscale malls in Baltimore County where most residents have adequate transportation.

"Those uses [of mall space] are economically viable and bring customers to the shopping center," Laster said.

Hannah Pollack Feiler, director of community development for Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc., said the mall is the "anchor" for the Reisterstown Road corridor.

"It is not operating in a vacuum," she said. "The plaza impacts the health of the entire corridor."

Sun staff researcher Andrea Diconi contributed to this article.

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