OK. Baltimore Bluegrass has closed. That's disappointing to many customers, but the success of the store reflected the continued beauty of Belair Road in Northeast Baltimore and surrounding neighborhoods.
Many people assume the worst when long-standing institutions such as Baltimore Bluegrass music store or Bo Brooks restaurant leave the area. It's a knee-jerk reaction resulting from media attention to the nasty and nefarious instead of the upbeat side of human nature.
Add to this the ever-constant change of demographics, a process common to any area, and one might perceive decimation when change happens either inside or outside the beltway.
But as an insider to such a decision and one who doesn't watch much television, I have quite another viewpoint. Belair Road has been such a good home for both establishments that the ensuing success provided the means by which each concern could move toward new levels of achievement instead of away from impending doom.
Mike Munford, Jeep Watson and I opened our shop in 1975 to create an atmosphere of bluegrass and folk music. Long before electronic media invaded America, social gatherings and music participation were a powerful form of entertainment.
As music became commercialized with the onset of radio and TV, a core of traditionalists maintained its acoustic roots. Chief among them was Bill Monroe, whose tireless effort and soaring popularity brought the pure form of country to millions of people. As the music evolved, Bill Monroe and his "Bluegrass Boys" defined the intense, high-pitched sound of modern bluegrass accompanied by guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, bass and, eventually, Dobro. Bluegrass became the antithesis of commercialized media by remaining social, non-technical and within the reach of everyone, not just celebrities and popular artists.
The eclectic nature of Belair Road, described by Eric Siegel ("A sad note on Belair Road," June 2, 2000), made the perfect setting for just such a store. Representative of many businesses in the area, when shoppers entered Baltimore Bluegrass they left behind their vocations, status, skin color and daily pressures.
Conversations would likely trend toward the humor of everyday life than what was at hand to buy. As a longtime Belair Road customer, I get the same feeling when I enter the local post office, grocery, restaurant, hardware, bank or deli. The small shops in the area are one of Baltimore's greatest treasures known only to those who are willing to set aside glitzy corporate marketing and congested parking lots in favor of old-fashioned friendly and knowledgeable service.
Folks who point their finger toward crime and safety, two social concerns without boundaries, focus on a very small part of the whole picture. I suppose I could go from city to city and direct my attention to the unpleasant side of culture, but the past 25 years on Belair Road have preoccupied me with the courteous, honest people who make up the overwhelming majority.
It's not such a sad note when two establishments, even though they're moving toward change, bring attention to the continued success of the area. Baltimore Bluegrass and Bo Brooks restaurant are just a small part of the long-lived and established shopping community of Belair Road.
Mike, Jeep and I were not forced from the area. Instead, responding to the needed change because of Internet sales and local competition, Baltimore Bluegrass provided a springboard for each of us to pursue other lucrative and related endeavors.
Meanwhile, the spirit, flavor and texture of the northeast Belair Road retail community lives on. Come see for yourself.
Steve Cunningham, who owned Baltimore Bluegrass, moved to Baltimore in 1963. His interests include acoustic instrument repair, astronomy, magic, computers and fossils.