DAN BROS., THE friendly old shoe store in South Baltimore that outfitted celebrity athletes, Major League umpires, politicians and mere pedestrians for more than six decades, is going out of business. The final sale starts tomorrow and runs until the 12,000-pair inventory disappears. Tears. I guarantee tears.
"Grown men and women are already crying," says Harry Kalinsky, longtime salesman and the man who recently sold me a smart pair of Giorgio Brutini's for $39.95. The price sticker is still on the sole of my right shoe. You could look it down.
Stars of the National League and American League, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League, the World Boxing Federation and the U.S. Congress shopped at Dan Bros. Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, gets his shoes there. So does his successor in Congress, Elijah E. Cummings. Jack Luskin, once the cheapest guy in town, bought from Dan Bros. Ditto broadcaster Chuck Thompson. Baseball greats Rod Carew, Rickey Henderson and Roger Clemens bought kicks there. Boxer Sugar Ray Leonard did the Dan. Toronto Raptors guard (and Dunbar grad) Muggsy Bogues is a regular. Ravens owner Art Modell started shopping there a couple of years ago.
Why the closing?
In April, Dan Rufo, the second of the two original Dans who started the store -- the other was Dan DiTonno -- died.
"Since Dan passed away, we're not having fun anymore," says Keith Heaps, Rufo's son-in-law who, with his wife, Linda, made the decision to close the business and to sell the five buildings it occupies on South Charles near Cross Street Market. "Dan was the spirit of the business. ... This has not been easy for me and my wife."
The real estate market in the Federal Hill/Cross Street area has gone slightly crazy in recent years. Just up the street, a developer will soon turn the old Southway Bowling Center into "New York-style loft apartments." Something like that could happen between 1032 and 1040 S. Charles, site of Dan Bros. Discount Shoes for 63 years.
This is a bummer.
I like to walk into a shoe store and get friendly personal service and lots of choices in loafers. I make time for the experience. I'm not in a rush. If a guy like Harry Kalinsky wants to talk -- about the movies, the Orioles, where to get a good bagel -- that's fine with me.
That kind of retail is tough, says Heaps.
"People want to go to malls today," he says, "to the chains."
As I said, a bummer.
I will soon launch an expedition to Fort Carroll to check for rats. There seems to be skepticism about the oft-repeated description of the abandoned 19th-century fort as "rat-infested." Several readers questioned the use of that adjective in this space last week.
But the manmade island, which sits just south of the Key Bridge in the Patapsco River, has been "rat-infested" for years, if you believe its clippings.
And unless my memory is playing tricks, I saw a rat crawling along the rocks at Fort Carroll in the late summer of 1996, during a fishing trip there. Joe Bruce, who owns Fishermen's Edge, a Catonsville tackle shop, has made many trips to the island. He's a veteran fly fishing guide and author of three books on the subject. I called him over the weekend and Joe said, "Yup, I've seen rats on the rocks at Fort Carroll."
Joe's a trusty guy.
But Barnett Rattner has an impressive resume, too: B.S., University of Maryland, zoology (1972); M.S., University of Maryland, zoology, developmental biology (1974); Ph.D., University of Maryland, zoology, environmental physiology (1977).
As a staffer at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Rattner has conducted several research projects and published his findings. (One report is titled, "Effects of organochlorine contaminants on reproductive success of black-crowned night-herons (Nycticorax nyticorax) nesting in Baltimore Harbor, Maryland.")
Rattner visited Fort Carroll 24 times in 1998 and discovered "a fabulous nesting sight" for herons and egrets. He found hundreds of nests, including those of the black-crowned night-heron, and concluded that a large colony of the birds, previously nesting near the Riverside power plant, had moved to Fort Carroll. It's a great place to observe migratory birds, he says.
"But," he says, "in all those visits to Fort Carroll we never saw one rat."
Well, there it is.
I'll have to check this out myself. I will go to Fort Carroll to look for evidence of rat infestation. I might have to make several trips. This could take time. The Ravens might even score a touchdown before I reach a conclusion. Watch this space.
`In a time of discovery'