Hispanic commercial strip evolves on Broadway

This Just In...

March 12, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

THOSE WHO'VE noticed the evolution of the little Broadway barrio in Southeast Baltimore should not have been surprised at census news that the number of Hispanics in the United States has grown by more than 60 percent in the last decade, making them even with blacks as the nation's largest minority group. Small Latino groceries, shops, restaurants and storefront churches have been opening in Upper Fells Point for years, and particularly the last few.

"Many of my customers are from Mexico," says Jorge Speede, a native of the Dominican Republic who moved to Baltimore from Washington three years ago to run the A&K Botanica grocery on Broadway. "Some are from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, but many, many are from Mexico."

And a good number of his customers, Speede says, come from Towson and other Baltimore suburbs.

I bought a 24-ounce bag of dried red beans from El Salvador (frijol rojo Salvadoreno) and a few of the many other imported products on the well-stocked shelves of Speede's store, which advertised on its sidewalk sign (time for your Spanish lesson, class): Carne de cerdo (pork), hueso para sopa (soup bones), tripas de vaca (beef tripe), mondongo (more internal organs), carne de chivo (goat meat) and arroz (rice). Inside the store, I discovered a jar of patitas en vinagre (pickled pigs feet) and fresh yucca.

On the same block are music and video stores, a hair salon and a Latin bookstore. On the sidewalk, I found at the base of a sickly urban tree a border of brightly colored, Latin-themed ceramic tiles, obviously painted by children.

Someone went to considerable trouble to make and install the tiles, so it's a shame the base of the tree is used as a trash receptacle and that the area, generally, is not more appealing to the eye.

Some "Main Street" dress-up for South Broadway's small merchants, to highlight this growing Latin commercial strip, could help create a genuine destination for people interested in things Hispanic.

Bibelot's final chapter

So that's great news --- instead of being content with one or two thriving Bibelots, the company expanded to four bookstores, and now there is none.

And in The City That Reads, we're talking about closing library branches again.

You know what? If people spent more time reading and not watching television -- especially during winter -- we'd have less panic-buying, less stress and lower blood pressure when snow is in the forecast. And maybe bookstores and library branches wouldn't close.

Recommended reading (as St. Patrick's Day approaches): "Dubliners," the definitive text, restored with the author's corrections, in "The Portable James Joyce," edited by Harry Levin, Penguin Books, 1976 edition.

Baltimore's Irish connection

Irish-Americans who haven't visited O'Malley City since last March might consider two stops before they start their annual St. Pat's pub crawls -- the central Enoch Pratt Free Library (www.epfl.net) to see its display, "The Irish Contribution to Baltimore and Maryland," and then old St. Peter's Cemetery, on Bentalou Street, to regard (perhaps decorate) the graves of honorable ancestors, most of the stones marked with the deads' native counties.

And while you're crawling, try Patrick's of Pratt Street, the old Rowley's, across from the B&O Railroad Museum. I hear good things about food, drink and ambience from reliable sources.

Flavor of the city

TJI cultural correspondent Joey Amalfitano reports: "Call me crazy, but sometimes at night I like to go to Pazza Luna, the little restaurant in Locust Point, and I stand outside at the corner, in the perfect accent lights, and I listen to the music, the Sinatra or the Jerry Vale, and all the sounds of happy people inside, eating and having a good time. If I'm hungry and Maxine doesn't mind Italian again, we go in. Otherwise, I just stand there and she sits in the car.

"But what I really want to say is: Danny, I'm with you a hundred percent in your declared war against the blizzard of plastic bags. Here's another reason to stop and pick 'em up: For several days, I smelled a foreign odor outside my Olds Intrigue. I took it to the dealer and, sure enough, there was a blue plastic bag fried to the catalytic converter underneath. A mechanic took an emery wheel to it and got it off. No more smell. He said it's a common problem, 'cause there are so many bags flying everywhere. There you have it -- another talking point for your crusade against this disgusting pollution. Love, Joey."

Speaking of pollution ...

Foul odor of politics

We have sewage fouling the Jones Falls, the Gwynns Falls and Herring Run -- bacteria at 10 times the safe level -- wholesale violations of the Clean Water Act, and government officials at all levels taking their merry old time about fixing it. Old, leaky pipes, lack of funds and, worse, a lack of political urgency have led to this mess and not just in Baltimore. (The city of Cumberland splashed more than 50 million gallons of sewage into the Potomac last year).

Meanwhile, Republicans want to cut federal spending on the environment by about 6 percent; the proposed Pentagon budget is $310 billion and the new president wants to spend even more on a multibillion-dollar missile defense system. We have the best-guarded fouled rivers in the world.

Good-bye to an icon

Time now for a little TJI commiseration. Today's commiserator is Parkville Mark Elliot: "I experienced something very depressing Friday evening. I visited what was left of the Montgomery Wards in Towson.

"As a kid growing up, there were two places my parents bought back-to-school clothes: Two Guys and Wards. It was sad to see the carcass of what was once a fine family store. The bargain hunters mean no harm, but watching them pick over the scraps of clothes, shoes and housewares almost brought a tear to my eye."

TJIDan@aol.com is the e-mail address for This Just In. Dan Rodricks can also be contacted at 410-332-6166. The column appears Mondays and Fridays.

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