Renewal plan is bane to seafood shop owner Worried: Mark Devine says the city's west-side project will force him out of business.

April 20, 2001|By Tom Gutting | Tom Gutting,SUN STAFF

When Mark Devine opened Devine Seafood on North Eutaw Street four years ago, it was the realization of a dream he'd had since he entered the seafood business more than 20 years ago.

Now, as Baltimore considers expanding its $350 million west-side urban renewal plan, Devine faces the possibility of being put out of business.

"It's got me depressed," Devine, 41, said at his shop yesterday. "You can't fight City Hall. What do I do next? I have five kids to support."

Under the city's plan, 25 more downtown buildings would be condemned and the owners compensated. City Council President Sheila Dixon introduced an eminent domain bill at last night's council meeting, encompassing an area that includes barbershops, restaurants, a nightclub, an automobile detailer and boarded-up buildings.

What particularly eats at Devine is that he says he never received notification from the city.

"I've heard rumors, but today is the first I knew about it," Devine said after reading an article about the plan in The Sun yesterday.

Other business owners in the area he had talked to received letters of explanation, he said.

"Gosh, they sure know where to send the tax bills," Devine said. "They didn't know where to send [a notice of the takeover]."

He said he has lost some of his drive and feels powerless to fight back. Devine also wonders whether all the time he has spent away from his family to make the business a success has been worth it.

He works six days a week and said, "I'm almost never home. My family has suffered.

"I own the building. I've made an investment in the area. They think it's not worth something. Well, I think it is worth something."

Relocating his shop, Devine said, isn't an option. "It would probably be it" if the city takes over, he said. He is worried about finding another job that could support his family, especially in the sluggish economy.

"I have nowhere to go after this," Devine said. "I'm lost about what to do. Should I look for another business? Should I go out of business?"

It would also be painful, he said, to see his loyal customers turned away. Many of them have been coming to the store, which has been a seafood shop under three owners for nearly 50 years, since well before Devine bought it.

"People come here because it's convenient," he said. "There are a lot of seafood places down here. They know they can come here and get a good price."

Marsha Curry, one of Devine's regular customers, comes from Owings Mills twice a month to buy seafood there.

"There's a lot of history on this block," she said. "It would be a shame to see a lot of this go."

Some business owners on the block hope to fight O'Malley's decision to close them down.

"It's going to uproot a lot of people," said Patheia Smith, the owner of Class Cuts Beauty Salon in the 300 block of W. Madison St. "They should have given some forethought to what would happen to people."

Smith, who has owned her store for nearly 12 years, said she and other shopkeepers on the block intend to express their displeasure to the council.

"It's been great for me right here," she said. "I'm busy all day. It's a central location. It would be hard for me [to relocate]. This is our livelihood. What can we do?"

For Devine, losing his store seems inevitable. He said he hopes the city treats him and his fellow owners fairly, but the situation has left a bad taste in his mouth.

"To me, it's not fair. It's a good area," he said. "I make a decent living. A lot of good people come in my store. The revitalization is good, but why do they have to put us out?"

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