A mid-November stroll reawakens fond visions of Baltimore's retail holiday past

Reminiscing

November 19, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

I opened the paper the other morning and saw a picture of a fuel truck sitting squarely in the sun parlor of one of my Howard Street neighbors' homes. Being a public agony chaser, I dressed quickly and investigated the wreckage.

But as so often happens on one of these early walks, I stumbled into something else. On this grand November morning, as I crossed Maryland Avenue at 28th Street, I could not stop focusing on the sidewalk, the granite curb and the Woodrow Wilson-era porchfront homes just south of Wyman Park.

There, on so many Thanksgiving afternoons of the 1950s, the floats and rubber-faced inflated figures that made up the old Hochschild Kohn Toytown parade passed. There is something about the sun and the weather conditions that exist at only one speck of the year that conspired to ignite a memory. I could never get hit by the same feeling in August.

A few days before, I had been traveling with an old friend who shares my affection for the winter holidays. He lives on the other side of downtown and frequently picks up a quick takeout lunch or dinner at the Lexington Market.

He came up with a brilliant idea. If we can have artists painting crabs and other temporary displays, why not decorate our old department store windows for Christmas? The last time I checked, Baltimore had three marvelous antique department stores where, thanks to historical preservation, and some good taste, there are still fine display windows at Howard and Lexington. All they lack is something interesting to look at, maybe the basis of a winter holiday festival.

Baltimore has done a fine job of preserving the steel and stone of these splendid mercantile castles. Why not find a way of putting the gift wrap on?

Listen, stranger ideas have captivated Baltimore. Who could have ever imagined the success of the old City Fair?

A few years ago, the Enoch Pratt's central library got serious again and started making something out its marvelous Cathedral Street windows. After a few recent trips through Highlandtown and Canton, I noticed that quite a few people there still do seasonal displays in their immaculately washed front windows.

I get the sense this season that Baltimore just might be having an upswing in retail.

There are rumors of this and that going to Fells Point or the Inner Harbor East. If we can have a Starbucks at Eutaw and Baltimore, I guess anything is possible.

Like so many Baltimoreans, I miss the shopping arenas we once had. Baltimore's retail picture was never as robust as some other cities, but we gave it our best shot. That said, I'm still a huge fan of the city at this time of the year. I slip away to Federal Hill on these late fall evenings and watch the sun disappear over Arbutus and wait for the lights to come on. Try it.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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