Thanks to a new city ordinance, merchants along the Avenue can once again display their wares in front of their stores.

A Hampden coming out


A week ago, the spangled purses, tiger-themed dartboard and embroidered portrait of John F. and Robert Kennedy propped outside the door of the Hampden Junque Shop would not only have been the height of kitsch -- they would have been illegal.

Yesterday, proprietor Margo Goldman was able to legally display the items -- along with that Hampden perennial, pink flamingos -- outside her shop, thanks to a city ordinance that went into effect Sunday. That ordinance lifts restrictions imposed by a 1977 measure that prevented Hampden shops from displaying merchandise outside.

Until last year, the measure, which applied only to this North Baltimore neighborhood, was rarely enforced. Racks of brightly-colored dresses, boxes of books and tables of trinkets blossomed outside the shops along the Avenue, as Hampden's West 36th Street commercial strip is known.

But complaints from pedestrians that piles of used furniture were blocking sidewalks prompted visits from city inspectors and a warning: Keep merchandise inside or face fines.

"That the city would even consider hindering the sale of our merchandise is pure stupidity," said Fred C. Hays III, the self-proclaimed director of his daughter's antiques shop, Charlotte Elliott. "Seeing stuff outside is like smelling steak outside a restaurant or smelling bread outside a bakery."

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke successfully sponsored legislation that allowed merchants to display goods outside on private property.

"Hampden merchants are very original and unique. To draw people into their stores they need to show and tell what they have," said Clarke, a Democrat who represents the neighborhood.

The new ordinance allows displays on porches, steps or the privately owned section of the sidewalk, although merchants must leave room for disabled pedestrians to navigate sidewalks, Clarke said.

Displays of rhinestone jewelry, funky T-shirts and potted plants quickly reappeared in front of stores along the Avenue. Yesterday, racks of tattoo-printed tank tops swayed in the breeze on the red porch outside Oh! Said Rose.

The slate-blue porch at Botani, a new flower shop, was crammed with potted pink and purple impatiens, philodendrons, and an overgrown sweet potato vine.

Barb Littleton, one of the shop's owners, said that outdoor displays are crucial to attracting new customers as well as maintaining the Avenue's funky character.

As Lynne Kruger plopped animal-shaped watering cans on the steps of her store, Lynne's Gifts, she explained that she lost business during the last year due to the restrictions because her store is set back from the street and less likely to attract foot traffic.

A year ago, a city inspector threatened her with a $500 fine unless she moved her merchandise inside, Kruger said. "Now, I put everything outside that I possibly can," she said.

"Having stuff on the sidewalk, to a certain degree, makes it look like a vibrant retail community," said Benn Ray, the owner of Atomic Books and president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association.

Many business owners cautioned that some restrictions on outside displays are necessary.

"Quite honestly, I think it was a valid complaint," said Michael Cantor, the owner of Salamander Used Books. "I hope that people are just conscientious that this is a residential neighborhood."

Hampden resident Bobbie Crist agreed: "There are a lot of people in wheelchairs or with strollers going down the Avenue. Just be courteous." Yet Crist added that she had never personally had a problem with the displays.

For three generations of the Schrader-Hays family, the tables of knick-knacks offered an excuse to linger in the sunshine yesterday on their way to CafM-i Hon.

Ida Schrader, 80, of Lebanon, Ohio, was in town visiting daughter Jackie Schrader-Hays, 58, and granddaughter Lilly Hays, 23, both of Cockeysville. "This is just one of the places we just had to take her," Schrader-Hays said.

Baskets of vintage jewelry displayed on the sidewalk lured the three women into the Avenue Gallery.

Schrader said she enjoyed soaking up Hampden's flavor and browsing the outdoor displays.

"It just adds to the festivity of it all," Schrader said.

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