New Store Revives Memories Of A An Older Grocery In The Downtown

February 03, 2007|By JACQUES KELLY

I took a noontime walk to find some evidence of the 10,000 people a newly published report said are now dwelling in Baltimore's inner downtown core.

I asked myself, where do these people buy their Pop Tarts and Doritos? I don't think they call at the Lexington Market, a destination you might have to be a third-generation Baltimorean to appreciate. After all, many people would be suspicious of a place where you can get a cup of delicious coffee, hand the clerk a dollar and get change.

So I dropped by a food market that opened about a month ago at Charles and Saratoga streets. I often feel that if you want to know something about a neighborhood, just look into its grocery carts, and you'll learn plenty. People here seem to set their social status by the grocery store they patronize - and establish their economic status by the prices they will pay or discounts discovered.

This new Super Fresh store demonstrated that national grocery chains can open downtown and draw customers, even when they're not surrounded by acres of parking. There appears to be little parking at this store. I got the impression that plenty of people arrive by bus - and there are indeed several trunk lines that pass its door.

And I also got the impression that this store has patrons as diverse as the people encountered every day on downtown city streets. Why not? Its location is strictly city (its site was the old Metropolitan Savings Bank when I was a child), and the store features shopping carts that are vertically stacked rather than horizontal. In other words, the carts contain two smaller baskets, rather than a single wire bin.

In the early afternoon, the store appeared to be well patronized - and nicely stocked and lighted, often with the grade of goods that a decade ago could be found only in the suburbs or the outer reaches of the city.

A friend of mine queried if this Super Fresh might be in the tradition of the old Hopper McGaw firm that traded a block away until closing about 50 years ago. I cannot say that I bought my coffee and brandy at Hopper McGaw's - although I'll never forget the wooden Indian that guarded its entrance. Come to think of it, a comparison between the two stores might be made.

On this quick tour, I saw bins of shrimp steamed in Old Bay, imported bottled waters and baskets of cut flowers.

Are we on a roll now? When a Fresh Fields made its debut on Exeter Street a few years ago in the Inner Harbor East section, it soon became the talk - and destination - of many harborside dwellers and workers.

Now this Super Fresh has landed on old Charles Street. Could this be a sign that national chains are dropping their resistance to old cities? And maybe it's a deep stretch to wonder, but is old Charles Street getting ready to reinvent itself in the updated Hopper McGaw mold?

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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