Carol Ott said the change came when she started to think of them as fellow businesspeople who have set up shop on the main street of the neighborhood just as she has.
Only thing is, they sell drugs, and she sells coffee.
She had tried calling the police, she tried going to community meetings. Still, they remained. Finally, she took matters into her own hands and laid down her own law.
"One was standing outside the restaurant, and I said, `Don't even think about it,'" said Ott, who owns a sweet little coffeehouse and cafe, Evelyn's, on Washington Boulevard in Pigtown. "`This is my side of the street,' I said. `That's your side of the street.'"
It worked. She hasn't chased the drug dealers completely away, but then again, neither have they chased her away.
As I wrote about in Friday's column, residents in Barre Circle and nearby Ridgely's Delight - they lie on either side of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, west of Camden Yards - increasingly are worried that several recent assaults signal an escalation of the kind of property and nuisance crimes more typical in their neighborhoods: In April, a man was shot outside a house in Barre Circle, and a man was mugged near his Ridgely's Delight home. Then this month, a University of Maryland pharmacy student was shot through the front door of her home, also in Ridgely's Delight.
They realize that the fact that these assaults merit attention is because they're so rare, particularly compared with other city neighborhoods where the sound of gunfire is a more regular occurrence. And yet, coming on top of the usual home burglaries and car break-ins and open drug dealing or using that they regularly cope with, they want it to stop.
"The little stuff adds up," said Bill Elrick, whose Barre Circle home was burglarized a couple of weeks ago. "You shouldn't let these things go."
Elrick was among a group of residents who met recently to brainstorm ideas for keeping their neighborhood safe - they're considering getting more lighting, starting a citizens patrol and even pricing the cost of a private security firm.
After the meeting, another resident, Mary Medland, gave me a tour, offering a running commentary as we wound through the narrow streets and the walking paths behind some of the houses. Like Ridgely's Delight, it's one of those lovely hidden neighborhoods that you find here and there in the city, a quiet enclave of 19th-century rowhouses and mature shade trees, with sudden surprise vistas - here, the B&O roundhouse; there, the glow of the ballpark lights.
But lately, other neighborhood landmarks are preying on her mind.
"Here's where I saw the two drug deals, at 9 o'clock in the morning," she said as we walked along Washington Boulevard and then turned onto Scott Street. "Here's where the man was shot, about 10:30 that night. ... Here's where the burglary was. ... There, across MLK, on Fremont, that's where the woman was shot. ... Here's where I went to give a letter to the mailman, and where I saw the two women doing drugs in a car. ... "
Ott, the owner of Evelyn's, said she believes that crime goes in waves, and this happens to be her neighborhood's turn. Her house in Barre Circle was broken into last month, but the alarm went off, a neighbor called her at the cafe and she returned home to find nothing had been taken.
When she opened the cafe, she was bothered by the drug dealing and loitering on the block. There was some occasionally threatening behavior - such as someone following her home after she closed up shop for the day.
But she refused to be intimidated. "I'm heavily invested here," Ott said. "It's not like I can pick up and go. And I love this neighborhood, for all its warts and all.
"Do I like there's an open-air drug market across from my restaurant? No. I don't have to be best friends with these people. But they are people, not trash you take out. Instead of treating people like they're not part of the community - they are."
Maj. Eric Jordan, who heads the police's Southern District, said officers are trying to curtail the drug activity by conducting "search and seizures" in houses off Washington Boulevard, where dealers often stash their drugs, which tends to be more fruitful than going after people on the street.
"They may be dealing," he said, "but sometimes they'll have nothing actually on them."
Occasionally, some of the young men Ott has shooed from her side of the street will come in to buy a sandwich or a drink. She's thrown one out for using bad language, but they're learning to abide by her terms.
"They're teenagers, maybe 13 to 17," she said. "They are dying to have an adult give them rules. One came in once and said, `Hey, can I have ... ' and I said, `Please, Miss Carol, may I have ... ' And he said, `Please, Miss Carol, may I have an Italian soda?'"
Evelyn's is named after her grandmother, and she hopes it is living up to her spirit.
"I never want anyone to walk in here and feel uncomfortable," she said. "My grandmother was very welcoming and very loving, and she loved us through food, and she believed food could do more than fill up your stomach."