In a crumbling old city where so many houses look as if they could use a coat of paint, the arrival of a new neighborhood hardware store is a cause for rejoicing. So when I was walking up Old York Road a few weeks ago and spotted a nuts-and-bolts inventory being moved into a building fronting Homestead Street, I felt as if old Waverly had turned a corner.
It's the not-so-little-amenities that make a neighborhood - good grocery stores, a friendly pub, a cozy restaurant.
Actually, the Ace Hardware that opened this week is part of a steady Waverly revival. I think of the nearby 32nd Street Farmers' Market and the Giant supermarket, along with Stadium Place and the Johns Hopkins campus at the former Eastern High School. I also think of the number of renovated houses that were not in such great shape a few years ago.
I've been deprived of a walk-to hardware store for decades - and it hurt. There was a time when the Greenmount Avenue neighborhood had more hardware stores than traffic lights. Each had a peculiar smell and personality. Then they died, and the neighborhood seemed poorer for it.
In the Waverly of the 1960s we had a spacious Hardware Fair, which for some reason we called the Baltimore Salvage Co. An elderly couple - were they brother and sister? - ran Boulevard Hardware and sold a petroleum solvent called Varnolene that lifted old wax on Baltimore's soft pine floors. For locksmithing needs, I called at Mall's, later B&V Hoover's, on Greenmount. That store's walls had a zillion little wooden drawers, and the owners knew which ones to open to find a radiator key.
In the 1970s, when people in my own Charles Village neighborhood started painting their houses other colors than dark brown and ink green, they headed to the old Albert Rhine Co. on Howard Street. It's now the popular Ottobar. You could spend hours selecting colors and wallpaper at Reynold's on Maryland Avenue. It's now a church.
They disappeared, initially supplanted by a Hechinger's - but it too was an early retail casualty. The mighty Lowe's and Home Depot were a long way from 33rd and Greenmount. I admired their huge inventories, but they were so far away that a trip there was a morning-long event.
Baltimoreans love to recall the previous life of a building. The new Ace Hardware was once the Postal Service's Waverly Station - a classic 1920s building with high ceilings and big windows. It then became a public laundry and was later a Blockbuster's video.
On a trip through the new store's aisles, I thought about clean Baltimore living - new trash cans with secure tops, brooms, grass seed and garden hoses, window glass ... and, yes, rat bait.