Before first flake, Baltimoreans swarm to stores to stock up

December 19, 2009|By Laura Vozzella | laura.vozzella@baltsun.com

Ashley Davis always does her Christmas shopping the weekend before the holiday.

But this year, when the forecast of a bit of snow turned to the threat of a lot of snow, her plans changed. On Friday, she set out to get all the gifts she needed for her three sons before the first flake fell.

"Looking for Legos!" Davis called out to a shopping companion an aisle away, as she tossed bunches of Matchbox cars into her red Target cart with barely a glance.

The scene was just as frenzied at the other end of Mondawmin Mall, at the Shoppers Food & Pharmacy. All 14 registers were open, and shoppers stood in lines 15 deep.

Even the prospect of flurries can set off a run on the usual supermarket essentials of toilet paper, milk and bread here. But with up to 24 inches of snow in the forecast, the storm threatened to keep Baltimoreans snowbound for two of the biggest shopping days of the year. So Friday, people rushing to buy gifts, frozen turkeys and other things needed for Christmas joined the usual snow-hype crowds, causing a mad dash to stock kitchen and Christmas stockings alike.

The results were jammed parking lots and cash registers ringing like times were good.

While many store owners kept their fingers crossed that shopping would go on today and Sunday, hope was lost for some other weekend diversions. The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore said it would be closed today, Peabody Preparatory canceled recitals and the Maryland Crab Bowl was postponed until Monday.

Even a trip to the dump is out for some; the Harford County Waste Disposal Center is closed.

Check flights before heading to BWI
The storm also threatens to land in Maryland on one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, snow removal crews were preparing to clear runways, ramps, roads and parking lots, said Jonathan Dean, airport spokesman.

That said, Dean stressed that if there is a lot of snow, flights are likely to be canceled. Travelers should call their airlines or the airport before heading to BWI, he said. They also should consider parking in the airport garages, which are covered, he said.

"With a storm of this magnitude, we expect there to be a number of cancellations by airlines," he said. "We don't want customers traveling on the roads when their flights already are canceled."

Even if flights do take off and land, delays are likely, he warned.

Whatever troubles the storm brings, the threat of it Friday seemed to achieve what federal stimulus bucks had not: Businesses all over town were booming.

At the Wine Source in Hampden, the parking lot filled by 10 a.m. and stayed that way all day, said beer manager Tim Hillman.

Janice Ferragamo of Brooklyn Park dashed out to the Mondawmin Target on her lunch hour to buy boots and two snowboards for her 8-year-old grandson - plus a dart board for indoor fun.

"He's gonna have a heck of a good time," said Ferragamo, 62, a public defender in Northwest Baltimore, who treated herself to the store's last bag of salt.

The mood was a mix of dread and excitement.

"It's kind of fun to prepare, should we get pounced," said Parker Bazemore, 51, a diesel mechanic who was picking up orange juice, Doritos, bread, milk and Coke at Shoppers.

At Whole Foods in Harbor East, Jason Hagerman grumbled about all the snow-fearing Baltimoreans who had crowded the store.

"Grow up in Chicago!" said Hagerman, a 38-year-old commercial furniture salesman who did just that but now lives in Mount Vernon. He was in the store to buy ingredients for dinner, not prepare for a blizzard.

"Beans, bacon, sausage and beef - no toilet paper," he said. "I'm making a cassoulet."

Some take snow in stride
The crush in Whole Foods amused Rob and Beth Bughman of Federal Hill.

"I'm from the North, so I'm not too scared of a couple inches of snow," said Rob Bughman, 29, a military contractor and native of Wisconsin.

A couple of inches? The forecast is for more than a foot, they were told. The couple glanced at each other and laughed.

"Up North, that's nothing," said Beth Bughman, also 29 and a physician's assistant.

Even so, the Bughmans conceded that they'd "maybe grabbed a few extra things" just in case, including four different varieties of frozen gourmet pizza.

Also in the store was Joe Borowy, who studies marketing in Eugene, Ore., and came to Baltimore to visit his mom for Christmas. The prospect of being snowbound in her Locust Point home concerned Borowy, who described himself as "transitioning to raw food." He stocked up on sprouted-grain tortillas, kefir and kale hemp-seed salad.

"I don't want to not eat organic for a couple days," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Meredith Cohn, Rob Kasper and Michelle Landrum contributed to this article.

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