Fells Point bar owners take plowing into their own hands

Owners of Kooper's Tavern, Max's Tap House use trucks, tractors to make way for customers

February 15, 2010|By Liz F. Kay | liz.kay@baltsun.com | Baltimore Sun reporter

Friday was a turning point for Ron Furman. That day, he decided to become a vigilante plower.

The owner of Max's Taphouse in Fells Point was walking in the neighborhood when he said he slipped and fell on ice at Lancaster Street and Broadway.

"I almost broke my neck," Furman said. "I just said that was it and went up and got the tractor."

The Upperco resident said he plowed out side streets and parking spaces through the weekend as well as Monday morning, starting at 5 a.m.

He said he decided to take matters into his own hands, rather than complaining that it's someone else's responsibility to get the job done.

"Sometimes we gotta do what we gotta do to get things done," said Furman, owner of Max's for 23 years. "We can't always rely on the government to take care of it."

Then again, "not everybody has a tractor," he said. "I was fortunate and I could bring it down and help out."

Patrick Russell, owner of Kooper's Tavern on Thames Street, didn't think the tractor from his Monkton home could handle the city snow drifts. He said he has been looking since Feb. 7 in places as far away as New Jersey and southern Virginia for a plow that would fit his Dodge Ram.

Then, on Monday, he spotted an ad on Craigslist for a Maryland-inspected Dodge Ram with a plow, in Fallston.

Russell said he put it on his credit card and was able to plow the 1700 block of Thames Street on Tuesday.

"I started at 11, and by noon, our restaurant was filled up with everyone who had parked" in the spaces he just cleared, Russell said.

He also plowed parts of Ann, Lancaster and Regester streets, he said. "I had time on my hands and did the side streets," Russell said. He said he even hired a neighbor who owned a Bobcat to help clear streets down to the pavement.

"The bottom line is that the city was overwhelmed with snow," Russell said. He's worked in Fells Point since 1991 and knew how snow could affect sales, having lost a lot of business during two previous snowstorms.

This time, "we had an awesome week," Russell said.

Furman said he plowed from Friday night until the sun started shining on Saturday, building a giant snow mountain in the Fells Point square by clearing out the spaces surrounding it. He also plowed the east side of the 700 block of Broadway and planned to hit the west side as well.

He also said he plowed the 1600 block of Lancaster Street on Sunday and Shakespeare Street.

"Nobody had been down there," Furman said. "I opened that up."

Furman described the snowfall as "an anomaly" that will take weeks to clear up. But it is impacting business while it is here.

Last weekend, Max's held its Belgian Beer Fest, and although business was good, Furman said, but not outstanding.

"We were off, and I think a good part of it was the weather," said Furman. "It was real strong, but not the numbers that we expected."

Even in areas where snow has been cleared, cars have parked haphazardly, Furman said. "We could have fit twice as many cars in there," he said.

Many businesses suffered as a result of the record snowfall, especially because it coincided with Valentine's Day, said Jason Sullivan, executive director of Fells Point Main Street Inc.

He described it as a way these business owners could "turn their frustration into something positive."

"We all know the city's kind of stretched beyond its capacity," Sullivan said.

Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Department of Transportation, said the city appreciates everyone who lends a hand.

Transportation officials have been focusing snow removal efforts on areas around schools to prepare them to reopen on Tuesday, she said.

"We do greatly appreciate any and everybody's efforts," Barnes said. "We just want to make sure they don't cause any problems that may hinder our snow removal efforts," like putting snow on someone else's property or in the street.

The bar owner usually uses his tractor for mowing and other tasks on his 3.5 acre property. But by mid-morning Monday, Furman was forced to stop his snow-moving effort after refueling several times when his equipment began burning oil.

"I'm broke, and my tractor's broke," he said.

Since Russell, of Kooper's, already owns a Dodge Ram, he plans to sell the one with the plow. For the time being, however, it's his.

"I'm keeping it until we're out of the woods," he said.

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