High hopes, tough challenges for struggling Southwest

The new PriceRite in Mount Clare plaza is "a really good small step," says a Southwest Baltimore resident.

pricerite shopper

Shirley Farmer, of Edmondson Village, buying pineapples, pomegranates, onions and more at the new Pigtown PriceRite.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Like many of the shoppers cruising the aisles of the new Pigtown PriceRite at its grand opening yesterday, Yolanda McRoy was thrilled to have a supermarket in the spot where a Safeway once stood, until the chain pulled out in early 2010.

“There hasn’t been a place like this in the neighborhood for years, this will definitely be more convenient for me,” said McRoy, 35, noting that the new supermarket is a 10-minute walk from her home, where she lives with her 13-year-old daughter.

McRoy said she steers clear of the corner stores (“too expensive”) and until now has been journeying down Washington Boulevard to the Wal-Mart over the city line in Halethorpe.

But pleased as she was with the gleaming discount market – featuring yesterday fresh blackberries for 99 cents and lobster for $5.99-a-pound – McRoy offered only one concern.

“I just hope it stays nice.”

A Challenging Neighborhood

Community association leaders, many of whom have been complaining about the preponderance of drug and other treatment facilities in southwest Baltimore, had similar concerns amid their enthusiasm about the new store.

“I’m excited about the supermarket. I hope it’s a good market and does better than the Safeway,” said Scott Kashnow, of Franklin Square. “But I don’t see it as a major improvement to the neighborhood in terms of revitalization.”

Noting that the store is close to a new methadone treatment facility that residents protested against last March, Kashnow said that issue and others (crime, vacant rowhouses, uninviting retail blocks) are more pressing.

In a phone interview with The Brew, Kashnow tried to put the new PriceRite in perspective: “It’s a really good small step.”

At the store’s ribbon-cutting, attended by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Councilman William “Pete” Welch and other dignitaries, speakers celebrated the fact that the Mount Clare Junction plaza now has a tenant in its anchor spot.

A Safeway supermarket had anchored the plaza when it was created as part of  city-sponsored neighborhood redevelopment in the 1980s. Over the years, many major tenants – a RiteAid drugstore, a Blockbuster video store as well as Safeway – moved out.

Fighting Against Food Deserts

Beyond its significance as a spur for community revitalization, speakers said yesterday, the new food store would be an oasis of abundant groceries and fresh fruits and vegetables in what has been a classic food desert.

Bringing the new PriceRite to southwest Baltimore, Rawlings-Blake said before a ribbon-cutting ceremony, was part of her city-wide campaign “to provide access to fresh and healthy food to all zip codes.”

The store would not only help her with her goal to attract new residents to the city, the mayor said, but would better serve those who are already here.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at the ribbon-cutting for a new PriceRite supermarket in southwest Baltimore.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at the ribbon-cutting for a new PriceRite supermarket in southwest Baltimore.

“This formerly empty store has been the bane of my existence,” she said at the ceremony, where she was joined by company executives and local managers.

A limited-supply discount supermarket chain, PriceRite is owned by New Jersey-based Wakefern Food Corporation, the cooperative that also supplies ShopRite supermarkets.

Amy Ott was thrilled with the bargains she was finding yesterday, saying they compare to the Westside Shopping Center, where the 26-year-old nurse said she currently shops.

“I have a lot to feed. I’ve got four at home and my mother has 10 in her house,” she said, as the two of them prowled the produce aisle.

Nearby, the mayor greeted customers and sampled fried queso blanco. Asked about the validity of neighborhood concerns that the store’s prospects would be dimmed by other problems, including the concentration of substance abuse patients, Rawlings-Blake declined to answer.

“Today, I’m focused on the excitement in the community” about the new store, she said.

Battling Problems, Boosting Community

Neighborhood leaders had plenty of upbeat news to report themselves yesterday, asked about their efforts to improve their corner of the city. Several said they notice more uniformed police officers on the street responding to what appears to be a crime spike lately.

“The police have really been trying to do a good job. Over the last week, they’ve arrested people for drug offenses and they’ve recovered a lot of guns,” said Jane Buccheri, president of the Hollins Roundhouse Community Association.

Because the Charm City Circulator stop at the Hollins Market was attracting a lot of loiterers and drug dealing, she said, the city moved it to another street. (“It was not helping our efforts to support the businesses in the square,” she said.)

Southwest Baltimore residents protest the recent doubling of the number of substance abusers in local treatment programs. (Photo by Fern Shen)

In March, southwest Baltimore residents protested the doubling of the number of substance abusers in local treatment programs. (Photo by Fern Shen)

She and Kashnow also spoke of what they said was abundant community energy to improve public spaces and press the city to improve retail blocks.

Renovation of the park at Union Square was just completed he said and the Christmas lights are up. Over the summer, Franklin Square residents made progress on the Sunflower Village – five vacant lots being improved with the help of community artists and Civic Works.

The methadone clinic issue, both observed, had the effect of bringing neighborhood groups together to form the Southwest Partnership, a coalition that includes Hollins Roundhouse, Pigtown, Pigtown Mainstreet, Mount Clare, Union Square and Franklin Square.

A city planner has been working with the partnership to help them draft a plan for developing the area.

A post being set for a flag display planned for Franklin Square. (Photo by Katie Truhn)

A post being set for a flag display planned for Franklin Square. (Photo by Katie Truhn)

But the problems highlighted by this year’s methadone program controversy have not been eased, Buccheri said, adding that her long-term goal would be to reduce the number of social service providers in the area.

Short term, she said, she’d like to see dedicated security guards to ensure safer streets. (Between them, two major clinics in the area treat 1,300 substance abuse and mental health care patients.)

Cummings Praised

Congressman Elijah Cummings “has been our champion” on the issue, she said, noting that no one from City Hall has been in contact with them for months.

“I hope we can get something going soon” with elected city officials, Buccheri said.

Among other issues holding the area back, vacants top Kashnow’s list.

Another priority for the Franklin Square resident is making West Baltimore Street an attractive “Main Street” commercial strip and turning vacant lots into less blighted spots and perhaps even performance spaces.

Mostly, though, Kashnow wants to put out the word that the area has promise. “We’ve got a great location, great affordable housing,” he said. “We have so much potential.”

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  • Gerald Neily

    The new supermarket is classic trickle-down economics, a national chain replaced by a “discount” regional chain. That’s not to disparage it, since trickle-down is simply a fact of economic life. But to achieve true economic growth, new value must be created. I see Carroll Park as the best nearby opportunity to do that. It is inherently just as beautiful and valuable as Patterson Park, but its north edge facing the gorgeous Carroll Mansion is a former railyard that’s now a wasteland. This area must  be transformed into a high value urban parkfront like all other great urban parks.

  • Barnadine_the_Pirate

    Doesn’t Hollins Market have a produce stand and a butcher?  I think repopulating the old city markets would be better than crappy discount supermarket chains.  When I lived in Federal Hill I much preferred shopping at Cross Street Market to the Shopper’s in Locust Point.  The Shopper’s was OK for packaged goods like peanut butter and breakfast cereal, but since I could get fresh produce and meat at Cross Street Market daily, my supermarket trips were pretty far apart.  Under those circumstances, having the market a bit farther away wouldn’t be such a big deal.

    If you don’t count Hollins Market, then Mt. Clare counts as a “food desert under the federal definition because it’s more than a mile from the nearest supermarket.  (It’s about two miles from the Harbor East Whole Foods and three miles from the Edmondson Village Giant).  But if Hollins Market can supply the neighborhood with fresh produce and meat, then having to go two or three miles to get other groceries doesn’t seem as onerous.

    • Gerald Neily

      Federal Hill and the rest of the South Baltimore peninsula have much more income to support Cross Street Market vendors plus Shoppers Supermarket plus Harris-Teeter than does the Hollins Market area. It’s very telling that they even moved the Charm City Circulator stop away – another big blow against so-called Transit-Oriented Development. Barre Circle, Union Square, Camden Crossing and a few other isolated pods aren’t going to cut it. The area needs income!

  • Patricia Bolgiano

    Years ago I saw a Washington Post article about the area called Pigtown. There was a huge spread as to what was going to happen to the area. If I remember correctly everything from Ostend street to the I-95 overpass became not only a casino area, but also the area where there was a brand new racetrack. There was no Pigtown anymore, There was Carroll Park gone, and the MTA was gone. Everytime I see them talk about casinos around Ravens stadium I see more and more of the neighborhood disappear.

  • discer

    What happened to Southwest Baltimore? Twenty or so years ago this was a up and coming neighborhood. Hollins Market area was hip and vibrant. The Sowebo festival was a annual gathering with a good turnout. I personally spent possibly too much time at The Cultured Pearl. It seems like the area peaked and then went on a gradual downward slide. Nearby Union Square boasted beautiful Bolton Hill size houses. Now Union Square residents are essentially living in a small oasis surrounded by drugs, crime and poverty.

    • Gerald Neily

      Indeed, what happened to Southwest Baltimore? The Sowebo Festival and Cultured Pearl Restaurant are exactly the kind of organic, grassroots things that we like to point to for real rejuvination. But it wasn’t enough. We need big stuff too, but of course, that hasn’t often worked either. The new Uof MD Biotech Park is huge, but even with lots of tech jobs, massive demolition and the obligatory monster parking garage, it’s still just a mini mirror image of the truly cataclysmic Hopkins EBDI  project. And the Red Line? Transit-oriented development didn’t work elsewhere in Baltimore, and it won’t until transit functions as a SYSTEM. Bmore’s big waterfront projects have worked because the harbor itself is an existing big thing that works.

      So the key is to make the EXISTING big stuff work, not just superimpose new big stuff. Two failed, physically giant elements of West Baltimore are the Highway to Nowhere (H2No?) and Carroll Park. The response of the powers-that-be has been to practically pretend they aren’t there. They’ve declared the H2No gone, when it isn’t, and proposed covering it over by the year 2043. The massive Pigtown Horse Track up against Carroll Park gets my vote for the most bizarre proposal to ever ooze out of the ruling class. We need to make Carroll Park and the H2No work FOR West Baltimore instead of against it. See my blog for lots more, such as:

  • Gary in Gwynns Falls

    I’m further west in the Gwynns Falls neighborhood but I too see tremendous potential in Southwest Baltimore. Every neighborhood has community activists and residents who want to see these neighborhoods improve. An energetic and creative community association president, Chris Schulze, has led the way for Gwynns Falls to move forward. We had about 25 at our meeting this week. An aggressive use of 311 this year has led to frequent visits from City Housing inspectors and has made a significant dent in trash problems and negligent absentee landlords. When I see an eyesore now I don’t just shake my head. I call it in to 311. It is gratifying to see formerly trashy properties and businesses fined and cleaned up. Many of the tools we need to start improving our neighborhoods are available to us right now.

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