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Fed-up residents want repair of Edmondson Village Shopping Center

Grassroots campaign gets a glimmer of response from city officials and owners who made big promises seven years ago

community walk at edmondson

About 35 residents participated in a “community walk” protesting conditions at the Edmondson Village Shopping Center on November 23.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

What a difference a social media campaign can make.

A month ago, community activist Kristerfer Burnett dispatched into cyberspace a video exposing the sad state of the Edmondson Village Shopping Center in West Baltimore.

The YouTube clip he made (see below) showed ample evidence not just of neglect but dangerous conditions at a facility that once housed quality retail stores and was affectionately known by local residents as “The Village.”

Trash overflowing from dumpsters, broken light fixtures, a severely bent beam holding up a store awning, crumbling brick walls, potholed streets and an open storm drain big enough to swallow a child were among the signs of physical distress and deterioration at the center.

Burnett and his allies set up a Facebook page (repairtheshoppingcenter) and followed up with an on-line petition and another YouTube clip of customer concerns (set to Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues), email blasts and a “community walk” through the facility by fed-up residents.

The result: the first evidence of basic repairs and improved sanitation at the facility, according to community leaders, as well as the stirrings of involvement by long-quiescent politicians.

Kris Burnett points to open storm drain at rear of the shopping center on November 12. Below: a grate was installed in time for the community walk on November 23. Cynthia Shaw and Monique Washington look at the improvement. (Photos by Mark Reutter)

Kris Burnett points to an open storm drain on November 12. Below: Cynthia Shaw and Monique Washington look at the grate installed in time for the November 23 community walk. (Photos by Mark Reutter)

storm drain fixed

City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton, who has represented the district since 1995, says she is pressing the center’s owner, Ira W. Miller, to meet building code standards by mid-December or else face fines by the housing department and solid waste inspectors.

“I have made it very clear that they have marching orders to clean up,” Holton said in an interview.

She blamed the poor economy for making it difficult for the Miller group to make the necessary improvements.

Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (41st District) has also communicated with the activists, saying he, too, wants The Village cleaned up.

Asleep at the Wheel

“I think everybody’s been asleep at the wheel – the public, the officials, the shopping center owner, the code enforcement people, the police,” said Burnett, who hit upon the social media idea after trying for more than two years to get Miller to respond to community complaints.

Attempts by phone and email to reach Miller, a commercial real estate broker who is best known as the owner of the Rotunda Cinemas and new Pikes Theatre, were unsuccessful.

Melissa O’Brien, director of operations for Miller Investments, said she was generally unaware of complaints about the shopping center.

“Who exactly are the people talking to you?” she asked. “I mean, we’ve already done a ton of stuff. We’ve got proposals signed and the [storm drain] grate has been fixed,” she said before explaining that she was not authorized to talk further.

“For any kind of publicity, the owner speaks for himself,” O’Brien said.

Trash overflowing from the rear of the shopping center several weeks ago and a view of the rear last weekend. (Top photo Kristerfer Burnett; bottom photo Mark Reutter)

Trash overflows from the rear of the shopping center five weeks ago. A view of the same spot on November 23. (Top photo Kristerfer Burnett; bottom photo Mark Reutter)

trash cleaned up

Repairs and Security

Evidence of a general scrub-down was evident when about 35 residents and community leaders toured The Village on November 23.

Monique Washington, president of the Edmondson Village Community Association, expressed amazement when she spotted two men cleaning up the rear of the shopping center.

“I’m seeing more activity today than I’ve seen for years, which was nothing,” she said.

Cynthia Shaw, who has lived in the area for 36 years and is president of the Lyndhurst Community Association, marveled at the sight of a security guard trudging down the main walkway.

Police Presence

“Now that’s a sight to behold,” Shaw said. “Many elderly people in the community are afraid to come here. The Village has gotten a bad name.”

“We’ve been asking for security during the day for a long time,” Washington added.

Two Baltimore Police patrol cars were stationed near the Tobacco Outlet. A half-dozen men – whom this reporter had observed milling outside of the tobacco store on two prior visits – were nowhere to be seen.

The Village in its heyday in the 1950s and (below) today. (Courtesy of Edmondson Village Community Association; photo by Mark Reutter)

The Village in its heyday in the 1950s and (below) today. (Courtesy of Edmondson Village Community Association; photo by Mark Reutter)

view from lower lot

Shaw said the deterioration of the shopping center has caused major stress in the community.

“It was so nice here. It was the best place, especially at Christmas when they had white lights along the store roofs and in the trees, thousands and thousands of them,” she said.

A Storied History

The Village was, indeed, a destination for Westside shoppers and other visitors for years. It is credited as being one of the first – some say the first – suburban-style shopping center on the East Coast when it was completed by Joseph Meyerhoff in 1947 at the corner of Edmondson and Athol avenues.

With an architectural style reminiscent of historic Williamsburg and abundant parking, the facility was geared to shoppers using their shiny postwar cars, not the streetcars and buses converging on downtown Howard Street.

Hochschild Kohn opened its first satellite department store there, joining a movie house, bowling alley and a much-beloved Hess Shoe store that featured live monkeys in the display window.

A cluster of more than 40 stores and professional offices – supplemented by a Hecht’s department store, opened across Edmondson Avenue – gave The Village the appearance of a tree-lined, small-town Main Street.

Managed from Honolulu

But rapid change took place in the mid to late 1960s. As the surrounding neighborhoods underwent an intense “block busting” that resulted in a nearly all-white population becoming 98.7% black, The Village suffered from competition from shopping centers opened across the city line along Route 40.

A security guard was present during the community walk. Below: Monique Washington next to a bent beam along the main walkway. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

A security guard was present during the community walk. Below: Monique Washington stands next to a not-so-supportive beam along the main walkway. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

batterd beam

Distressed but still looking sharp, the shopping center was purchased by Harry Weinberg, the billionaire Baltimore real estate mogul who ran his empire out of Honolulu.

Following his death, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation sold the shopping center to Miller and America’s Realty, a buyer of distressed shopping centers, in October 2006.

That was a heady time in local real estate, especially on the far Westside.

The proposed “light-rail” Red Line was set to build a station next to the center and the city was investing tens of millions of dollars in Uplands, a planned residential community just south of the complex.

Plans Never Realized

In December 2006, Carl Verstandig, president of America’s Realty, promised $2.5-$3 million in improvements as well as plans to build “affordable townhouses” on several acres of vacant land behind the center.

Seven years after that announcement, the rear lot behind the shopping center has become a favorite ground for illegal dumping.

Brick walls and an old staircase to the Rognel Heights community lie in ruins amid piles of discarded tires and other debris.

An electrical box exposed to the elements at rear of the Edmondson Shopping Center on November 8. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

An electrical box exposed to the elements on November 8. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

The Red Line has yet to break ground, and the Uplands project is mired in the second of seven projected phases of development. Verstandig could not be reached for comment at his Pikesville office.

Washington, president of the Edmondson Village Community Association, says it is generally believed that Miller and his associates are biding their time to sell The Village.

“We haven’t  seen him in two years, when he came to a community meeting dressed in shorts,” she said.

Much Like the “Wild West”

Much as he would like to see the shopping center undergo a major rehabilitation, Burnett says his group’s campaign is focused at fixing up its appearance and making it safer for customers.

Near the top of his checklist are the “obvious signs of drug distribution in the front and rear” of the shopping center, he said, as well as frequent theft from businesses and customers – sometimes in broad daylight.

A police department spokesman said that Maj. James Handley, commander of the Southwest District, reports no increase in crime at the shopping center “from years past.”

“There were a few commercial robberies at the shopping center several weeks ago, but an arrest has been made and a suspect has been charged,” said Det. Jeremy Silbert, adding, “With the start of the holiday shopping season, the BCPD will be increasing patrols around commercial businesses across the city. As in years past, the Southwest District will also be increasing patrols around this shopping center”

Lyndhurst president Cynthia Shaw says the community needs a health food store selling fresh fruits and vegetables and would love to see a “quality restaurant” to supplement Popeyes and Kimmy’s Soul Food.

She and Christopher R. Williams, president of the Hunting Ridge Community Assembly, are in the process of forming a coalition of association presidents to seek more private investment in southwest Baltimore – and more attention from City Hall.

“The city has poured a fortune into Uplands. But it’s missing a vital step if it continues to let the shopping center go to pot,” Williams said.

“Right now,” he continued, “the only thing that’s missing are the saloon girls and some horses ’cause otherwise The Village has the reputation of a wild west town.”

Ill-kept: an old fire hydrant leans to its side in front of one of the two "dollar" stores in the complex. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

A disabled fire hydrant leans to its side in front of one of the two “dollar” stores in the complex. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

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  • http://housingpolicywatch.com/ Carol Ott

    This is disgusting — we’re plowing millions of taxpayer dollars into Harbor Point, but these folks can’t even get a decent grocery store? Come on Baltimore, demand better.

    • Siamese1971

      Giant is next to the shopping center.

      • http://housingpolicywatch.com/ Carol Ott

        Yes, as you’ve pointed out twice now. Sorry for my mistake — I was commenting on the fact that someone in the story said there was no store in which to buy fresh fruits and vegetables — totally forgot about that Giant. I guess that person doesn’t know the Giant’s there — very odd.

      • Keland

        Giant is expensive.

        • Rhonda Pierce

          Giant has sales every week. Even without sales they are not that expensive.

  • bmorepanic

    I believe the “electrical box” is old school punch down telephone block.

    • http://www.vinylfox.com/ Shea Frederick (VinylFox)

      Indeed it is. The 9v DC running through those lines is no harm to anyone, though I can’t imagine the phone call quality is great like that.

  • Adam Meister

    “these folks can’t even get a decent grocery store”
    There is a Giant one block away across the street from Uplands…

  • ushanellore

    Nothing like a bunch of pics to document the dismal deterioration! It certainly got the attention of Helen Holton. Where was she all along? Did she ever take this shopping center in with her own eyes?

    • davethesuave

      HH has been busy, alright. Trying to preserve her job. Ironic, that. Generally, all you have to do to keep your job is do your job.
      Oh, I forgot, people don’t bother to vote anyway; they just bitch when things get shabby, and they cannot figure out for the LIFE of themselves how it EVER got that way. Btw, best of luck trying to induce a “quality restaurant” to move there; all Kimmy’s and Popeye’s would have to do is lower their prices a nickel, if at all, and goodbye “quality”.

  • Keland

    This isn’t a surprise. If one is to visit any area where the majority of the residents are Black, this is what you will see. Or you will notice the poor quality of retail. The developers just let these shoppings centers fall apart.

    • James Hunt

      U Street in DC is pretty nice. Locally, Mondawmin Mall and Reisterstown Road Plaza are fine.

      • Keland

        Really? Have you been to Reisterstown Road Plaza recently? That mall is practically empty and whatever is there is of poor quality.

        • Matthew Riesner

          I totally agree with Keland…furthermore, Reisterstown Rd Plaza and Mondawmin would be completely out of business if it were not for tax payer funded government services offices (Dept of Records, Dept of Social Services, CJIS, lottery, etc.) being located in those malls.

          • James Hunt

            Ah, well. Mondawmin and Reisterstown look fine, contra Keland’s assertion that “developers” let shopping centers in black neighborhoods “fall apart”– and Target saw fit to invest in Mondawmin, so it can’t be all bad. Mall developers and property managers face the same challenges everywhere: blacks and whites and all God’s children have access to cars and will converge on the malls (wherever they are) that offer what they’re looking for. Retailers know this and will congregate in the places best located to attract the most people. So, Towsontown Mall — whose shoppers look like a UN assembly in miniature — prospers while Owings Mills flounders. The axiom is that retail follows rooftops, so maybe once Uplands is closer to build out, investors will see fit to upgrade Edmondson to attract a better class of retailer.

          • Keland

            You don’t get it.

          • James Hunt

            Malls die all the time, everywhere. deadmalls.com Retail is a cruel mistress. If you don’t like what’s happening to the mall near you, raise the capital and invest in it yourself. Development and property management aren’t rocket science, just hard work and thin profit margins.

          • Matthew Riesner

            Yes, there is a Target at Mondawmin now (one that was highly subsidized and wooed into area by special tax credits), but if it were not for these government services offices at that mall (something that I do not see at Towson, Columbia, Annapolis, or White Marsh Malls)…Mondawmin would have not been able to survive. Furthermore, I don’t see Sears or Macy’s or Nordstrom’s or Boscov’s or Saks 5th Avenue or Best Buy or H&M or Mens Warehouse or the Applestore or Yankee Candle or any outlets stores competing with each other and banging down the management office’s door to rent space at Mondawmin Mall, Reisterstown Rd Plaza, Edmondson Village, or most shopping venues in this town.

          • James Hunt

            They are competing with each other, in venues where they can attract the most customers. Anyone who can afford the fare on the No. 8 bus can shop at Towsontown (Macy’s, Nordstrom, Apple Store); anyone who can afford the fare on the Light Rail can shop at Hunt Valley (Sears, Walmart, Wegmans). Worth noting, too, that most of the stores you mentioned either have a larger footprint than Edmondson Village offers or don’t rent in strip malls anywhere.

  • asteroid_B612

    According to Land Records, Susquehanna Bank has a $13 million dollar mortgage on the property (the owner paid $14 million for it during the boom days per the Sun.)

    The owners are probably starving the property of maintenance in order to pay Susquehanna and to pay themselves. And so the community suffers….

  • Tom Gregory

    I grew up in EV, Colborne Rd. near corner of Wildwood Parkway. Any other School #88 alumni or Leakin Park Little Leaguers out there on The Brew?
    Being a kid and watching the shopping center light up on Thanksgiving night was always “magical”.

    • baltimorebrew

      Tom, count me in. Went to #88 for a semester, spent many Christmases staring at the twinkling lights of The Village while hanging out with my grandparents, who (by the way) spent 40 years in an Edmondson Ave. (Keelty) rowhouse and never thought of calling the area anything but West Baltimore! –mr

  • Gerald Neily

    As goes the rest of the city, so goes Edmondson Village.

  • Matthew Riesner

    Baltimore’s middle class are also partially to blame blame, since due to the
    car, they chose shop further and further away from their homes, leaving these
    shopping complexes to be frequented by those without the means to buy the products that attract the middle class (higher cost products). What you are left with is what you have at Edmondon Village and Reisterstown Rd Plaza which are businesses that don’t have a shopping experience that is attractive to those with some money such as low end grocery stores fueled by food stamps (Murray’s), pawn shops, low end retail, fast food, check cashing shops, etc.)

    It sounds like people are focusing on the neighborhood being the problems but don’t forget that in the backyard of Edmondson Village is 10 Hills, Beechfield, West Hills and Catonsville (which are some of the wealthiest residential areas in the Baltimore metropolitan area). If the shopping center owners were smart they would work on courting these customers by having a major revamp, geared at bringing in businesses that would serve those middle-class and wealthier customers.

    • James Hunt

      That’s “Murry’s” — no “a” — a local retail success story that also distributes out of Giant, Eddie’s of Roland Park, and Graul’s … they hit all the demographic profiles.

      • Matthew Riesner

        Yeah sure, Murry’s products are distributed by a plethora of grocers… but tell me what kind of neighborhoods and shopping complexes have Murry’s stores…for the most part, the stores are located in economically depressed parts of town where many, if not, most of the shoppers have some sort of government assistance purchasing groceries.

  • GXWalsh

    Although this wasn’t the important part of the article, I can not let the Baltimore Brew distribute false information. By 1947, there were lots of other shopping centers. Coincidentally, the first shopping center in the world was Roland Park in 1906. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_Park_Shopping_Center

  • cwals99

    Excellent story!!! The city policy of allowing corporations and development investors control city planning needs to be reversed. We see that filling downtown with global corporate businesses simply hands power to them. We need small business as the driver of the economy and diversification rather than consolidation.

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