Shovel. Dig. Repeat.

Written by on February 10, 2010 in Neighborhood News - No comments

The caption with Bill Lear’s cover shot of a ski jumper on Federal Hill last week may have been a wee bit understated: “More, albeit damper, snow is forecast for this weekend.”

Federal Hill (Maggie Allen)

Federal Hill (Maggie Allen)

More indeed. What was forecast Tuesday evening at one-to-three inches grew by Wednesday afternoon to five-to-eight, and the prediction increased exponentially till Friday afternoon, when the biggest snowstorm since at least the Victorian era—dubbed Sno-pocalypse, or Snowmageddon, Sno-nami or SnOMG by residents beset with too much snow and not enough space to put it, began.

By the time it was over, the official count at Baltimore-Washington International Airport was 24 inches, a figure greeted by hoots of derision by shovel-wielding residents all over the metro area.
For what it’s worth, a yardstick stuck in the snow on a backyard table in Greektown yielded a measurement of 28 and a half inches.

Checkout at Santoni's Supermarket

Checkout at Santoni's Supermarket

Overnight Friday and all day Saturday, the relentless snow blew and drifted. Cars on the north side of the street were completely covered while cars on the south side got a head start on shoveling, thanks to the nor’easterly wind.

After a day and a half indoors neighbors came blinking into the sunlight Sunday to find something that resembled a moonscape—snow drifting across streets and over parked cars, insinuating itself into breezeways and under basement entrances.

People still had to get to work, still had to walk the dog—and perhaps most important, there were Super Bowl parties all over town. No matter what happens—come snow, sleet, hail, dark of night, frogs, locusts and four horsemen, Baltimoreans observe their sacred obligation to boo the Colts.

Fells Point (Roswell Encina)

Fells Point (Roswell Encina)

But first, how to get to the party, restaurant or drinking establishment of choice?

Residents responded admirably. They cleared their sidewalks. They cleared the sidewalks of elderly neighbors. They helped each other dig out their cars. They tamped two feet of snow on the side streets to make them somewhat passable for the sturdiest four-wheel-drive vehicles. Most sedans remained covered and immobile, though some, with the help of neighborly pushing and shoving, made it out and away.

On a weekend where making it out of the house required a shovel and muscle, opening shops was an act of heroism. Or maybe folly. Bar and restaurant owners vowed to stay open till the last drop was poured and the last morsel consumed.

“We’re open,” said Bob Santoni, elder statesman of the Highlandtown supermarket that bears the family name. “I am proud of everybody.”

For the first time in its history, Santoni’s closed early on Saturday, at 4 p.m. The blizzard had gotten too fierce for customers to brave, and employees needed to get home and dry. The market reopened Sunday, though Santoni said it has been closing at night—”there’s no business after 10 or 11,” he said.

Fort Avenue (Maggie Allen)

Fort Avenue (Maggie Allen)

Supplies are good. “Bread’s a little tight,” said Santoni, “and chicken. Chicken comes up from the South and it’s snowed in down there too.”

George Avgelonis of Greek Village opened his shop in the 4700 block Eastern Avenue in Greektown, the only shop to open that day. “I had to open,” he said. “I supply bread to a lot of restaurants, Tio Pepe’s, everybody.”

Avgelonis, who lives in Dundalk, shoveled his car out on Saturday night, then came out Sunday morning to find it plowed in.

Meanwhile, in Fells Point, people were trying to decide what to do with the tons of snow they were shoveling and similar scenarios were playing out in Federal Hill, Locust Point, Canton and Little Italy.

George Avgelonis at Greek Village

George Avgelonis at Greek Village

Jules “Sonny” Morstein, dean of South Baltimore’s business district, said that South Baltimore’s business district was mostly open for business. On Monday afternoon Morstein got a tip that the City of Baltimore would be sending a code enforcement team out Tuesday to cite merchants that had not cleared their sidewalks. Similar warnings went out to Main Streets business districts in Highlandtown and Fells Point.

“Are they going to cite themselves?” said a frustrated merchant who asked not to be identified. “Because all of the city’s sidewalks are iced over.”

“Logic would say if I can open up I would clean my sidewalk,” said Morstein. “People should be responsible. If you’re open you should clean your sidewalk. But how can you be responsible if you can’t get in to open because the city hasn’t cleared your side street?”

“Everyone is obliged to clear their sidewalk,” said Councilman James B. Kraft (First) after he was alerted to the inspectors’ plans. “But if the city is going to hold the merchants to their obligation, it must meet its obligation too.”

Canton (Nan Rohrer)

Canton (Nan Rohrer)

Kraft wrote to the city housing department asking it to hold off on the citations. “Most of the streets in the neighborhoods in southeast have yet to receive a serious plowing. Many of them have yet to even see a plow,” he wrote to Michael Braverman, deputy housing commissioner in charge of code enforcement, and Eric Booker, head of housing code enforcement. “These folks along the Avenue in Highlandtown and on all of the Main Streets around the City did little if any business since Friday. They probably will not do any tomorrow night and Wednesday. Many of these businesses have a small margin between profit and loss. To engage in strict enforcement at this time will be nothing more than the City sticking a hand in their already empty pockets,” Kraft wrote.

It wasn’t all shoveling and arguing with City Hall. Residents gathered at popular sledding spots. The line at Federal Hill grew to a block. Citizens broke out their cross country skis and telemarked down Fort Avenue. Snowball fights erupted.

A couple of enterprising parents converted a mound near Silo Point to a bunny slope for sledding toddlers.

Floyd Sowell and Lorraine Gaudet, Fells Point

Floyd Sowell and Rob Gillison, Fells Point

People gathered in bars and restaurants for toddies and snacks. “It’s regulars’ night!” exulted one Fells Pointer. “The frat boys are stranded in Towson!”

Closing time in Fells Point and Federal Hill was downright decorous.

Readers from all over the area sent photos to the Guide. We are running as many of them as we can fit in.

Keep sending them as Snowmaggedon, The Sequel, or Sno-Nami II, or Snopocalypse Deux rages into town. It could bring 20 inches more by Wednesday night. Of course that is the Monday forecast—so perhaps we should revise that upward.

—by Jacqueline Watts

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