Looking at Eastern Ave. now, it is difficult to imagine it was once the second-largest shopping district in Baltimore City, save for downtown.
“But it was,” says Chris Ryer, president of the Southeast Community Development Corporation. “It was the place to shop in East Baltimore.”
“The Avenue,” as it was known then, is unlikely to return to its heyday as a blue collar shopping mecca, but it may be evolving into a new “Avenue,” one cut from a different cloth, that highlights its multiculturalism, arts, and diversity, and that is likewise attractive to residents, visitors, and new businesses.
Ryer says that Highlandtown’s Main Street program,which the SECDC runs, has recently come up with a new strategy to market Eastern Ave. that focuses on this evolution.
“You can’t market Eastern Ave. with a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Ryer. “We have multiple strategies for multiple markets.”
Ryer says that for marketing purposes, Main Street now thinks of the “Avenue” as three separate focus areas, each with its own name and anchor businesses.
One focus area is called the “Everyday Service Area” and includes the blocks from Dean St. to Haven St.
“The ‘Everyday Service Area’ has drug stores, discount stores, bakeries, medical offices, and food stores,”says Ryer. Its anchor is The Markets of Highlandtown shopping center.
The “Everyday Service Area” exemplifies how Highlandtown has changed over the years.
“Twenty years ago, Highlandtown was a senior citizens’ neighborhood. It’s not anymore. It’s a neighborhood of families—younger, larger families who do a lot of shopping. Many are Latino, and they don’t necessarily have cars, which means they shop in the neighborhood. These families have revitalized the market area,” Ryer says.
Amanda Smit-Peters, who manages Highlandtown’s Main Street program, says this focus area provides families with one-stop shopping.
“They can go to the store for groceries and get diapers and pick up a pair of socks, all on the same block. Families love the convenience,” Smit-Peters says.
Main Street promotes the “Everyday Service Area,” Ryer explains, by helping merchants (some of whom are first-time business owners) who appeal to the emerging Latino market to be more successful.
“We help them with business plan development and zoning and city processes,” Ryer says.
Main Street calls its second focus area “The Main Street Hub.” This public plaza area encompasses the blocks from Highland Ave. to Dean St., and its anchors are the Southeast Anchor Library, local banks, bus stops, and the Baltimore Guide.
“’The Main Street Hub’ is a natural gathering place,” says Smit-Peters. “We use the space for public events, such as the Farmers’ Market, that draw traffic and visitors to Eastern Ave.”
Main Street’s third focus area (Robinson St. to Highland Ave.) is called the “Arts and Entertainment Area,” and its anchor is the Creative Alliance at the Patterson, says Ryer.
Main Street is promoting this section of Eastern Ave. by trying to attract complementary businesses—boutiques, galleries, art supply stores, and restaurants— that will appeal to the people who attend events at the Creative Alliance.
“One way we are marketing this focus area is through our own building renovation,” Ryer says.
The SECDC is renovating 3233 Eastern Ave. (the old Pratt Library branch) and plans to move into the green building by the end of February and rent out the first floor to a tenant.
“We are having discussions with a potential tenant, a restaurant, right now,” says Ryer, who declined to identify the business other than to say it is local and already has one location in Baltimore.
Part of the renovation will include installing a large, aluminum rack on the Conkling St. side of the building to display art outdoors.
Ryer says that Mark Supik, an architectural woodworker and MICA grad who owns a wood- turning shop on Haven St., gave him the idea for the outdoor art hanger.
“Mark said something to the effect of ‘We need less art hanging inside buildings and more art hanging outside,” recalls Ryer. “I thought it was a great idea—especially for the Arts and Entertainment area of Eastern Ave.”
by Danielle Sweeney