For those who remember when Gwynn Oak Junction was one of northwest Baltimore’s most bustling commercial hubs, a return over the weekend would have been an eye-opener—and a heart-breaker.
They set the stage Saturday for a new Class A supermarket along Liberty Heights Avenue at Gwynn Oak Junction, in the heart of the Howard Park neighborhood, and everybody was looking to take a bow.
While they’re at it, they ought to take a second look.
They’re demolishing the rickety existing building—the Super Pride that closed its doors a dozen years ago and has remained vacant ever since. But they ought to demolish a whole block.
A ShopRite store will open there next year. To mark the occasion Saturday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Rep. Elijah Cummings and City Council President Jack Young arrived to show that government leaders care, and to take a little credit for the 67,250 square foot project, which will cost an estimated $18 million and eventually mean lots of jobs.
But putting up a new grocery store and ignoring the rest of Gwynn Oak Junction is like putting a new molar into a mouth missing most of its other teeth.
This is the junction that once boasted of the Ambassador and Gwynn movie theaters directly across the street from each other, and a Read’s Drug Store next door to a Ben Franklin 5 & 10-cent store. Toots Barger’s bowling lanes was half a block away, and half a block beyond that was the Howard Park Elementary School.
But the Ambassador’s been closed for a couple of decades and its front sidewalk is now trash-laden. The Gwynn’s long gone and bricked over. The old Read’s became a tennis shoe outlet for a while, but it’s now boarded-up, and so is the old Ben Franklin and the hardware store that used to be next to it.
Gone, all of them, and the collective sight an utter eyesore.
The folks who once flocked to them have long since moved to Pikesville and Owings Mills, and Westminster and Bel Air. But the folks who took their place, in the surrounding neighborhood, have taken pretty good care of the area.
The old Victorian clapboard homes appear well-kept, and lawns well-tended. Nearby Forest Park Golf Course is still popular. The old Howard Park Elementary School closed about a decade ago but was renovated and is now The Oaks at Liberty senior living facility, next door to the Forest Park Senior Center. The area’s rich with churches. And the Calvin Rodwell Elementary’s right across the street from the spot where they’re building the new ShopRite.
But, for all the charms of the neighborhood, residents didn’t have enough spending power to keep their commercial hub flourishing—and most of these places have been shut down for years. Some, for more than a decade.
“For too long, people in this community had to take long trips to get the basic ingredients they need to cook a healthy meal at home,” said Rawlings-Blake. “Soon they will have everything they need in their own back yard.”
Well, not everything.
A commercial hub like Gwynn Oak Junction should be more than just a place to buy food. For generations, it was the very heart of a community: a place of laughter at the movies, of bowling a few games with friends, of going down winding Gwynn Oak Avenue until you got to that magical amusement place called Gwynn Oak Park—another business that closed its doors long ago, but was reincarnated as a natural park.
That took a little imagination—and paid off. But, at Gwynn Oak Junction, the years go by and no one with imagination, and money, figures out what to do with all these vacant buildings that once rang with life. This is a depressing sight for everyone, day after day.
So it’s nice that they’re putting up a new food store there. But, in the midst of Saturday’s celebrating, did no one in charge notice the ruins all around?