Over 200 members of the Baltimore community gathered at Saints Philip and James Catholic Church on Tuesday to discuss plans for the St. Paul Development Site, known also as the Olmsted lot. Proposals for the future of the lot, located across from the Village Lofts on St. Paul, have recently set the stage for local debate due to concerns about the potential of harming local businesses.
The meeting began with an introduction by Alan Fish, Hopkins’s Vice President of Facilities and Real Estate, followed by a developer presentation by Michael Beatty, President of Beatty Development. Hoping to gain insight and input from the wider Baltimore community as well as members of the Hopkins family, the developers sought to take the next step in pursuing an economical and engaging project for the empty lot.
While they discussed the history of businesses in Charles Village, status updates about the development project and possible plans for the space, the main concern for community members was the competition that national chains would introduce to local businesses, specifically Eddie’s Market.
The openings of restaurants, cafes, soft goods shops, a pharmacy and a grocer have all been suggested for the empty lot currently owned by Hopkins, the latter being the one of particular apprehension.
With only 40 employees, Eddie’s Market, located on St. Paul Street, is a small, family-owned food store whose current owner, Jerry Gordon, has been working there for 45 years. “While a number of large national chains have opened outlets in Charles Village, Eddie’s stands out as a business that is locally owned, involved in the civic life of the neighborhood, and a place to find groceries, grab a sandwich for lunch, and catch up with Eddie’s staff whom you’ve known for years,” Gordon wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
“We’ve been told that the developers of the Olmsted lot are considering installing a national supermarket chain as their main retail tenant, but at the moment we don’t know if one has been selected,” Jo Ann Robinson, chair of the Friends of Eddie’s Market Steering Committee (FOE), wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “On February 15, the University spokesmen advised Gordon that a development team of Armada Hoffler and the Beatty Group had been selected, and that a national supermarket chain is among the options they will consider.”
Gordon has since expressed concern that if a national grocery store were to open in Charles Village, Eddie’s business may be negatively affected. In response to this unease, Friends of Eddie’s was born.
“Friends of Eddie’s is a group of active community members that seeks to preserve all of this. The group formed out of concern that the contemplated development of the Olmsted lot by JHU would put Eddie’s in jeopardy,” Gordon wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “All too often, small businesses that fully serve the needs of a community are put out of business by large national chains that sell plenty of groceries, but lack the personal qualities that make Eddie’s a pillar of Charles Village. It is the group’s aim not just to protect Eddie’s but also to protect the distinctive character and fabric of the neighborhood.”
FOE is comprised of people from various professions (lawyers, real estate brokers, Hopkins alumni and professors, as well as members of the Charles Village Civic Association, Abell Improvement Association, Oakenshaw Improvement Association), who share a common interest in saving Eddie’s from being forced to close its doors.
Their first initiative came in the form of a petition on February 18.
“The petition is a tool for raising awareness that Eddie’s Market may be in jeopardy, mobilizing support for Eddie’s, and persuading the University to exclude a supermarket from its menu of options for development of the Olmsted lot,” Gordon wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
As of March 9, close to 1800 signatures had been collected. The petition campaign has extended beyond Charles Village to both Abell and Waverly, especially because it is believed that a new grocery store may pose a threat to the Waverly Giant.
Many Hopkins students, faculty, administration, and staff see Eddie’s presence in the community as valuable, and its relationship with the University is not young.
“Eddie’s was the first retail operation in the community to accept JCash and was also part of the first group to join the university’s Alumni Discount program,” Robinson wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Hopkins students receive a 10% discount on purchases at Eddie’s. Last year Hopkins student purchases were reduced by more than $80,000, and that rate of discount continues in the present. As shopping at Eddie’s is a cherished habit among community residents, so are their visits to the market a beneficial experience for Hopkins students and others on the campus.”
In their support for Eddie’s, students cited both the importance of securing Hopkins’ town-gown relations, which have had an inconsistent past, and the demand for facilities other than a grocery store.
“I think it’s better for Hopkins to support the Baltimore locals, rather than national chains.
We should be doing our best to support the community, because Hopkins as a corporation already takes away from authentic Baltimore. As students, we should try to balance that negative energy with community support.,” sophomore Sophia Fleming-Benite said. “In my opinion, the lot should be used for dorm space, since we’re admitting students above capacity again this year.”
Gordon does not mean to that competition must be eliminated from Charles Village; he urges a balance be struck between small, locally owned businesses and corporate development. “Community dialogue with the University has always stressed that new businesses brought to the area must complement, not harm or destroy, existing enterprise,” Gordon wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
“A large national chain might make more money but, knowing the way those stores operate, it just would not forge community bonds comparable to the bonds between us and Jerry,” Robinson wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
“Judging by the applause, a very large majority wanted the developers to take the idea of a new grocery store in the Olmstead lot completely off the table,” Senior Lecturer in French Language and Cinema Suzanne Roos wrote in an email to The News-Letter after attending the community meeting. “Mary Pat Clarke, who was there as well, made the same argument at the end of the evening.”
Clarke represents the Fourteenth District of the Baltimore City Council.
“The truth is that we don’t have to do much, if any, persuading when we present the petitions. People know Eddie’s, and when they hear why the market needs their support, they are happy to sign,” Gordon wrote in an email to The News-Letter.