Deborah Seymour lives in Federal Hill. But working at Laureate Education Inc. and shopping and dining in Harbor East means much of her life happens on the other side of the harbor.
"Between the restaurants and the retail, it is a place where you can spend a lot of time," she said. "It has become a neighborhood that you just don't leave after work. It has become a destination."
The growth along the brick-paved sidewalks has been accelerating, turning Harbor East into the city's hottest shopping destination. Within the past year alone, newcomers have included White House Black Market, J.Crew, MAC Cosmetics, Anthropologie, Lululemon Athletica, Under Armour Brand House and Loafers & Laces.
"I understand that this neighborhood used to have nothing in it except for a couple of office buildings and warehouses," said Seymour, who moved to Baltimore from Los Angeles six years ago. "It's radically shifted. There are so many more choices."
Indeed, Handbags in the City was a pioneer in 2006, when George Sakellaris opened the high-end purse boutique in Harbor East. The neighborhood had a Whole Foods and sushi but only a few other retailers.
But he was anticipating the prospect — five years off — of a luxury hotel in the neighborhood.
"When a Four Seasons is coming, better retail follows," Sakellaris said.
His prediction came true.
"The business is good there," said Sakellaris, who originally opened on Exeter Street and in 2009 moved around the corner to his current, larger location on Aliceanna Street. "Because of the Four Seasons and all the other hotels, we have all the people that are visiting the town. All the people for [treatment at] Hopkins — we pull from that as well. And then there are all the people who live here."
The critical mass in Harbor East meant that Paul Foreman, owner of men's boutique Loafers & Laces, in just two months exceeded the business he did in a year at his previous location in Ruxton Station.
"There's a lot of traffic that comes through this area," said Foreman, who moved to the neighborhood in the fall. "We get a lot of celebrities that stop in."
The neighborhood's origins were not glamorous: H&S Bakery magnate John Paterakis bought the industrial tract for $11 million as a favor to then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer. Now the transformed blocks have filled a hole in Baltimore's shopping scene, said Gage Lester, director of sales and marketing for South Moon Under, which opened its Harbor East location in 2005.
"Prior to this project, Baltimore City lacked the central retail-lifestyle location that made sense," he said. "Once we saw the vision for Harbor East, it was a good fit."
That vision, says Harbor East Management Group marketing manager Megan McCloskey, is "approachable luxury in a vibrant urban setting." Now the original development has only two vacant retail spaces remaining.
Christopher Schafer, a custom clothier specializing in men's suits, is among the more recent arrivals — he moved into the neighborhood a year ago. The factory where he produced ties was already located on the edge of Harbor East on Aliceanna Street, but he moved his showroom and design studio to the top floor of the corner warehouse he now occupies.
"I'm glad," Schafer said, "to be in the neighborhood."