After about a year of emailing Ian Goldstein about the Station North neighborhood, I met with him and his business partners in their new Charles Street music shop.
Goldstein, a full-time public heath association advocate on Capitol Hill, commutes to Washington from a renovated East 22nd Street rowhouse in Baltimore's Barclay community. Now he's also selling guitars a few blocks away from his home and promoting what he hopes will develop as a new shopping destination.
The 33-year-old has watched as this section of North Baltimore has morphed. Its arts and music scene is flourishing. There is a vigorous city effort to see that vacant houses along Calvert, Guilford and Barclay are renovated. The Maryland Institute College of Art, the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Baltimore are investing in and around nearby North Avenue.
"Things are going very well in the neighborhood," he said of Barclay. "I noticed how people are moving in, but there aren't any new businesses popping up. About three months ago I decided to throw my hat in the ring and open up a musical instrument shop. We're attempting to become a staple of the community and the arts district."
The venture is named Brothers Music because he operates it with his younger brother, Brian Goldstein. Jenny Levin, who is Ian Goldstein's girlfriend, is the bookkeeper. The business opened last week at 2112 N. Charles St.
Ian Goldstein, who owns the shop, describes himself as a "hobby musician." He said he's invested $20,000 of his savings in the store. Brian, 31, is a musician and a special education teacher at the High Road School in Dundalk. He is devoting his summer to helping get the business off the ground. Levin was the first of the three to move to a renovated Guilford Avenue home near the shop.
The shop, which they renovated with a new wood-like floor and an other amenities, is a credit to their good intentions. It's filled with keyboards, amplifiers and guitars. They also stock drumsticks, strings and other supplies geared toward the working musician.
"Musicians tell me they wish they had a place in Baltimore City to buy their supplies. Now they do. They don't have drive to Towson anymore," Ian Goldstein said. "We're in the middle of all the live music venues in Station North."
The 2200 block of N. Charles St. has wide sidewalks fronting 1890s homes that were converted to businesses nearly a century ago. In the decades when Goucher College was located a block away, the school had overflow offices along this part of Charles. It has long been home to beauty shops and other service-oriented businesses, plus a few corner convenience stores.
"We're really trying to get people to see us as a burgeoning stretch on North Charles Street," he said.
Many of the businesses that traded here for years seemed to have closed in the past decade, leaving this section of Charles Street without a strong and identifiable commercial intent.
"There are a lot of nice vacant storefronts here," said Levin, who did the real estate research. "We couldn't find anything along North Avenue to rent. This seemed to be the place."
The Goldstein brothers, who were raised in Columbia, were attracted to the neighborhoods of Barclay, Station North and Old Goucher. They saw the offers of renovated housing that the city made available through developers such as Telesis. Local contractors, including Southway Builders, rose to the challenge of delivering completed homes. They come with names — "the Calvert Model" or "the Barclay Model."
Goldstein said he received generous incentives to buy his home.
"I was paying $1,200 a month to rent a studio apartment on Capitol Hill," he said. "I now own a finished three-story rowhouse for the same money."