Mt. Washington Tavern vows to rebuild as merchants ponder life without it

While the Mount Washington Village business community worried about life without Mount Washington Tavern, Elsie Ferguson, the matriarch of Village merchants, found a possible silver lining in this week's fire at the popular restaurant.

If nothing else, Ferguson figured, the fire might generate tourism to assess the damage.

"Maybe people will come to see what's going on," said Ferguson, owner of the boutique store Something Else for the past 36 years. "I'm trying to look on the bright side."

Merchants reacted with sadness after a 2-alarm blaze at dawn Oct. 31 destroyed much of the building at 5700 Newbury St.

"It's very tragic," Ferguson said.

"It's just a shame," said Benjamin Schulman, executive director of Baltimore Clayworks.

"It's so awful," said Koula Savvakis, president of the Mount Washington Village Merchants Association and owner of DK Salon across the street from the tavern. "It's like you lost a member of your family."

But beyond their condolensces to tavern co-owners Dave Lichty and Robert Frisch, who say they will rebuild, merchants also ruminated about the loss, at least in the short-term, of the tavern as a longtime anchor of the retail and restaurant district.

It was also one of two major watering holes in Mount Washington to close in the past two months, following The Falls, which went out of business.

"It's going to have a negative impact on us," Savvakis said. "We all feed on each other as businesses."

And she said, "When we moved to Mount Washington (in 2008) and we were trying to tell people where we were, we always said the Mount Washington Tavern."

Merchants also worried about the loss of much-needed parking and foot traffic that the tavern provided, not to mention what would become of the tavern's 70 employees.

"We get foot traffic from there, and a lot of people taking (pottery) classes or coming to see exhibitions eat there," said Clayworks' Schulman.

"I think you're going to have tremendous problems," said Trish Pollak, general manager of DK Salon, who opened early Monday morning so that the restaurant's 70 employees would have a place to sit and stay warm while firefighters battled the blaze.

Pollak said the fire will indirectly hurt her stylists, who often go to the tavern and market their services.

The good news is that Lichty and Frisch — former longtime employees who bought the business in November 2007 and were coming up on their fourth anniversary — "definitely" plan to rebuild, said Lichty's wife, Cathy.

"We're just thinking about the next step and rebuilding," she said Monday afternoon in a phone interview from DK Salon.

As for the employees, "We're going to do our best to help them in any way we can," Lichty said. "They're like family to us."

And she said a lot of longtime customers have been calling or stopping by, saying "What can we do to help? Hand us a shovel."

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