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Retro Baltimore

Retro: A look back at Harborplace’s happy early days as redevelopment approaches

There’s a good reason why people grow nostalgic about Harborplace when it was new in 1980. It was special. And it came at the right time to boost Baltimore’s confidence.

Over the past four decades, the Pratt and Light streets pavilions lost their luster and many of their merchants and customers. Now, developer P. David Bramble and his firm plan to buy Harborplace and “completely re-imagine” what was once the toast of Baltimore.

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Harborplace had a dense array of shops and was the envy of the MidAtlantic. It was a golden apple for the Rouse Company, the developer of the Village of Cross Keys, Columbia and Harborplace, among a string of other successes.

Harborplace convinced its skeptics. Everyone had a favorite stand or shop.

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The concept of the festival marketplace was novel in 1980. Harborplace was never a workhorse shopping mall like those in Towson or Columbia. First-time visitors were caught off guard as they encountered bushel baskets of new potatoes and lima beans at Vincenzo’s Produce and metal cans of freshly cut lilies at Wilson’s Flower Market.

Guests were surprised by Tulkoff’s Some Like It Hot horseradish stand, Ostrowski’s homemade Polish kielbasa and Ms. Desserts. These merchants sold their goods in the Colonnade Market (on the Light Street flank), which also included A.B. Cheese, Alex’s Chicken, Bayside Fruit and Nut, the Bun Penny Deli, Harvest Fare, Herbs Unlimited, the Light Street Bakery, the Palais de Frianaises, Simply Steak and the Sweetcraft Chocolatier.

You could spend $3 on a bag of salted nuts. Some of the retail sellers had large shops; others were colorful push carts. You could buy wallpaper, tripe, dollhouse furniture and uncooked scallops there and carry it home in a canvas bag, also a Harborplace souvenir.

If that selection didn’t make you hungry, diners could sit down at Phillips Seafood, the American Cafe, City Lights, Jean-Claude’s Cafe or the Soup Kitchen Ltd., owned by Harborplace stalwart Wayne Brokke, who closed what had become his barbecue venture in 2002.

Later additions (and there were plenty) included Gianni’s, a restaurant where celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain worked briefly. Even later arrivals were McCormick & Schmick’s, Johnny Rockets, The Cheesecake Factory and Hooters.

The original Harborplace hustled. Do you recall Lee’s Ice Cream, the BonBon Tree, The French Bread Factory and Whimsey Works, all on the first floor?

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The Sun’s former food critic, Elizabeth Large, commented of the Baltimore food scene in the 1980s: “Something wonderful happened. The new Harborplace was part of it. A number of intriguing, globally inclined restaurants opened there with names like the Black Pearl, Tandoor, Taverna Athena and Jean-Claude’s.”

Upstairs, on the Light Street Pavilion, the African Queen, Anna’s Fried Dough, Bagel Place, Brothers Too, Cookie Connection, Dianna’s Caribbean Cooking, Flying Fruit Fantasy, Paul Gill’s Lunchbox, Golden Flounder Sushi, Häagen-Daz, Italian Villa-Tavola Calda, Just Burgers, La Petit Marmite, Lillian & Kay’s Congo Bars, Little Greece, Mexican Fiesta, Nevada Annie’s Chili, New Life Yogurt, Oasis, Old Amsterdam Dutch Crepe & Waffle House, Pretzel Productions, Shuckers, Sina Ried’s Hot Dogs, Somethin’ Good, Southern Style Barbecue, Harborplace Subs, Thrasher’s French Fries, Top of the Round, Trishaw Express and Wings ‘N Things were all in a place known as the Food Hall.

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Almost as soon as Harborplace opened, there was retail turnover. Some small businesses barely lasted the summer of 1980. But the sheer number of sellers ready to try their hand at Harborplace allowed for a mind-boggling cornucopia.

One retail section, called the Sam Smith Market, offered more choices: Afra Maria Simms, Apple Pie Graphics, Balloons Over America, the Baltimore City Schools Vocational Program, Gail Bird, Boxes and Frames, the Bank Shop, Busy Bee’s Shoeshine, Carol Lewis, Jean Cohen, the Crab Line, Dune Boys, Federal Hill Autographs, Foodangles, Foreign Affairs, Geppi’s Harborplace Comics, Glass-Smith Harbor Hammocks, Harborplace News, Here’s Harborplace, Ida Fuell Edibles, Irma Hood, Catherine Keresse, the Kite Loft, La Bodega del Mundo Latina, Loony Lids, Pen Station, Primrose Prints, Quick Draw, Rainbow, Etc., Enid Romanek, Silver Threads and the Toad’s Stool.

The Pratt Street Pavilion gave locals and tourists the Athenian Plaka, the Little Cheese, Black Pearl, Pronto Ristorante, Tandoor, the Store Limited, Arthur Watson’s Embraceable Zoo, the Children’s Bookstore, China Closet, Collective Impressions, Crabtree and Evelyn, Europa Imports, Flutterby’s, Fonti’s, Gordon’s Booksellers, Harbor Silver and Gold, Hats in the Belfry, Heart of the Market, Hess Shoes and its running center, Hum Aditti’s, Irrestibles, It’s Only Natural, Jones & Jones, Laura Ashley, The Limited, A Little Something, the Narragansett, Ornamental House, Pappagallo Shop, Remembering You, Seldom Scene, This End Up Furniture, Tomlinson Craft Collection, Touch of Brass, Weems and Plath and What’s Your Game.

In the nearly 42 years since it opened on July 2, 1980, the original tenants have moved on. Some lasted a only a brief time; others, like Phillips Seafood, survive but in a different location.

After a while, the Rouse Company, which developed Harborplace, was sold to General Growth Properties. Another sale followed; in 2012, Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp., a New York real estate firm, bought Harborplace and later defaulted on its loan. The last years were not pretty as renovations plans stalled and one-by-one many stores and restaurants closed.


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