The lines of customers who form along 28th Street and Guilford Avenue at the door of the Motzi Bread bakery tell a story: that Baltimore’s neighborhoods and corner stores are fostering a small revolution in rowhouse enterprise this spring.
A year ago, as the pandemic shut so much down, the owners of this now-popular bakery were struggling to get open and fire their ovens. They opened in June to a weekly subscription list. In September, they opened their doors to walk-in trade.
Motzi Bread filled a corner location that had been a liquor store for the past 50 years. But the old Guilford Pharmacy occupied this spot from 1914 to about 1970. In the same space where you now get a loaf you once ordered a chocolate soda.
The emergence of these small neighborhood businesses is lesson in economics. Sometimes, it seems unlikely.
Hampden’s venerable Henry Heil & Co., where sausages and scrapple were made for 70 years, closed years ago. Then the Nepenthe Brewery emerged around the shell of its meat lockers and boiling vats. The old meatpacking sales room, where customers bought their Easter hams, is now a popular taproom and gathering spot.
The Peabody Heights Brewery at Barclay and 30th in the Abell neighborhood was once a Nehi soft drink bottling plant. And way before that, before 1944, was left field in the old International League Oriole Park.
Aficionados of small-scale Baltimore businesses can watch them grow. They often start as pop-up businesses at temporary locations and later take a stall in one of the city markets.
Both the downtown Baltimore Farmers’ Market and Bazaar and the 32nd Street Farmers Market in Waverly have been incubators of these sellers. It’s obvious that some of these tiny enterprises like the idea of just doing retail sales once a week at the market. Come closing time, they break down their tables and resume selling the next weekend.
Others will grow into full retail businesses with their own kitchens, ovens and show windows. They own their buildings and provide a nice presence in city neighborhoods.
Max Reim started selling coffee and pie at the markets on weekends. This helped him realize a dream. He bought an old corner store near Patterson Park on East Baltimore Street at Elwood Avenue.
The business started small. He gutted the property, added ovens, a kitchen, showcases and an espresso bar. Now his Pie Time is open in East Baltimore Wednesdays through Sundays.
Another well established bakery, Atwater’s, also began at the markets. Ned Atwater sold sourdough from the back of his car, and his empire now stretches from Catonsville to Belvedere Square and Towson.
The businesses seem to come in to their own during the spring and summer as people emerge outside during the longer days.
Veterans of Baltimore’s market scene and micro business scene had their favorite go-to merchants: Jordan Stabler mayonnaise and Smithfield Ham spread on Normal Avenue in Northeast Baltimore’s Darley Park.
Panzer’s pickles, sauerkraut and chowchow were brined in Fells Point. Fiske’s ice cream and fancy cakes came from Park Avenue in Bolton Hill. And, years ago, the Berger Bakery made its famous chocolate cookies on Aiken Street near North Avenue and Harford Road.
Now, if only some confectioner would take a hint and start making and selling my grandmother Lily Rose Stewart’s buttercream Easter eggs. Her recipe: “One pound butter (no margarine) at room temperature. Two pounds confectioners sugar. Mix well with a tablespoon of vanilla extract and shape into three-inch eggs. Cover with wax paper and refrigerate. In a double boiler melt four ounces Bakers semi-sweet chocolate and four ounces cooking chocolate or eight ounces cooking chocolate. Dip eggs with two forks. Drip over pot. Slide on wax paper-covered tray. Keep refrigerated.”
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I would add: Do not overindulge.