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Hampden Junque store celebrates 20th year on The Avenue

Michal Makarovich poses in front of his store, Hampden Junque, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, in Hampden.
Michal Makarovich poses in front of his store, Hampden Junque, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, in Hampden. (Jen Rynda, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

What do Peewee Herman, Betty Boop, Marijuana Girl and Godzilla have in common?

You can find them all in some shape or form at Hampden Junque, the kitschy curiosity shop that is celebrating 20 years this month.

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"We brought chic to The Avenue," said retired teacher Michal Makarovich, the 60-ish co-owner of the store with partners Margo Goldman, 74, a retired Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. credit analyst, and Joe Witkowski, 42, who also works for a furniture restoration company.

The tiny, 300-square-foot store at 1006 W. 36th St. next door to Cafe Hon, is open four days a week, but draws attention from passers-by for its spacious display window, which changes every few months, courtesy of Witkowski, its designer and a Maryland Institute College of Art graduate.

The window is always filled with old posters, dolls and other unique items. Late last year, a waving Peewee Herman doll sat atop a disco ball in the window.

These days, Peewee can be seen in the window sipping champagne , "toasting us" in honor of the 20th anniversary, Makarovich said. In fact, he said, you can always find a Peewee Herman figure somewhere in the window, because he's the store's unofficial mascot.

But there's so much more inside the store, known as "Junque and disorderly," its every nook and cranny filled floor to ceiling with merchandise that ranges in price from a few dollars to $175. Much of it dates to the 1960s and earlier.

There's a cheeky poster of Marijuana Girl, a pulp fiction character of the '50s, and a Japanese Godzilla poster. There are movie posters ranging from "La Dolce Vita" to "Star Wars," and an original, framed flier for Baltimore filmmaker John Waters' "Mondo Trasho."

There are Betty Boop cartoon dolls, a foldable set for the 1980s TV show "Peewee's Playhouse," and a Sunbeam electric mixer. There's also a thimble collection, a Brooks Robinson drinking glass next to a Ronald McDonald drinking glass, a Baltimore Ravens wool cap with a pompom, Bakelite napkin rings from the 1940s, and an ashtray from Hochschild Kohn's department store.

There are Pez dispensers, talking postcards, rotary phones, "The Partridge Family" lunch boxes, and Super 8 pornographic films that you would need a projector to watch.

There's a photo of nuns smoking cigarettes. In another photo, a man asks a woman, "Mind if I smoke?" and the woman responds, "Care if I die?"

Want something a little more artistic? How about a 19th-century lithograph of Hampden Falls, known then as Round Falls?

Irreverent inventory

And there's an old framed photo that Goldman hung behind the counter, of her mother, Evelyn, as a young woman.

"It's not for sale," she said.

Most of the merchandise is on the shelves because it's off the wall — the more outrageous and kitschy, the better.

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"We like things that are irreverent," Makarovich said.

But Goldman puts the inventory in a different perspective, noting that what modern-day Baltimoreans see as collectible was once owned by "people who lived in Hampden; boys who went off to war and had never been out of Hampden."

Witkowski said he also favors things that "cutesy and Hallmarky — insipid but somehow redeemable," like the life-sized clown head coin bank he once found.

"It was larger than life," he said. "It had a pretty daffy expression."

Terrence Dougherty, 61, browsed in the store recently and said he does so at least every two weeks, buying everything from old Coca-Cola bottles to an autographed photo by the late opera star Rosa Poncelle, a Baltimorean.

"I find things," said Dougherty, of Hampden. He also comes to say hello to the owners.

"I've known them for years," he said.

Leading a 'renaissance'

Hampden Junque was started by friends Makarovich, Goldman and Duane Schline in 1995. They were such avid collectors that when Makarovich, then a longtime teacher at St. Paul's School in Brooklandville, decided to move from his three-story, nine-room house near Druid Hill Park to a smaller one in Hampden, people would invariably ask him what he was going to do with all of his stuff.

Someone asked the question of all three at a Christmas mart in Hampden in 1994. Makarovich said they looked at each other and said in unison, "We'll open a store."

Drawn by cheap rent and "that window," they opened in February 1995 in a former jewelry store, and called it A Little Patina. They wanted to call it simply Patina, but when Goldman went to get a license, she learned that a store in Silver Spring had that name.

A month later, they hated their name and changed it to Gustafson's (actress Greta Garbo's real last name), Makarovich said.

Gustafson's and Cafe Hon, which opened around the same time, became progenitors of Hampden's "renaissance" as a haven for independent boutique stores and restaurants, Makarovich said. When the Hampden Village Merchants Association started handing out its Merchants of the Year award, he was the first winner, he said.

Schline left the store as a partner after two years, and Gustafson's later changed its name again, to Hampden Junque. Witkowski, of Charles Village, joined as a partner in 2009.

"It was an easy fit," he said. "Everyone involved is, if not, a pack rat, an obsessive collector."

Today, they run a free-spirited store, open Thursdays through Sundays, with no aspirations of striking it rich. Makarovich, who retired from St. Paul's School after 21 years, calls himself "the main partner," and works only on Saturdays.

"I highly recommend it," he said.

Witkowski works Sundays and helps Makarovich pay the rent. Goldman, of Hamilton, pays no rent but runs the store for free on Thursdays and Fridays. Each partner gets to keep the money they get from what they find in their travels, mostly at flea markets and private sales by adult children whose parents have died.

Simple life

Makarovich said he has enough money saved from his teaching career that he doesn't need much income from Hampden Junque. He said he lives in a nearby house that he bought for $35,000, drives a 15-year-old Volvo and buys thrift store clothes like $1 turtlenecks and $2 jeans.

His only worry is whether they can still afford the rent, which is doubling next year.

"We're going to try to stay," he said. "We'll see how it goes. It's The Avenue. Rents are getting higher and higher. It's becoming Restaurant Row."

But Makarovich loves Hampden, is active in the merchants' association and said the point of owning the store is not to make a lot of money.

"The point of it is to have fun," he said. "And we're having a helluva lot of fun."

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