Bar owners hope Station North shooting doesn't drive patrons away

The crowd at Liam Flynn's Ale House on North Avenue was small early Friday morning, just a dozen or so patrons milling about.

Then around 1 a.m., three men pushed their way through the door screaming, "Someone's been shot! Call 911!" owner Liam Flynn recounted Saturday.

Just steps away from the bar, in the 1900 block of Maryland Ave., a 22-year-old man standing at a bus stop was approached by two other individuals and shot twice in the back, according to Baltimore police.

When Flynn came outside, "I looked up the street and I saw a guy laying on his right-hand side with two bullet holes in his neck," he said.

The incident has jarred patrons and business owners in Station North, whose regular denizens had considered the area to be one of the city's safest, and which had recently been surging toward revitalization. They now fear that momentum will stagnate as a result of the shooting.

"It's just taken a long time to convince people to come here," said Joe Edwardsen, owner of pizzeria Joe Squared. "I think it could scare off some traffic. Thirty percent of our business is from 15 minutes away."

The area bound by Penn Station, North Avenue, Howard Street and Greenmount Avenue, once known for city landmarks like the Chesapeake Restaurant, has endured decades of decline. The year 2001 brought the addition of noteworthy tenants, including the renovated Charles Theater, the Everyman Theater and the home of Maryland Institute College of Art studio space.

The buzz of activity qualified the area to be designated in 2002 the Station North Arts and Entertainment District under a program designed by the General Assembly to encourage neighborhood revitalization.

Edwardsen opened his restaurant there in 2005 because he liked the new district's location, sandwiched between two bigger neighborhoods, and because it is widely accessible by public transportation.

There was another reason Edwardsen came to the area: its apparent safety.

When the restaurant's customers went outside Friday morning during the shooting incident, "people were saying, 'Whaddaya expect, it's Station North,'" Edwardsen said. "And I'm like, 'Yeah, it's Station North. We're killing-free. We're mostly mugging-free.'"

Police couldn't say Saturday how Station North fares against Mount Vernon and Charles Village in terms of crime. The Police Department's Central District, which includes those neighborhoods, has had several high-profile violent incidents in the past year: In early June, police arrested a man accused of raping a woman in her home on the 900 block of St. Paul St. In September, two teenagers stabbed and left for dead a man crossing the 1500 block of Maryland Ave. Last July, Johns Hopkins researcher Stephen Pitcairn was fatally stabbed in the 2600 block of St. Paul Street in Charles Village.

While Edwardsen worries that news of a violent incident will exacerbate any negative perceptions, others in the neighborhood were more blase about the shooting.

"I wouldn't say I'm surprised. You can't pretend that just because an area is improving that it's going to be inoculated," said Damien Nichols, a 28-year-old who was studying at the Bohemian Coffee House. "I like Station North, but it's still gritty."

Alissandra Seelaus, a 24-year-old teacher who lives in Bolton Hill but hangs out in Station North often, said residents' perception of the neighborhood was always far more dramatic than reality.

"It didn't look scary, but people treated it as scary," she said. "The area has gotten a lot better, and with the Windup Space, and Bohemian Coffee House, that perception has gotten better too."

She's not likely to stop patronizing businesses here because of the shooting.

"People always say Bolton Hill is safe, and things like this happen there too," she said. "I don't think you can draw a hard line and say, this neighborhood is OK after 10 p.m. and this isn't. This is a city. You have to walk around aware of that."

Flynn's been working on the renovation of his bar, which is housed inside the old North Avenue Market building, for about two and a half years. He said car break-ins are the only serious crime concern he's encountered.

He said the shooting isn't likely to stop the area from growing.

"[Station North] had a reputation about 10 years ago, like 'don't go past North Avenue.' If you'd asked me then, would I open a bar here, I'd have said, 'You're crazy,'" he said. "Five years from now I would have kicked myself for not opening the bar here."