At the height of American railroading, thousands of Baltimoreans worked at B&O;'s Mount Clare depot near Camden Yards. In the mid-1980s, when the new Mount Clare Junction shopping center was built, it was designed in a style recalling the architecture of the old railroad buildings. Indeed, a huge steam locomotive was hauled inside the shopping arcade to remind visitors of the area's history. It stayed there until marketing consultants decided the engine was too overwhelming and part of the reason shoppers stayed away and the center lost merchants.
The locomotive was not the cause of the jinx; the forbidding, fortress-like design of the center was. The owners of the shopping center are now seeking to begin a $7 million overhaul project that would reconfigure the entire Mount Clare Junction shopping center. The largely empty red-brick wing along Pratt Street would be demolished to make the center more accessible. A building twice as large would be constructed along Carey Street to house Caldor and other tenants.
It does not happen often that a shopping center is rebuilt so soon after its opening. But neither does it happen often in Baltimore that a major regional retailer is interested in an inner-city location.
If the Caldor deal is finalized, the shopping center could have its new look by late next year. After years of losing major stores to suburban exodus, Baltimore City could finally point to a big discount department store as proof of its economic revival.
We welcome the Mount Clare shopping center plan as a hopeful sign. Even though all the main-line department stores have moved to the suburbs and such old Baltimore stand-bys as Epstein's, Goldenberg's and Inner Harbor Lumber have gone out of business in recent times, the city remains a lucrative marketplace to many niche retailers. Yet it is a shame that city residents seeking wider variety of merchandise often have to drive to surrounding counties to shop at the big chains.
Along with the nearby B&O; Railroad Museum, the Mount Clare Junction shopping center is an institution that can have a positive impact on the neighborhoods from Union Square and Poppleton to Hollins Market and Pigtown. New housing is being built nearby, the museum is about to embark on an ambitious expansion project. A Caldor store could be a magnet and a benefit to much of the west side of the city.