Hamiltonians rise in wrath to expel pawnshop, and pols join in

For the last month or so, a small war has been brewing in the fine, old Northeast Baltimore neighborhood of Hamilton, and the battle cry goes something like: Damn the pawnshop! That's been the message booming out of Harford Road, but Richard Herskovitz fights on.

He's made concessions -- agreeing not to sell guns and not to use the word "pawn" in the name of his business -- but Hamiltonians and a gaggle of pols, including City Council president and mayoral candidate Mary Pat Clarke, have lined up to close Herskovitz down.


There's a hearing Wednesday on a council bill to ban from the Hamilton Urban Renewal Area any pawnshops that were not open for business by Oct. 18. It's aimed at Herskovitz, a young but experienced broker who opened his shop, licensed by the city and state as Champion Pawnbrokers, a few days after that date. He's already invested more than $100,000 in the business. It's a shame Hamiltonians didn't raise a stink before Herskovitz invested so much.

Apparently, the two community meetings held on this issue last month were hot. Here are some highlights (and lowlights), culled from reports in The Rooster and the Herald-Gazette, weekly newspapers:


* Community opposition was based on the logical expectation that the pawnshop would attract "undesirables" to Harford Road. "My brother is a junkie," one resident said, "and he and his friends are thrilled about the convenience of the pawnshop; they can just take the 19 bus." Another opponent spoke like a true pTC Hamiltonian with this: "We don't need pawnshops in the area. When we have stuff to get rid of, we have yard sales and everybody comes!"

* First District Councilman Nick D'Adamo told Hamilton residents that his check with the Law Department indicated the city could not legally keep Herskovitz's shop from opening. At that point, Perry "Not Even One Term In City Council/Already Running For )) State Senate" Sfikas, told the crowd that "Nickie was a nice guy," but "didn't have all the advantages that I've had." Sfikas, who sponsored the bill to ban the pawnshops from Hamilton, "explained that he had gone to the finest law schools and had 16 years experience with Senator Mikulski's office. Nickie didn't have that advantage." Gerald F. Frey Jr., publisher of The Rooster, wrote: "Watching Sfikas put D'Adamo down at both meetings was appalling. Maybe he did go to the finest law schools. But the question we have for Sfikas is, 'Didn't those schools teach ethics or deportment?' "

* Asked by an opponent of the pawnshop where he lived, Herskovitz said Owings Mills. At that point, "some anti-Semitic mutterings were heard in the back," The Rooster reported. "The crowd continued with what was now becoming a personal attack. . . ."

Don't expect Herskovitz, who is determined to stay open, to win this one in City Council. As they say in the old courthouse on Calvert Street, "Looks like a suit case."

Baltimore chic

We stopped at the Coffee Cafe, that pleasant, kind-of-organic-kind-of-trendy shop among the Drumcastle stores at Walker Avenue and York Road for a cup of Brazilian Santos and a taste of the fabulous pastries. "Can you believe this is Baltimore?" my companion remarked. "I mean, this is a bit on the chic side, wouldn't you say?" Yeah, but Baltimore can do chic. This town might not be on the cutting edge of social trends -- except maybe teen pregnancy -- but you can find designer java when you need it.

No sooner had I made this declaration than a friend reported the following: An out-of-town visitor wanted some cappuccino before leaving Baltimore, so he went to a restaurant in Little Italy and ordered a cup. It was served in a glass, the coffee so weak he could see through it and a dollop of whipped cream floating on top. He took one sip and gagged, then summoned the waitress.

"Was this the cappuccino I ordered?" this friend of a friend asked. "Ohhhhhhhhhh," said the waitress. "You wanted Italian cappuccino. This is Bawlmer cappuccino." (Turned out to be Sanka with Redi-Whip.)


Quotables, notables

An Eastern Shore fly-fisherman remarked recently on what happens when he casts a particularly attractive fly -- I believe it was the Blue/White Deceiver -- into a school of rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay: "It's like throwing a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 into the drunk tank on Sunday mornin'."

At the first graduation ceremony for the New Work for Women program at Dundalk Community College, a beaming state official said she was pleased the program "had come to frutation."

And Baltimore State's Attorney Stu Simms, complaining to a Sun reporter about news coverage: "I could save the pope from drowning in the Inner Harbor, and you'd write that I wasn't a good swimmer."

This Just In appears here each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you have an item for the column, or any notable quotables, drop us a line at The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore 21278, or call 332-6166.