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The sweet taste of summer in Bawlamer


Let it now be known: It is not steamed crabs or white marble steps or fancy hairdos or the Orioles for which Baltimore should be famous.

It's snowball stands.

As if they were a rite of summer, snowball stands sprout throughout the city as the temperature shoots to a near boil. On street corners, in window sills, on vacant lots, on two rickety tables and a chair, snowball stands are omnipresent.

"This is my third one today," Sandy White, 31, said yesterday as she slurped a snowball at a makeshift stand on Calhoun Street -- a fat, juicy glob of red cherry syrup blotting her yellow shirt. "But it sure is good."

They're good and they're plentiful. During a brief tour of the city, at least a dozen snowball stands were spotted on East North Avenue and its side streets in East Baltimore. Another 15 stands were seen either near or on Park Heights Avenue and Reisterstown Road on the west side, some as near as two blocks from each other.

There's a diet snowball stand and a "works" snowball stand. There's a kosher snowball stand and a halal snowball stand.

Tutti frutti flavor, red lion, Hawaiian, Brazilian, Casper, bubble gum with marshmallow topping.

Anthony Griffin claims to be the only "snowballer" to make his own syrup.

In the kitchen of his brick rowhouse in the 1900 block of N. Chester St. in East Baltimore -- sans fan or air conditioning -- Mr. Griffin spends a good chunk of his day mixing pure-syrup flavoring, sugar and hot water in a bowl.

After mixing the ingredients, he transfers them to a five-gallon jug and shakes vigorously.

"Look at this," he says, holding the container of banana flavored syrup. "This is the best syrup around because it's pure."

Mr. Griffin, 32, has been making snowballs for 20 years, taking over a family business his parents started on the sidewalk in front of their house a couple of decades ago. Snowballs are in his blood, he says.

"But there's so many stands out there now it's pathetic," he says. "I give the customers quality. I don't know about some of them other stands."

There are so many snowball salesmen that the city virtually has given up on enforcing the licensing and health standards.

"There is surely a vast number of them," said Zack Germroth, a spokesman for the housing department. "And most of them are running illegal."

Getting the various permits costs about $400. Because so few get the required licenses, city officials say it is impossible to track their number.

And Mr. Germroth said city officials seldom close a snowball stand unless they receive complaints that the stand is a neighborhood nuisance, blocks traffic or endangers customers by attracting bees.

"It's really complaint driven. We don't really do regular inspections," he said. "There's so many."

In northwest Baltimore, Israel Elgamil believes he's cornered a segment of the snowball-buying populace with his kosher snowball stand.

"The syrup has the rabbinical signature to show that everything is kosher," Mr. Elgamil, 21, said as he stood next to his stand in the 6800 block of Reisterstown Road. "A lot of people want to make sure of that."

He said he's the only kosher snowball dealer in the city, and next year he hopes to increase his number of stands. "The only thing we'll have to worry about is bees," Mr. Elgamil said. "Just keep the bees away and we'll do fine."

One of the first lessons a snowball entrepreneur learns is this: When bees gather, customers leave. Just ask Cheryl Sample-Bey.

For the past four years, Ms. Sample-Bey has operated a snowball stand outside her home in the 1000 block of N. Carey St. Last summer, bees made a nest in the bricks behind the stand. She noticed it and plugged the hole with a straw.

"A woman came along, saw the straw and pulled it out. Out came all of these bees and she started dancing around as if the Holy Ghost had gotten into her," Ms. Sample-Bey said. "Everybody just ran -- me, the customers, everybody."

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