The scene repeated itself over and over yesterday. A hungry diner would walk up to the Homewood Delicatessen, look through the darkened window with a frown, then finally catch the yellow sign in the window.
It was a death notice.
"Closed. We thank everyone for their support," read the handwritten sign telling customers that the Homewood Deli was out of business.
"We were just here last week," said a surprised Thelma Gross, who had come to the deli with Doris Carroll, a co-worker at the Board of Education.
Ms. Carroll said she will miss the breakfasts of chipped beef and the "nice bakery." Ms. Gross said she liked the place because it was clean and had "a good combination of things."
Signs near the death notice continued to advertise a $2.39 breakfast special of three eggs, home fries, toast and the choice of bacon, sausage or Canadian bacon and the $3.99 all-you-can-eat nights. Inside, chairs were upside-down atop neatly lined tables. Not a sandwich was in sight.
The Homewood Deli had been a fixture in the 3100 block of St. Paul St. in Charles Village since 1971, a haunt for Johns Hopkins University students and other area residents.
The last meals were eaten Wednesday. On Thursday, owner Ronald M. Silberman closed the business after limping along with it for the past nine months of its 24-year run.
Mr. Silberman could not be reached for comment last night, but area businesses said he was unable to turn a profit although he had invested a considerable amount of money to make physical improvements. They said he struggled with sluggish receipts, rent payments and concerns about nighttime crime.
The deli once was owned by Eddie's Supermarket of Charles Village, a few doors down the street. It rose to fame in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
A review in The Sun in 1978 heaped praise, giving it "high marks in all departments" and voicing admiration for the "waitresses slicing and sandwiching and packing like mad." To criticize the deli, the reviewer said, would be "subversive."
"The Homewood is an American dream come true, a pleasure dome of easy and filling foods for consumption on the premises or at home, a visual essay on what the Yank likes to eat and why he gets fat at 40," the article said.
At that time, the business was run by Milton Komitzky, said Jerry Gordon, owner of Eddie's Supermarket.
"For five years, it was the hottest place in town," Mr. Gordon said, adding that this came before many people grew concerned about eating too much red meat and fried chicken.
Several people said yesterday the deli had lost much of its luster -- and its customers -- in recent years, changing ownership a few times, as in 1984, when developer James J. Ward III bought the business from Jerry Sheldin.
"The Homewood Deli you and I knew from the late '70s and early '80s had really ceased to exist," said Linda Rivelis, a community resident.
Though Mr. Silberman made improvements, he was unable to draw enough customers to pay the $7,300 monthly rent and a loan from Mr. Ward for the equipment, said Judy Gemmill, a member of the Schumacher Family Partnership, which owns the building.
"He tried to do everything he could," Ms. Gemmill said.
Zoa Wilson, whose husband, Steven Marzo, owns the Charles Village Pub next door, said she expects their business to benefit in the short run by attracting some of the deli's lunch and dinner customers. But she said she is eager to bring another business into the building.
Some residents and business leaders said the deli's demise could be a blessing in disguise. They hope to attract a book store, coffee shop or music store to replace a deli that many people described as an institution.
"I think a lot of people are really going to be sad and are going to miss it," said Tracy W. Durkin, executive director of the Charles Village Community Benefits District. "It was one of those natural meeting places for people in the community. But our goal is to look to the future and find a new use that meets the community's needs.
"I'm really optimistic about the future. I think it's an underutilized site, and I think it can attract a multipleuse that can enhance the neighborhood."