It's mid-morning on a Tuesday in August, when countless Baltimore residents flock to beach resorts. But at Belvedere Square, tucked into the southeast corner of York Road and Northern Parkway, there's no sign of desertion.
On a sidewalk table outside of Atwater's — the café and shop that anchors Belvedere Square's market — a family lingers over breakfast. At another table, a couple of men in business attire meet. Friends clutching coffee cups huddle in deep conversation. By lunchtime, tables will be in high demand throughout the market, the centerpiece of the 111,000-square-foot Belvedere Square. Come Friday night, a thousand or more people will squeeze into the square's parking lots and spill onto East Belvedere Avenue, closed to traffic while revelers sway to live music, eat and drink from shops and stalls, and catch up with friends at the concert series Summer Sounds at the Square.
This community gathering place, which has seen its share of highs and lows over the years, appears to have hit its stride. "It's in the best iteration of its long and successful life," said Mike Gioioso of MacKenzie Management Co., which took over management of Belvedere Square in January 2016. "North Baltimore and a big expanded area around that keep coming back to Belvedere," Gioioso said.
Originally opened in 1986, Belvedere Square shuttered its doors in 1995, remaining vacant until 2003. Since reopening, it has gradually gained momentum and a steady stream of patrons, many repeat visitors. Currently, it includes some 30-plus tenants, primarily independent and locally owned. About one-third of the tenants occupy space in the market.
Gioioso says that six or seven leases at Belvedere Square have been signed in the past calendar year, with one open space remaining. That's at 542 E. Belvedere, long occupied by Egyptian Pizza, which closed earlier this summer. While the departure of that eating establishment may disappoint longtime customers, they soon may anticipate the opening of the Starlite Diner just a few doors down, at 510 E. Belvedere Avenue. It's been the site of a number of restaurants over the past several years, including Taste, Crush and, most recently, the Shoo-Fly Diner. Veteran restaurateur Leonard Clarke, former owner of Red Maple, owns the forthcoming Starlite Diner.
While awaiting Starlite Diner's opening, Belvedere Square patrons have several other dining options, including long-term market anchor, Atwater's. Opened in 2003, it serves as a prime example of Belvedere Square's continued growth and popularity.
Established tenants see steady growth
Atwater's is known primarily for its homemade soups, breads and baked goods. But over the years it has added a full coffee and espresso bar and, more recently, beer and wine on tap, as well as homemade ice cream using ingredients from local farmers.
As the menu offerings have expanded, so, too, has the customer base. A few years ago, Atwater's moved production of bread and soup off the premises, allowing for a significant increase in customer seating, according to Caitlin Whitney-Gallagher, general manager at the Belvedere location (there are five others in the area). At certain times of the day, it's tough to find an open table at Atwater's.
Another long-standing tenant at Belvedere Square is the Dutch Floral Garden, an upscale flower shop owned by Paula Dobb-Maher, a native of the Netherlands. Dobbs-Maher dabbled in several professional and educational pursuits — studying floral design and law in Europe and running an import-export business — before settling in Baltimore in 1999 and opening a floral design business on 39th Street, originally called Dutch Connection. She eventually moved her shop to 515 E. Belvedere Ave., changing the name to Dutch Floral Garden. The sophisticated and unique designs have not changed, but the store now offers assorted upscale gifts and even a small selection of women's clothing.
A midsummer morning found Dutch Floral Garden's manager, Patrick Bakker, engrossed in creating an elaborate-looking flower arrangement. Also a native of the Netherlands, Bakker was tapped by Dobbe-Maher to work at her store because of his experience; he has a four-year degree from Holland in floral design. Bakker describes business as "steady," adding, "There are a lot of nice things going on here [at Belvedere Square]."
Welcoming new tenants
Some of the "nice things" to which Bakker refers include newer tenants who have brought more diverse offerings to Belvedere Square.
Charm City Run affiliate Vita, a women's boutique featuring "athleisure" wear (clothing that can be worn for athletic or leisurely pursuits), moved into 516 E. Belvedere Ave. last summer. Owner Marie Bolton says she long had her eye on Belvedere Square as the location for the nascent boutique.
"I've been coming here as a patron for nine years, and in the last few years I've seen Belvedere Square explode," said Bolton, who lives in the neighborhood.
To advertise, Bolton relies primarily on word-of-mouth, and by partnering for special events like in-store exercise classes with neighboring businesses, including Belvedere Square women's health club Lynne Brick's as well as Studio B Yoga and Barre, a new fitness boutique. The new coed yoga and barre studio is a separate entity from Lynne Brick's with its own entrance and 1,600-foot studio space in the Square, but both are owned by Brick Bodies Fitness Services Inc.
Lynne Brick's has been a fixture at Belvedere Square for several years, but Studio B Yoga and Barre just opened on July 15, and has gradually been getting busier, according to Vicki Brick, CEO of Brick Bodies and daughter of its founders, Victor and Lynne Brick. Starting with 20 classes per week, the studio plans to offer more than 30 per week by the end of August. The family business' solid history and recent positive happenings at Belvedere Square made starting the new venture easier.
"We've noticed what's been going on with the improvements to Belvedere Square over the past three to five years," said Brick, adding, "It definitely helps knowing our health club Lynne Brick's has thrived in the area for the past 20-plus years."
The longevity of Belvedere Square brings with it a certain comfort level among both patrons and tenants. "At this point, it's almost like a given in the neighborhood," said Atwater's Whitney-Gallagher. "It's not the shiny new thing anymore. I almost kind of love that because it's part of the fabric now."