Story: Samantha Torosian
Multimedia: Zach Maskavich
East of Highlandtown, a tourist is greeted to a colorful path before them. At first, they see the different colors at the top of the wall and images of people marching onward ahead of them. Next, they’ll see blue and white women carrying blue flags.
This is the Eastern Avenue entrance to Baltimore’s city’s Greektown. As they come under an overpass, people sitting together on painting of stairs. Further down the wall are dancing figures and parading characters along the wall. Just as the murals leading to this piece of Baltimore’s history vary in color and shapes, the face of this town also has its variety.
Greektown has been a staple in Baltimore since the 1930’s with residents spanning all generations filtering in out between this town and their home country.
“The traditions of this town have never left,” says Peter Matsangos, 75, as he slaps a queen of hearts on top of a king of spades.
The all-male coffee house buzzes about him as men of 30 years old and up discuss the topics of the day. While, the coffee houses in Greektown are technically open to both sexes, women tend to maintain the tradition of allowing the men this time to themselves.
“The children are still sent to Greek schools, the church is still the centerpiece of our community; The only difference now is that the people have changed,” said Matsangos.
While traditions have been maintained, the demographics of Greektown have been altering the operation of the city.
Stephanie Panos, co-owner of Greektown’s oldest “Greek Grocery Store,” pinpoints that the shift began a little over a decade ago when the recession of the early 2000’s struck both the stock and housing markets.
“Many people left Greektown (the younger generations that is,) and began renting out their homes to Latino populations who had to leave their homes due to the market crash,” said Panos.
The new “young generation ,” of Greektown has brought an entire new feel to the once all Athenian-lettered shops. Upon clearing the brightly painted wals of the Eastern Avenue entrance, tourists are greeted by the equally colorful arrangement of Hispanic shops such as “Panderias and Pasteleria,” a bakery that came up within the past four years.
Although language barriers between the cultures are in existence, the businesses are still maintaining eachother and the Greeks enjoy their newfound neighbors.
“Greektown is no longer in existence the way that we all used to know it,’ says Emmanuel Matsangos, 44, who recently came back to his hometown after living several years in Greece.
“But, it is the same story all over again. These generations of Hispanics are the same as our parents and grandparents were when they first moved here. ”
Eleni Roros, a traditional greek dance instructor for the Greek Orthodox Church of the Ascension, commented on the changing dynamic and the continuing legacy of the Baltimore’s Greek community.
“The community has changed,” said Roros. “Everyone (in this economy,) is coming together and as a result the community’s traditions come together.”
The optimism and mystery that surrounds the new culture and face of Greektown is something that nobody can predict. However, like most things in Baltimore, the story of the people of this vivid community will create its own unique atmosphere to Baltimore city.