Since 1763, Fells Point in Baltimore has maintained its charm while attracting visitors with its distinct characters, local businesses and rich history.
Down Fells Point’s Thames Street, a small white building bears the locally famous Natty Boh logo. Sitting underneath is 70-year-old John Webb who has been living in the neighborhood since he was two.
He remembers the days back when the neighborhood was a working seaport.
“It was different, it wasn’t glamorized as it is today,” Webb said. “Everything is now clean and glitzy.”
Webb jokes that he could talk about Fell’s Point forever.
He fondly remembers his younger days eating lunch near the pier.
“I was sitting over there eating a sandwich,” Webb begins. “I could hear this lady screaming at the top of her lungs, in a not really beautiful language, and it was coming from a ship here at the end of the pier. All of a sudden, you hear all these police cars squealing, you know sirens going. She was a prostitute, she wanted her money and the captain wanted to pull out of port. And she kept on screaming she wanted her money! They finally took her off so they could leave port.”
He tells the story with a smile stretching from ear to ear. He then strolls down the block to a friend of his who works at a neighboring store so he can tell her the story as well.
He talks about 1965. That was the year that Fell’s Point was supposed to be demolished to make room for a highway. A now local hero, Lucretia Fisher was able to rally the support of Baltimore (as well as the Kennedy administration) to stop the highway and preserve the area.
“Everybody knew Lucretia,” Webb recalls. “She was a character, but she was a mover too.”
It is that kind of close-knit camaraderie that makes Fells Point special he says.
“It’s more of a neighborhood,” says Webb. “In fact it’s almost like a small town.”
Webb has loved the area forever for the fact that there are no chains here.
“If they start bringing in Banana Republic and Starbucks, it will become like every other little city,” says Webb. “If they keep it the way it is, it’s going to be fine and even better.”
In a town where places like Duda’s Tavern is owned by the third generation and Bertha’s is second generation, John Webb has been a quiet observer watching people come and go.
He may not realize it, but the man who sells apparel sporting one Baltimore icon on Thames Street, is a Baltimore icon himself.
Across the street from Webb, is a relatively newcomer to Fell’s Point. Brittany Wight runs The Corduroy Button, a children’s clothing store.
The young store manager walks past large food trucks and men unloading kegs and ingredients for the nearby restaurants. She passes a line of children wearing neon yellow construction worker reflective vests all holding onto a rope led by a school teacher. She passes the homeless man, who now calls Fells Point home. He can be found walking around Broadway Square asking people for money or even to stop somewhere and buy him a meal.
This is the typical morning for Wight. She passes through the square onto Thames Street in Fells Point, Baltimore around 9:50 to make sure The Corduroy Button is ready to open at 10. Accompanied by another co-worker, her day looks busy due to the 47th Annual Fells Point Fun Festival that kicks off on Saturday, Oct. 5.
A full time manger of three years, Wight takes pride in the appearance of the store and the customer service provided by the staff.
“I apologize that the store is such a mess. We just got a huge shipment in that needs to be unpacked as soon as possible this morning,” Wight says.
The shipment she is referring to is the six or seven large brown cardboard boxes, which flood the store floor. These boxes are packed with plush toys, fuzzy onesies, children’s books, and miscellaneous mom-approved kitchen gadgets. She begins unwrapping the giraffe and monkey stuffed animals when a young couple who appear to be out for a morning jog walk in.
“Now stop putting sensors on those and go greet the couple and watch them,” Wight says to her newly hired co-worker. A manager worried about sales, she shares that theft is sometimes a problem.
“We sell a lot of good quality children’s clothing that is Maryland themed,” Wight says as she points to a toddler size black sweater with a red crab sewn onto it. “Customers appreciate our style but do not always want to pay the price.”
Another young lady walks in.
“Hi, welcome to The Corduroy Button. Looking for anything in particular today?” Wight asks the customer politely.
“No, just browsing for my nephew,” the customer replies.
“Let me know if you need anything. We have new handmade Ravens white and purple onesies and hats up front,” Wight says, pointing over to the table display at the front of the store.
Wight returns to unpacking a box and placing the stuffed animals on a nearby empty shelf. The morning has been slow but that allows Wight to get ahead in her work. The customer approaches the counter with a desired purchase in hand.
“All set?” Wight asks.
“Yes I am,” the customer replies. Wight completes the transaction with a pleasant and professional demeanor.
Wight is in her twenties and takes pride in her job and hometown. It may seem like a minor task but tourists, locals and shoppers appreciate her genuine personality and love for Fells Point. The Corduroy Button may be a small shop, but it adds to the laid back historic charming feeling that is Fells Point.
The entire make up of Fells Point is reliant on specialty shops and local stardom. The Corduroy Button has forged its own niche in the community, but the one-eyed, mustachioed mascot of National Bohemian has become a phenomenon in recent years as shirts, shorts, mugs and glasses all bear the unmistakable emblem. The best place to buy this gear lies in Fells Point, but there is more in this little store then accessories.
Some people like Wight came to Fells Point to start their lives and help build a business, while others just want to have a seat and some much needed “R and R.”
He said he needed to slow down. He said he needed a change of pace. He is John Stavrinotous, the manager of Jimmy’s Restaurant in Fells Point, Baltimore. His idea of “slow” isn’t exactly textbook. It has been warped by the 30 years he spent owning a restaurant in Northern Manhattan.
Each and every white, nearly transparent hair falling from the top of his head denotes an angry New Yorker clamoring for service or a smug Ivy League student coming from nearby Columbia University. The city that never sleeps has surely given Stavrinotous many sleepless nights.
“Baltimore is an entirely different place than New York. In New York, there is a lot going on, 24/7, everything. Over here, it’s slow.”
He speaks of the cities in a way only a true New Yorker can. Egocentrism runs as rampant in those streets as the fleets of yellow taxis. But at a glance, he does not fit the usual New York mold, nor does his workplace.
The restaurant goes virtually unseen by city goers on this late afternoon. While neighboring pubs host customers on their patios, Jimmy’s has but a few customers dispersed across the dining area. The majority of the chairs rest upon tables as the waitress on duty encourages a family to “please, seat yourselves.” Three men sit atop stools, resting their elbows on the counter as the sizzle of the grills creates a symphony with the “clanging” of plates and silverware.
Near the end of the counter sits Stavrinotous, as inconspicuous as a manager has ever looked. His white t-shirt accentuated by the gold necklace draped around his neck. His reluctance to talk may stem from personality, or his eastern European heritage. His accent is still thick and his mastery of English grammar still in the works. At the sight of an audio recorder, he looks taken aback.
“Oh, now I’m being recorded? What for?”
His friend snickers as the conversation continues and he details some of the allure the restaurant holds.
“You know, this place has been here since 1947. It’s very known to Baltimore.” He throws in a bit of self-praise as a smirk gathers on his face, “It’s known for the food… And the people who work here.”
Although the employees may be celebrities within the confines of the restaurant, the décor within suggests that some of Baltimore’s biggest names find solace in a scrapple breakfast or a quick dinner out. With a quick point, Stavrinotous directs the attention of the customers to the back wall lined with signed memorabilia and jerseys of Ravens and Orioles players.
“Look at the pictures around,” he says. “All those people have been around. You see some high-profile, well-known people, ya know?”
One jersey in particular stands out. The late Orlando Brown who was aptly nicknamed “Zeus,” has his jersey framed in the center of the back wall. The purple garment has the name of the Greek God emblazoned at the top. But this restaurant is no house for Gods. It is a haven for the blue-collar workers of a once great seaport; and for one man, John Stavrinotous, it is the reprieve he worked 30 years to have.