Westside Shopping Center

When Westside Shopping Center was built in 1962, it had an immediate impact upon the people who lived in the area. Up until that time, most of the residents shopped at the local corner grocery stores for food and other necessities. Corner stores such as Mergenhan’s with their sawdust covered floor, Hay’s Corner Store, Fred’s up on Millington Avenue, James and other local corner stores had supplied the needs of the residents for many years. However, when the shopping center opened, it provided the residents with a new experience and many more options for shopping, and spending their money. The local corner store couldn’t compete with the newly opened A @ P with the variety of food, produce and other merchandise that the store sold, and the prices at the A @ P were much better. While the corner stores continued to exist for some years, it was in effect, the beginning of the end for many of them.

One of the stores that became quite popular ws G.C. Murphy’s, which was a variety store that sold a wide assortment of merchandise. Most of the neighborhood residents shopped there, as they had just about everything you could think of.

The old G.C. Murphy Building

Another store that was somewhat similar but carried lower quality merchandise was Goldenberg’s, up at the opposite corner near Ashton Street. My brother Rick and his good buddy Charles Zill decided to get decked out with some new duds and went down to Goldenberg’s because they had some nice looking outfits, and since the prices were so cheap, it was something that their parents could spring for once in a Blue Moon. As Rick tells it, they both looked sharp, wearing their outfits for some special occasion up at Betsy Ross School. Then he made the mistake of washing the clothes, and when dried, found the clothes were instant highwaters and if they had the right shoes and coats, they could have passed for pilgrims. So, when buying anything from Goldenberg’s, the trick was to wear them as long as you could until they got so dirty that they had to be thrown away. Goldenberg’s clothes were definitely not ‘Wash and Wear’.

Where Goldenberg’s was located, later Ash Sales, notice the guy Treasure Hunting.

Some other stores that became mainstays were Ash Sales, who sold appliances and were originally up on Pratt Street. A little side story, my father had applied for credit there for a Color T.V. We were all anticipating the arrival of the Color T.V. since we had never had one, and as kids, were quite excited about the prospect of having a Color T.V. Well, the day came when the T.V was supposed to be delivered and as the day passed, there was no Color T.V. The next day my father called the store to see what had happened and found out that we had been turned down for credit. Must have been quite a disappointment for him, and definitely for us. So, we did the next best thing, we got one of those plastic screens that you taped on your T.V. that had three colors, and voila, Color T.V.

There were some other stores that came along not long after. Stores such as The Westside Gift Shop, that I worked at for a very short while, Dudley’s Men’s Shop, Read’s Pharmacy and some others. The neat thing about Read’s is that they had a section that served food and you could sit on one of the revolving chairs at the counter and grab a sandwich and soda, ice cream or other food. There was also had a jewelry store at Westside, imagine that, a jewelry store at Westside. You would have to have several armed guards to have a place like that down there now.

Another aspect that Westside Shopping Center changed was that it provided jobs for many people in the area. Although most of the jobs were low skilled stock and clerk type positions, they were the kind of jobs that many of the residents could perform as back in the 60’s most of the jobs were ‘low tech’ and you either had a trade, worked in a factory, perhaps drove a truck or did some other type of work that didn’t require a lot of skills so the jobs that the shopping center provided enabled many of the local residents to find work and earn some income. In fact, whether by choice or necessity, some of the residents worked at places like G.C. Murphy for many years.

The opening of Westside Shopping Center was probably one of the biggest factors in the changes that occurred in the mid to late 60’s in that Southwest Baltimore neighborhood. If you are brave enough to venture down to the shopping area today, you’ll see an area that has no resemblance to the place we shopped at many years ago. The stores of old have been replaced by nail salons, dollar stores, Hip Hop carry outs, and second rate grocery stores like ‘Stop, Shop and Steal’. Yep, times have changed.

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