After years spent as actors, musicians and educators around the Baltimore and D.C. metro areas, Daven Ralston and her husband, Joseph Carlson, have cast themselves for a new role as small business owners.
The couple plans to open a bookstore on the main strip of Southwest Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood after recently relocating to Woodberry from Alexandria, Virginia, where Ralston has worked part-time for newcomer Old Town Books since the spring.
“We’d always talked about opening a business where we could share all of the crafts and skills that we’ve learned, and also create a space for people to join in artistic and other community-engaging activities,” says Ralston, who has family already in Baltimore.
That’s their vision for Charm City Books, to be located at 782 Washington Blvd., a storefront used for the last several years as a Baltimore Police Department outpost. She says their store will carry general interest titles to start–“something for everyone” while they learn more about neighbors’ tastes.
While the street level will house books for sale, plus a rotating pop-up space for local artisans, the second floor will be used for events like book clubs, acoustic music performances and workshops in theater, film and playwriting. Ralston, a former teacher who specialized in early childhood development, also hopes to work with schools and host literacy activities and other programming catering to families.
The space still needs some work, including the removal of old carpeting on the first floor, but they’re targeting Oct. 5 for opening. Day one will include a ribbon-cutting and events peppered in throughout the day, including a reading from local author D. Watkins, a crafting workshop, morning storytime for kids and a performance by local jazz trumpeter Brandon Woody and his band.
Ralston and Carlson plan to be out in the community earlier, with plans for their own tent at the upcoming Pigtown Main Street Festival on Sept. 21.
Kim Lane, executive director of Pigtown Main Street, noted respondents in a recent informal community survey listed a bookstore as one of their top five desired businesses for the neighborhood.
“Daven and Joe’s vision will create not only a wonderful place to buy books, but also a community gathering and entertainment spot,” Lane wrote in an email.
Charm City Books accompanies other recent additions to the neighborhood, including upcycled craft store Scrap B-More, which left Federal Hill for W. Barre Street last month, and the redevelopment of a historic bathhouse into apartments and a forthcoming Milk and Honey Market.
Ralston said she connected with Lane early on in their search for a location somewhere in Baltimore. Pigtown immediately felt like a contender thanks to its amiable feel.
“I just really love that it’s got such a vibrant history and tradition to it,” Ralston says. “The community there does really feel like they are neighbors and they are supportive of each other.”
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