When J.K. Rowling and Maurice Sendak wanted to promote children’s books in Baltimore, they knew just where to go.
For nearly 40 years, The Children’s Bookstore has been known as a place to find a quality collection of books for children–from first efforts by local authors and illustrators to favorites like the Harry Potter novels by Rowling and “Where the Wild Things Are” by Sendak. It’s one of the oldest continuously operating children’s bookstores in America.
This month, the business will begin a new chapter of its own. On Saturday, it will close its doors for the final time at 737 Deepdene Road in Roland Park, its home for the past 32 years. On Oct. 25, it will open at a new location four and a half miles away, at 4717 Harford Road in the Hamilton/Lauraville area.
The Children’s Bookstore will be the newest tenant of SoHa Row, an arts-oriented revitalization district that developer Sam Polakoff is creating in the 4700 and 4800 blocks of Harford Road. It’s technically part of the area known as Moravia-Walther, but close to Lauraville, Hamilton and Arcadia.
The bookstore will be next to Zeke’s Coffee and just up the street from Function, a new art gallery, performance space and coworking community. It’s the fourth location for the bookstore, which was founded in 1979.
Bookstore owner JoAnn Fruchtman said she’s relocating the business because the lease is up Nov. 1, and she wanted to move to a location where it could find “new energy” after 40 years. She considered several places, including in Hampden and The Rotunda. She said one of her longtime employees, Melissa Doty, lives in Lauraville and suggested that the Harford Road corridor would be an ideal spot. She noted Doty’s husband is a lawyer who represents many of the businesses in the area.
“I think that the Lauraville area is a really energetic and dynamic place, and I’m really happy that the store is going to have a new chapter,” Fruchtman said this week during a break from preparing for the move. “I think that is what it needs, and I am delighted it’s going to continue.”
Fruchtman said she’s impressed by the vibrancy she sees along the Harford Road corridor. Lauraville is “on the upswing,” she said. “It has vitality. People are really excited and happy to support local businesses.”
As for Polakoff, “I’ve known Sam since he was a little boy,” she said. “I knew I could trust him.”
Doty, who will manage the new store, has lived in Lauraville for about 12 years. She said she is seeing more young families moving to the area from places like Hampden. “You can buy a single-family home in Hamilton or Arcadia for less money than a row home in Hampden,” she said. As a result, “people have a family in Hampden and then they move here. That’s kind of become a trend.”
Doty also said she’s impressed by the work of Hamilton-Lauraville Main Streets Inc., the nonprofit that oversees redevelopment efforts along the Harford Road corridor, and where her husband is a board member.
As part of his revitalization efforts, Polakoff is building a four-story, 16-unit apartment building called SoHa Union in the 4800 block of Harford Road, with street-level commercial space. In searching for tenants, he’s been looking for independent merchants who know the local market, rather than large chains.
“It’s absolutely perfect,” he said of The Children’s Bookstore moving in. “Books and coffee. Zeke’s and kids. It’s like peanut butter and jelly. It’s going to be a real neighborhood treasure over here.”
This isn’t the first time Fruchtman has worked with a developer attempting to revitalize part of Baltimore. Her original store on Patapsco Street in South Baltimore opened in 1979. It was one of the first projects by Bill and Fred Struever and Cobber Eccles, three of the developers who later formed Struever Brothers, Eccles and Rouse, which was behind projects such as Brown’s Arcade, The Can Company and Clipper Mill.
In 1980, Fruchtman opened a shop in the Pratt Street pavilion of Harborplace, developer James Rouse’s effort to draw people to the Inner Harbor waterfront. She was one of the original Harborplace tenants and one of three booksellers there.
Six years later, she moved to Roland Park, seeking to plant her store in an established neighborhood where it could build a following from repeat local customers rather than tourists.
The Harford Road store will occupy part of the former American Beauty Academy. Fruchtman said she has a five-year lease and the space will be slightly larger than the Roland Park store, with about 1,200 square feet. She and Doty intend to keep it open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.
Fruchtman said her business has been affected over the years by the arrival of online shopping, which has put many brick-and-mortar booksellers out of business. Her response has been to try to offer a curated experience where people can find the best children’s books on the market and get expert advice on what to buy. She also has a small section of recommended adult-oriented books, such as “Fear,” Bob Woodward’s latest book about the Trump White House.
“There were many times when people were afraid we were going to close,” she said. “First it was Barnes & Noble. Then Bibelot. Then e-books. Then Amazon. Yes, there has been competition. But I don’t think they offer their customers as much expertise about books, which is what we give them… Our customers have the opportunity to talk to knowledgeable people at any given time.”
The Children’s Bookstore will continue to carry thousands of titles, and feature book signings and other appearances by authors and illustrators. Doty said she has plans eventually to sell books online, which the current store doesn’t do.
One of Fruchtman’s stipulations in searching for a new location was that it had to be within the city limits. She said she has been asked over the years to turn the store into a chain and open branches in other communities, but declined because she believed the best way to maintain quality was to avoid spreading herself too thin.
Reaction to the move has not been entirely positive. Some patrons have said it’s a loss for Roland Park and they’ll miss the current store.
But others say it will be a selling point for Hamilton and Lauraville, and that it’s smart to be next to Zeke’s.
Fruchtman acknowledges some customers are struggling with the store leaving Roland Park, but promises to create a new store that’s worth the trip.
“Roland Park has been a good place for the bookstore, and we have wonderful customers who have been here for years and years,” she said. “We’re now on our second generation of customers. I think we’re moving on to the third.”
“They’re looking for quality, which we will always give them… That’s a legacy that the store will carry with it.”
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