Ours is an age of homogenization. Across America, the little neighborhood grocery store gives way to the McDonald’s serving 80 billion cheeseburgers, with side orders of angioplasty.
A customized deli like Gourmet Again closes its doors, to be replaced by … what?
I’m a sentimentalist. I drive along Liberty Road and pass the McDonald’s just over the city-county line, and I still see Price’s Dairy there. Price’s Dairy had the world’s thickest milkshakes right up until the day the place closed, either yesterday or half a century ago, I forget which.
I pass the Motor Vehicle Administration at the Hilltop Shopping Center, and it’s not the MVA at all. In my mind’s eye, it’s still the Crest Theatre in its glory days, and it’s showing something in Technicolor. And right across the street, why can’t we stop by the fabled Hilltop Diner for some french fries swimming in gravy?
So now we have Gourmet Again shutting down. A week ago, I’m there with half-a-dozen lunchtime pals. We’re hitting the salad bar, we’re hitting the deli for specialty sandwiches, and then we’re eating at tables right out front overlooking Old Court Road on a balmy day invented for lazy old bums like us.
And then, just like that, on Tuesday, May 28, the place closes forever.
In an interview May 29 with Jmore Senior Writer Aliza Friedlander, Gourmet Again owner Andy Hoffman blamed his store’s closing on the economic climate in the modern food business. He cited “industry powerhouses” such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market, which have changed the gourmet and prepared foods landscape.
“They really affect the small companies, and now people can get food delivered to their door,” Hoffman told Jmore in a May 2018 profile. “We have had to alter our business to make [customers] come out.”
Thus, Gourmet Again emptied its shelves this week – and, as Jmore pointed out, joined the roster of specialized Jewish-owned businesses that have closed in the past couple of years: Greetings & Readings, Tuxedo Pharmacy, the Suburban House restaurant, Cohen’s Clothiers, Donna’s, Diversions and Trillium.
But the roster of the dearly departed extends beyond Pikesville. It’s the modern American way — small establishments yielding to the economic muscle of the big corporations.
The past goes thataway. Nothing lasts forever. But it’s the small, idiosyncratic places that leave us with the most flavorful memories. I don’t hear people mourning the financial plight of chain stores.
But mention Sid Mandell’s old deli at Woodmoor Shopping Center, and they’re still drooling over his “Four by Four” (a hamburger surrounded by fries and onion rings) and hot dogs gluttonized back in 1962. Mention the Lotus Inn at Northern Parkway and Reisterstown Road, and they’re recalling egg rolls from the Eisenhower administration.
Fifty years from now, they’ll be reminiscing about the sandwiches and salad bar at Gourmet Again. Betcha lunch on it.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.