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Not your run-of-the-mill experience

The Mount Washington Mill goes to the heart of what Baltimore is today. Dubbed the "biggest small town in America," Baltimore houses modern amenities associated with a large city without taking away from its Old World charm. The mill is an architectural melting pot, combining old and new traditions to create a unique shopping experience.

Once a cotton factory, one of the oldest surviving in the country, the mill is on the National Register of Historical places. But don’t let that fool you; this is not your average early 19th century historical site.

A Developer’s Vision

When Sam Himmelrich Jr. acquired the Mount Washington Mill in 1989, this local developer envisioned a site for modern commerce that would be a step above your local strip mall. "So many times what happens when renovating buildings is that they’re overly done, and the decorative overrides the original," Himmelrich says. "What we’ve attempted in this renovation is to modernize it without taking away from what was already there."

This effort has paid off. As you drive past the mill, you would never know that it housed modern luxuries such as Starbucks, Fresh Fields, and O’Conor, Piper & Flynn. At night, light illuminates the old mill’s water tower from below, giving it a rustic look of a light industrial zone, not an upper-middle class shopping center. It is this appearance that gives the mill its charm.

Different Perspectives

Nancy Ring, 74, of Baltimore County travels to the Mount Washington Mill often to shop. "I come here because it reminds me of growing up in the city. There maybe a Starbucks coffee shop here but the atmosphere and the building design are what I like."

Ring is a native of North Baltimore. She moved to the county along with many other middle-class families right after the Baltimore riots, following the Martin Luther King assassination. "The city has lost some of its Old World charm that made it so wonderful to live in. Mount Washington is still someplace that I can go to and think this is what Baltimore has always been."

The mill, a Mount Washington tradition for over a century, continues as a one-of-a-kind shopping destination. Long known for its off-the-wall eclectic shops, Mount Washington is an oasis for those who want to get away from suburbia.

"I feel like this is my secret shopping place," Nancy reveals, "there are no long lines in the stores or in the [parking] lots. There may only be a few stores there but they have something for everyone on your shopping lists."

Jason Bodani, a local shop owner near the mill, attributes its success to its uncanny ability to give more with so much less. "The best part about having a business at the Mount Washington Mill is that people feel good about shopping here. People will spend hours just walking around this relatively small area."

"Here I am, sipping on a café latte from Starbucks at the same time that I’m walking around an authentic 19th century mill. It’s kind of euphoric for anyone who loves old American cities," said Jason.

Less is more

That perspective is what Sam Himmelrich had in mind. Some may have said it would be easier to tear down the old mill and put up some big shopping center. But to Himmelrich, bigger doesn’t always mean better.

"The key is: if the project is well thought out and its economically more feasible to keep old buildings then to tear them down, then they should be kept," Himmelrich explains. "What we do is more popular in the public domain then putting up a strip mall." It really works out for the better on all sides.

The Mount Washington Mill has become a landmark for the area. Its no so much about the stores as it is the history here. Sam Himelrich’s design is a love letter across generations. It says to all that you can have modern life without forgetting about the past. To forget about the past would be to lose that which is valuable to our future, and to residents of Mount Washington, the future will surely not be run-of-the-mill.

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