After five years as one of the anchors in the burgeoning Station North Arts and Entertainment District, Red Emma’s—Baltimore’s favorite worker-owned bookstore, café, restaurant, and event space—is moving back to Mount Vernon.
Kate Khatib, a Red Emma’s co-founder, said the bookstore coffeehouse hopes to open in the former home of Spike & Charlie’s at Preston and Cathedral streets by early September. The new location is essentially seven blocks south on Maryland Avenue and the protected bike lane there. It allow Red Emma’s to double the size of its bookstore (to 1,500 titles) and offer a seated dining option (small plate-based options) while still providing a versatile space for its readings, film screenings, panel discussions, and spoken word performances.
“We have absolutely loved being on North Avenue these past five years—we couldn’t imagine a better neighborhood to grow and develop our worker cooperative,” Khatib said, adding that making the decision to move has been a difficult process. “While we’ve managed to achieve some of our goals as a project since moving, we’ve struggled to recapture the cozy community feel of our original location, and, at the same time, have outgrown the capabilities of the cafe space we designed back in 2013.”
The new venue, with two floors and a street-level bar, will offer Red Emma’s an opportunity to grow its restaurant while also enabling the coffee and bookstore to return to the cozy basement-level vibe of its original Mt. Vernon home on St. Paul Street. At their current North Avenue address, having the coffee shop, bookstore, dining area and event space all in one large open area proved challenging at times.
The ability to divide the multi-purposed operation onto different floors and into distinct spaces will make everything more efficient, Khatib added. “We still want to have big events where we have 150 people come. But sometimes a room that holds 20 or 30 is better environment other things.”
Other changes include doubling the size of the bookstore, offering a seated dinner option, featured a dedicated gluten-free fryer, adding a full bar, and offering 10 more worker-owner track jobs, bring the Red Emma’s staff to a total of 35. Owners also said they want to strengthen their “commitment to creating and sustaining an inclusive gathering place with regular pay-what-you-want-nights and family-style dinners.”
Prior to hosting Spike & Charlie’s, the 9,000-square-foot building at 1225 Cathedral Street served as home to a jazz club run by Baltimore legend Ethel Ennis. “Our cooperative is increasingly owned by young black and brown women, queer, and trans folks,” Khatib said. “There’s a connection there to a hidden history of entrepreneurialism that’s really meaningful for us.”
For the immediate future, Red Emma’s will be open at its current location, Wednesdays through Sundays, through the end of June. They will closed for moving in July and August before opening in their new location.