Barbara's Groceries, Then & Now
We first met the guys at Barbara’s Groceries back in 2015 on the 4700 block of Liberty Heights Avenue. This episode, we reunite with them, we listen back together to their original recordings, and we ask them, “How’s life changed in the past six years?” Also, Aaron & Wendel bid a fond farewell to listeners as Out of the Blocks comes to a close.
Aaron Henkin: From WYPR and PRX, it’s Out of the Blocks. I’m Aaron Henkin. Back in 2015, we got to meet three guys who had just taken a leap of faith up in Northwest Baltimore. They pooled their money together and they just opened up a brand new neighborhood grocery store.
Chris: Hey, how y’all doing? My name is Chris.
John Paris: I’m John Paris.
Flip J. Harris: My name is Flip J. Harris. Everybody calls me Stacks.
Chris, JP, & FJH: And we’re at 4722 Liberty Heights Avenue.
AH: They named their place Barbara’s Groceries after a late relative, and today--seven years later--Barabara’s Groceries is still going strong.
FJP: I never dreamed it would be this much work involved. [laughs] But it’s well worth the reward. You know, it’s a big story behind then to now…
Chris: And it ain’t over. It’s just starting, actually.
AH: You’ll hear that story this episode, and we’ll also take a minute to acknowledge that this is the final episode of the Out of the Blocks podcast. Co-producer Wendel Patrick and I are gonna reminisce together about what this decade-long journey has meant to us.
Wendel Patrick: You know, when I first met you, I was, you know, a budding composer and an interested photographer and it’s basically given me a playground for ten years to hone my craft as a composer and musician, and to capture images of people that we’ve met and I’ve very, very grateful for that as well.
AH: I have a… I have a surprise for you. You ready for a surprise?
WP: Yeah. What is it?
AH: You’re gonna find out. Right after this.
Chris: Hey, how y’all doing? My name is Chris.
JP: I’m John Paris.
FJP: My name is Flip J. Harris. Everybody calls me Stacks.
Chris, JP, & FJH: And we’re at 4722 Liberty Heights Avenue.
FJP: The name of the store is Barbara’s Groceries.
JP: Barbara’s Groceries, the cheapest prices in town. Make sure you get out here.
FJP: Barbara was my stepmother.
Chris: She passed away.
FJP: And we pay homage to our relatives who have passed away.
Chris: To put their name on a billboard outside.
JP: And that’s just what we do. We just, you know, like to pay homage.
Chris: So they’ll never be forgotten. That’s a beautiful thing.
FJP: We put our funds together and…
Chris: We just decided to take a chance.
JP: And we dug in and we got it done.
Chris: It’s not even a job. This is my dream.
FJP: It’s a very refreshing feeling to be in control of your destiny.
JP: Pride of ownership, man. That’s what it’s about. Not having to really answer to nobody but us.
FJP: We lived a life to where we know how certain stories end and we trying to write an end to a whole different story. You know, we’re not three Harvard graduates. We graduated from the streets of hard knocks. So, that’s a whole different program and if you can survive that program, you deserve to treat yourself to something like this and live the rest of your days comfortably, not chasing something that is elusive and imaginary. Thank you, brother. You have a good one.
AH: (2021) What’s it like to listen back to yourself at that moment in time, six, seven years ago?
FJP: Wow. I never dreamed it would be this much work involved. It’s a lot of work to… You know, once you create something of this magnitude, it’s a lot of work to try and keep it going. But it’s well worth the reward, you know? It’s a big story behind then to now but, you know, I just suffice to say it was well worth it all. You know, we still going and I still feel like, you know what I mean, we still writing that story.
Chris: It’s awesome. If you think about it… Three men from the hood took their own lives into their own hands and it ain’t over. Like Stacks said, it ain’t over. It’s just starting, actually.
AH: When I first met you guys… As you say, it was three guys. Stacks, you’re here today. Chris, you’re here today. Tell me what happened to John.
FJP: John’s my brother. He passed away. We opened the business in 2015. He passed away in 2017. He had kidney failure. You know, he had some problems with his kidneys and stuff, so, you know, it was a struggle for him for quite some time and yeah… That’s how it ended for him.
AH: You guys are still here and the shop is still here. When I look around in here… I mean, I remember when I first showed up, you guys barely had anything on the shelves and now the place is packed, you’ve got people coming in and out, a steady stream of customers… I mean, you’ve made a foundation here.
FJP: You know, it’s all part of the vision. It’s all a part of what we set out to do, and in that vision, there was no stopping, there was no, “Okay, we’re gonna quit if this doesn’t happen, or we’re gonna stop if this doesn’t happen.” No, in that vision, we kept going until you see what you see and more. So, we made that happen.
Chris: We’re go-getters. Nothing will deter us from what we need to do.
AH: Let me ask you guys about the relationships--the everyday relationships--you’ve built with people on this block. When you run the local corner store, you know this neighborhood and the people--the regulars, locals around here--better than anybody else. Talk about the relationships you’ve made, the people whose lives have intersected with yours, and just sort of what that’s taught you about life.
FJP: Well, wow. How much time do you got? Because we’ve met a lot of people, done a lot of--we’ve created a lot relationships with people. You’ve gotta figure, we’ve been here six--going on seven--years now, so a lot of kids that were twelve is eighteen now, you know? So, we’ve watched a lot of kids grow and nothing is more refreshing or nice to see when a child that’s twelve can come into a black-owned business and see that that black-owned business is still standing and they’re eighteen now. You know what I mean? So, we employ local children in the neighborhood. A lot of the kids you see work here has been working here since they were young, you know? So, John in the black, he’s been with us 2016. He’s twenty now. So, for a lot of our customers… I’ve heard one customer tell me once that when you come in the store, it’s like coming into a relative’s home, because we’ve created that type of dialogue with our customers and that type of relationships with our customers whereas when they come in here, we talk about anything. It’s like talking to your uncle or your best friend and it’s genuine. It’s not like we’re trying to blow smoke up they tail or whatever, it’s genuine. We’ll be genuinely interested in how their day was and they’ll sit there and talk to us and hold up other customers because they just want to get so much out. And sometimes we can do it and sometimes we can’t, but even in the times we can’t, they come back and give us part two. So, we have that type of relationship with our customers and with the community as a whole. We’ve done giveaways to the community. You know, a lot of people would never know that and that’s not what I’m here for. I’m not here to brag and boast about that. I’m just saying that that’s the type of relationships that we’ve had and created with the community.
AH: If I come find you guys in another six years, where do you want to be in your life, Chris?
Chris: First, don’t wait so long. We’ve got a business venture to do together. Six years from now, it’s no ceiling. We’re gonna soar with the eagles. You don’t plan, you just do. You succeed. You conquer.
AH: You’re talking to me about a podcast idea. Get you and Stacks a couple of microphones and you can host your own podcast from the shop. How cool would that be?
Chris: Nice, but we can’t do it without you, Aaron. Don’t leave yourself out. Yeah, I think that this neighborhood really need to be seen for more than the assumptions.
AH: You know, one of the--kind of the whole philosophy behind this show is about the power of telling your story. Like, that matters.
FJP: There are so many stories. Six years ago, you walked through here and you came face to face with lot of stories. Everybody has a story, you know what I mean? And I think it’s equally important for everybody to tell their story because inside everybody’s story, there’s a lesson to be learned. And I think the underlying moral of our story is don’t give up. You know, even in adversity, even when you don’t think you can make it, even when you think it’s about to all cave in, you don’t give up. You find a way to keep going and keep going and keep going.
AH: It’s Out of the Blocks. More in a moment. Hey, Wendel Patrick.
WP: Hey, Aaron Henkin.
AH: This is it, man. This is the last segment of the last episode of the last season of Out of the Blocks. How are you feeling right about now?
WP: Honestly, it’s kind of hard to believe. It’s a little surreal. I mean, if you think about, you know, where we started and where we came from to now and everything that we’ve been through, it’s definitely a little sad but, you know, how often do you get to ride something out to completion and feel really great about it when it ends?
AH: I have a surprise for you. You ready for a surprise?
WP: Yeah. What is it?
AH: All of the folks that we’ve been reuniting with this season--I asked them all one question that I did not put in any of their final edits this season. I’ve been saving their answers to share with you, right here on this last episode, and the question was--I asked them, “What was it like for you to have us--Aaron and Wendel--wander into your life out of the blue with this crazy documentary project called Out of the Blocks?” You ready to hear what they had to say?
AH: Alright. You remember James Carter from our very first episode on Greenmount Avenue?
WP: I do. He was the very first person whose music I scored, actually.
AH: I remember you sent me the first mix of your music and it was just like thirty seconds of his buzz clippers. He’s a barber. It was like a feuge. You had figured out what pitch the clippers were and created an accompaniment for it.
WP: Yeah, that was totally just a test run.
AH: Here’s what James Carter had to say.
James Carter: Initially, in the beginning, I felt honored that you guys do a story about the block but include me in it as well. So, with that, I thank you and feel honored to tell my story from my perspective about the block and the things I’ve been through and stuff of that nature. And just like today, when I got a phone call from you saying that you want to recap what we’d done ten years ago, I was like--I was like taken aback because, first and foremost, I didn’t believe that you would remember me from ten years ago, but you did. You remember the story and it took me back and I was telling my wife about it and like I say, man, it was kind of emotional. Like, I always get emotional around--I mean, talking about stuff of that nature, right? And I want to thank you and Mr. Wendel for thinking about me and wanting to do a recap about the story. I truly appreciate it and I hope that whoever hears this that may be going through something, to understand that you have the power to change it. It might not happen at the snap of your fingers, but I guarantee you if you work hard and put the negative--whatever is negative in your life--put that away and get rid of it, I guarantee you you are gonna come out on top.
AH: Pretty cool, huh?
WP: Yeah, that’s pretty cool to hear.
AH: Here’s Tymekia, Tymekia Spellman from the 4700 block of Liberty Heights Avenue. You ready?
Tymekia Spellman: I still think back to when y’all came on our block. I’m like, “Y’all want to know about who? Me? Why?” [laughs] You know, and when I started talking, y’all were like, “Really? Tell me more.” I’m like, “Y’all want to know more? Okay, I’ll tell you more,” because nobody cares about me like that. Like, in my mind, I’m like, “Don’t nobody care about what I went through.” So what? But you guys were so interested. I’m like, “Really? You want to know more?” [laughs] So, I was intrigued with the fact that you guys even wanted to know more about me. So, it was an amazing experience for me.
AH: We’ve really gotten to know Tymekia over the years and kept in touch with her. We’ve developed a pretty cool friendship with her. It’s one of the things I’m really grateful about, it’s the folks that we’ve met and have really stuck around and been part of our lives.
WP: Yeah, that’s been one of the most pleasant things, I think, for me is, you know, when we started this, it was really an experiment and I don’t think… I certainly didn’t envision, you know, all of the ways that the show would really affect me and our lives and we’re social media friends with a lot of the folks that we’ve interviewed and it’s great to see them have successes in their life year after year, and it’s been wonderful to have them supporting and cheering on the show. It’s really been a beautiful thing these last ten years.
AH: Speaking of old friends and their successes, I got one more for you. Here’s Will Jackson from Northwest Baltimore.
Will Jackson: I really loved the fact that y’all actually went into real neighborhoods and talked to real people who came from certain places in their own lives to talk about their struggles and where they came from. You can really hear the truth in y’all, in this Out of the Blocks documentary. And then, of course, y’all two just--y’all make everybody comfortable enough to want to talk about their story, because a lot of people keep it bottled up like myself. I really don’t tell two many people my story but if it helps somebody, then yeah, I’ll tell it over, over, and over again.
AH: I feel like one of the lessons I’ve learned in this series is that, you know, once you get talking to someone it really is amazing how willing and able and eager people are to share stories about their lives. I think people find themselves surprised at the experience from their end, when they’re like, “Oh my God, I didn’t realize I had so much to say.”
WP: Well, let me ask you. How do you feel about the show ending and where the show has gotten to over these years since you first came to me with just really an idea? And, you know, you didn’t know how it was going to turn out, I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. How do you feel now that we’re putting this final episode out?
AH: I don’t usually get interviewed. [laughs] Man, this project has just been a blessing in so many ways to me. It really, like, just fundamentally rewired the way I think about other human beings. You and I, we talked about this idea of treating everyone you meet as your teacher for the day, you know? That concept has really become, like, truly ingrained in me. And to travel with you, Wendel--all the places we’ve been, all the hundreds of people we’ve met together… To be able to do that side by side with you--I mean, what an incredible shared experience you and I have had over the past decade. I’m gonna miss that, and I’m gonna miss you.
WP: I know where you live.
AH: [laughs] I’m really grateful to know that you and I got to experience all that together, you know? We’ll have lots of interesting things to talk about when we’re a couple of old guys sitting in a park bench together, feeding the pigeons. It’s just… It’s been a great experience all around and you’ve been right there at the center of it with me the whole time.
WP: Well, one of the things I want to share with the listeners is the fact that, you know, when we did the first episode we had no idea or even intention of ever doing a second one. It was really an experiment. I remember it took us a year to do the first one and I don’t know if you remember this but we went to dinner to celebrate when it came out and we were sitting at a table, just talking about sort of like all of these wildest-dream scenario, and they were really just dreams and we were like, “Man, what if we could make a second one?” And then we were like, “What if we could somehow make this into a series and get funding?” And then it was like, “Man, what if we could do this in other cities?” And all of that has come true over the years and, you know, the very last thing that we said that day was, “Man, what if this could become a TV show?” Do you remember that? That was the very last thing and all of those seemed like, you know, just daydreams and I’m really, really--I feel very fortunate, you know, to have been there with you through all of these different iterations of the show and to have gotten to meet honestly hundreds of people that we’ve met and then also for me… You know, when I first met you, I was, you know, a budding composer and an interested photographer and it’s basically given me a playground for ten years to hone my craft as a composer and musician, and to capture images of people that we’ve met and I’ve very, very grateful for that as well.
AH: You just teased something there that we should probably say more… We should break some news here, go out with a bang. You mentioned us talking about, like, “Wow, what if this would someday become a TV show?” Well, lo and behold, over the past year we’ve been working on making a pilot episode of an Out of the Blocks TV version and Maryland Public Television has picked it up and they’re going to broadcast it. They have it slated to air on Saturday night, October 2. So, I guess this isn’t the end of the road for us, it’s just a change in gears. So, I don’t know. Listeners, stay tuned for that. But…
WP: Listeners and viewers.
AH: ...And viewers. Yeah, that’ll be a wild new chapter and it’s gonna be a good excuse to get to keep hanging out with you, Wendel.
WP: Yeah, you know, but I’m just really grateful for the opportunity, the experience… I’m grateful for your friendship and, you know, honestly, you and I were maybe colleagues when we started but you’ve definitely become a dear friend and I don’t mind getting a little sappy sharing that, so thank you.
AH: Wendel Patrick, congratulations on a job well done and thank you for everything.
WP: Congratulations, Aaron.
AH: That is gonna wrap it up for this final episode of Out of the Blocks, an original production of WYPR and PRX. And, you know, you always hear us thank a whole bunch of folks during these end credits, but today I just want to thank you. I want to thank you, our listeners. Thank you for listening to Out of the Blocks over the years with open ears and open minds and open hearts. It means a lot to know you’re out there, so be well and thanks for listening. Out of the Blocks is supported by PRX and produced with grant funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, Patricia and Mark Joseph Shelter Foundation Inc., the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, creator of the Baker Artist Portfolios online at bakerartist.org, and the Maryland State Arts Council at msac.org.