In Case of Emergency
H&H is prepared for every eventuality, even zombie apocalypse
Published: October 29, 2012
When the zombie apocalypse happens—when flesh-eating former friends and family walk the streets of downtown Baltimore searching for their next meal—the plan is to meet at the H&H Outdoors store on the 400 block of North Eutaw Street and equip ourselves: canteens, tents, camo jackets, and as many knives as we can carry.
Pony up $200 and you can purchase Kevlar vests bought by H&H from soldiers. That should stop Walking Dead-like person-animals from gnawing on your entrails.
This all assumes, of course, that owner Ken Rosenblatt and his store survive the first 48 hours. Still, even in an age of Walmarts and the convenience of internet shopping, a brick-and-mortar, family-owned business open more than 60 years probably stands a chance.
“There’s not that many left . . . single-owner business,” Rosenblatt says. “Business kind of gets in your blood. It’s something you’ve done all your life. It’s something you’d miss.”
Rosenblatt, an American Jew, born and raised in Baltimore, has run H&H Outdoors since 1990. His father originally founded the company in 1947 on West Baltimore Street near Carrollton Avenue as a World War II military surplus store. Rosenblatt’s father started taking him to trade shows when he was just 10 years old. At one such show, he talked to both Mickey Mantle (“not friendly”) and Harmon Killebrew (“the nicest guy”).
In the early days, Rosenblatt wasn’t helping his father at the store. But he was there the day in 1968, during the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., when a gang of people broke in through the back of the store and torched it with a Molotov cocktail.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get the fire extinguisher fast enough,” he remembers. “It was pretty much totaled.”
By the end of 1972, H&H Outdoors had settled permanently in its present location, at the intersection of North Eutaw and West Franklin streets. As Rosenblatt grew older, finishing school at Milford Mill High before matriculating to the University of Baltimore to study business management, he started helping his father with day-to-day operations at the store. This was in the late 1970s, he says. As time went on, he gradually took on more responsibility in running the store. When his father passed, in 1990, Rosenblatt assumed ownership.
“My dad taught me to be honest and to be truthful, and I think that was one of the most important things that he stood for,” he says. “That’s an important part of business. Once you start being dishonest, it catches up to you.”
Rosenblatt is stocky. Rotund, but not fat, with meat hooks for hands. And he’s thorough, perhaps in a way people today don’t expect business owners to be. He knows where to place the Dickies pants, the Carhartt jackets, and the surplus parachutes. He can tell you which jackets are lined or unlined, which gloves are better for security guards who have to wield handguns. Winter is typically his best sales season, he says; during the Snowmageddon of 2010, he sold boots that had been collecting dust in boxes for five years.
“One thing about business, if you don’t enjoy it or your heart’s not into it, I don’t think you’ll be successful at it,” says Rosenblatt. “You have to have a passion for succeeding or doing a good job. I think that I still give a lot of my time and effort to running this business and thinking about it.”
Indeed, having a retail store means Rosenblatt is there each of the six days H&H is open each week, keeping tabs on his staff, watching the floor for shoplifters, and making sales. There’s no computer at the H&H store. Instead, Rosenblatt records what he has sold—and what he needs to stock up on—using invoice forms.
Naturally, Rosenblatt isn’t always working. He’s an avid tennis enthusiast, having played since he was 5 years old. As a kid, he went to Colts games, and his love for Baltimore football hasn’t subsided with the Ravens, and he still plays armchair GM.
“Ravens drafts in the last three years have not been very good,” he says. “[Linebacker Sergio] Kindle didn’t pan out. [Nose tackle Terrence] Cody’s only fair. [Cornerback] Jimmy Smith really doesn’t look that great of a talent. He’s a first-round pick, but he’s nothing like a [former cornerback Chris] McAlister.”
In recent years, H&H has become synonymous with the artists and musicians who occupy the floors above Rosenblatt’s outdoors store. Gallery Four, Nudashank, the Whole Gallery, Floristree, and the 5th Dimension share the building with Rosenblatt and are collectively known to the city’s art scene as the H&H.
It’s not exactly a coherent pairing: artists and an outdoors-equipment retailer. Though Rosenblatt doesn’t have much to say about the artists who live above him, he shares a DIY ethos with them, especially as owning a single business becomes harder. Much of the stuff he sells, be it Army surplus or otherwise, is the result of supplier relationships Rosenblatt has cultivated over the years.
As for what happens to H&H Outdoors when Rosenblatt calls it quits?
“I don’t have any children,” he says. “So I don’t know what’ll happen to it.”
> Email Andrew Zaleski