The other one-day industry in the neighborhood is parking, always at a premium when more than 100,000 people are streaming into the track.
But Ronald Billy Jr., owner of Triple R Alteration Center and president of the Park Heights Business Association, is convinced that the increased use of shuttle bus services has lightened foot traffic through the neighborhood. "People [are] still thinking they're going to make money, but they don't," he said of those residents who offer spaces in their yards.
Those who do park and walk through the Pimlico neighborhood, especially those streets closest to the track, find some welcoming residents. They're accustomed, after all, to outsiders trekking up and down their sidewalks.
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Residents seemed to be in a company's-coming mode, trimming hedges and planting flowers this week, or just enjoying a seat on their porches, watching all the activity at Pimlico.
Sharon Campbell, 66, a retired paralegal, won't be selling anything from her house on Winner Avenue this year — she and her twin, Carolyn Andrews, will be joining the crowds inside the track. Besides, she said, with her grandsons now in their teens, they're no longer as willing to sit on the steps and help her out.
"The limos would come up and give them $5 just for being cute," she said with a laugh.
Given the amount of money that changes hands inside the track — last year's betting pool exceeded $80 million — visitors tend to be generous outside of it as well, if only to keep their lucky stars aligned.
"I remember one year, a gentlemen come past me, and I was selling something out in front of the church, and he said, 'Here!' and he gave me about five or 10 dollars," said Ethel Lee, who has lived in the neighborhood since the 1970s. "He did it, he said, 'because I want to win today.' "
She no longer sells her fried chicken on Preakness Day, but Billy Jr. said that anyone looking for good food on Saturday can get it up on Park Heights Avenue, where the business strip, like the residential neighborhood around it, has taken on a Caribbean flavor, with a half-dozen restaurants specializing in jerk chicken, oxtails and coco bread.
And at least one Caribbean-owned business that doesn't usually sell food will do so on Saturday. Earlier this week, just off the corner of Park Heights and Hayward avenues, Gary Osbourne was working on an engine inside the garage at G and G Auto and Touring. But his focus will shift from cars to food on race day.
"I'll be bringing my jerk chicken out to the corner on Saturday," Osbourne said. "This will be my fifth year."
The three merchants who share a small shopping strip a half block off Hayward were planning to use their small parking lot for a daylong party. Renee's Carryout was going to set out ribs, corn on the cob, greens and macaroni and cheese. Weezyz Groceries was planning to pull out a grill. And Marvin's Seafood was going to serve up steamed crabs
But most Park Heights merchants, stretching from Belvedere to Rogers avenues, said they weren't going to do anything special. Danielle Roane, a manager at Dash Seafood, said she was going to give sidewalk sales a try. But West Indian Flavor II was among the businesses that have abandoned sidewalk sales during the Preakness. "It wasn't making us any money," said Ria Ramroop, a manager at the West Indian restaurant.
The Preakness, of course, is all about traditions, new and old. For home cooks like Thomas, the week has been filled with shuttling back and forth from the grocery store for supplies, finalizing her menu and pulling out her big crab pots, which can boil 15 pounds of potatoes at a time.
"Always in their jackets — it tastes better that way," she said, and made in advance to "let the flavor sink in."
She intended to spend much of the days before the Preakness chopping celery and onions and whisking up her rib marinade — unless she decides to go with a premade one.
"It's a lot of work, but I just take my time. I love cooking," Thomas said. "I wouldn't give anyone food I wouldn't eat myself."