Marylanders tiptoe to their new year, trying to be merry while there's time 1991

January 01, 1991|By James Bock

Bartender Glenn Kotelchuck knows better than most what 1991 will bring: The bar where he works will close, and he'll be out of a job.

Mr. Kotelchuck, 37, has mixed drinks at the venerable Owl Bar & Grill in the Belvedere Hotel for seven years. But the hotel was sold at foreclosure last week, and the Owl Bar held a final New Year's Eve blowout last night. Today it's closed until further notice.

Yesterday, the bartender urged everybody to drink up while there's time.

"Our motto is the more we sell, the less we have to inventory," said Mr. Kotelchuck, who has already lined up another job.

The new year dawns with less certainty for many Marylanders. They are tiptoeing into 1991 across a threshold mined with the threat of war abroad and a deep recession at home.

Before the serious partying and heartfelt farewells to 1990 began yesterday, The Sun asked a random sample of people around town what kind of 1991 they thought awaited them.

"Scary," said Mike Flynn, 56, a Catonsville homebuilder touring the Babe Ruth Birthplace. "Saudi Arabia. I think it's like 55 percent chance of peace, 45 percent war, and that's scary in itself. It's terrible to talk of life and death in such cold odds."

Mr. Flynn said he had already felt the economic downturn. Otherwise, he noted, he would be wearing construction shoes at a job site instead of tennis shoes at a museum.

"I've been through a lot of slumps, starting in the late '50s," he said.

"For some reason, it seems different this time. I think it's that big [government] debt. The government can't make work as easy without stirring up other problems like inflation."

But Mr. Flynn said he did look forward in 1991 to watching the new Orioles stadium at Camden Yards near completion.

"It's good for the economy, good for the spirit. The ballpark's a nice thing," he said.

At the Owl Bar, Stephanie Roche and Lori Fairfield, 25-year-old co-workers at the Monumental Corp., shared a last lunch at the bar and some queasiness about the economy.

"It's scary," said Mrs. Roche, who recently bought a house in Fork with her husband. "You can't know what the economy is going to do, so you really can't plan on spending a lot of money. As for starting a family or buying a car, we're just going to wait and see."

Mrs. Fairfield said her husband was working for USF&G Corp., the troubled insurer that recently cut its dividend and is bracing for cost-cutting and layoffs.

"I'm a little skeptical as to what's going to happen" in 1991, she said. "Our husbands bring in the bread; we just bring in the butter."

Tom and Geri Warpinski, who run a 200-acre sod farm in Churchton, south of Annapolis, said they foresaw no brighter economic picture until mid-1991 at the earliest.

"I think everybody's a little pessimistic, including myself," Mr. Warpinski said as they stopped for lunch in Fells Point with their two children. "We've already been forced to reduce prices to keep production up."

Carol Jackson, an occupational therapist from Timonium who had brought her 10-year-old daughter and a friend to the city, said the malls seemed almost empty this Christmas season.

"I hope it's better than this year. The economy's so bad. It seems like everybody's in such a bad mood," she said. "People are afraid to spend. It's just a real uneasy feeling."

Arthur Comegys Sr., 26, was sweeping up around the Broadway Market, all decked out in a New Year's party top hat. He has four children, including a 4-year-old in the hospital, he said. His goal for 1991 is to get steady work.

"It can't be much worse than 1990," he said.

But two unemployed men injected a ray of optimism into the gloom at the foot of Broadway.

"I can't explain it. I've always had a good feeling about 1991," said Philip Kordis, 34, a jobless geologist, cavorting with his dog, Gershwin.

"I don't think this year will be great as far as the economy goes, but maybe it will be the beginning of a way of looking at things realistically.

"It's a learning time, the way I look at it. You have little countries with nuclear weapons. That should be making you wake up, fTC making us pay attention to the smaller countries that are hurting," he said.

His companion, Greg Becker, 32, an unemployed construction worker, has lived in a mission for the past two weeks.

"I'm a Christian, and I see the country coming back to God," he said. "He is putting his judgment on the United States right now with the Middle East, the recession here, the job situation."

Across town, at the Lafayette Market in Upton, produce vendor Erma McDuffie and customers C. "Mr. C" Williams and Eula Anderson agreed it would be a tough year.

"With the political budget-cutting and Saudi Arabia, there seem to be too many things piled into one year," Mrs. McDuffie said. "When I used to be able to save a dollar, now I can only save 50 cents. Prices are constantly going up. . . ."

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