Belvedere Hotel's closing strains shops in Belvedere Hotel Mall

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

March 08, 1991|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Evening Sun Staff

Kay Kaufman sits alone in her store on the ground floor of the Belvedere Hotel, waiting for customers to come and browse through the handmade gifts in her shop.

"It's not likely there'll be many today," she said last week as she sat behind her desk.

Since the Belvedere closed its doors officially as a hotel on Jan. 1, Kaufman says attracting customers to her Senior Craft Shop has become more and more difficult. And media coverage of the hotel's bankruptcy and auction, she said, hasn't helped.

"People thought the shops have closed as well [as the hotel]. We're fighting for our lives," she says. "Business has fallen off terribly."

The lower level of the hotel was converted to retail space in 1976 when the hotel underwent renovation. Now home to 14 shops, the minimall is known as the Belvedere Hotel Mall.

And though there are still tenants in some of the building's apartments and offices, Kaufman says they're aren't enough of them to support the shop.

"We really need a boost in saying that these specialty shops are open and ready for business," she said.

Kaufman's sentiments are shared by other merchants who operate or own stores on the ground floor of the building. Mildred Purcell, who has run the Belvedere Gift Shop for the last nine years, says she's lost almost all her business.

"In a shop of this type, you need overnight hotel guests," she said. "We've never had adequate exposure to people on the outside."

Purcell says that she was forced to lay off the few part-time employees she had and now works full-time herself. She no longer keeps the store open on Sundays.

"This place is so dead here on Sundays you'd be scared to death to be down here," she says.

Mary Johnson, owner of Mej's Silk Flower Boutique, admits she took a leap of faith when she moved into the Belvedere's lower level eight months ago, but says she likes the location and seems determined to make a success of her small business.

The former Baltimore City school teacher says all the shops need is a little publicity.

"I'm not a pessimist, I'm an optimist," Johnson says. "We jusneed to let everyone know that we are alive."

Charles A. Gueli, president of Calaron Management Group Inc., the company that manages the hotel, said that the problems the stores face are natural since the hotel was involved in bankruptcy and an auction.

"And there was some erroneous reporting," he said, which also contributed to the decrease in mall traffic.

But Gueli says Calaron is aware of the problem, and stresses that the company is trying "to take the steps that we can with the limited amount of money that we have to let people know that the shops are open."

Those steps have included a banner on Charles Street, a poster in the lobby of the hotel, and a poster in the shops' windows.

But what the shops on the lower level need most, Gueli says, is for an interested party to buy the hotel.

"That's what will help them the most," he says. "Getting the building back on its feet."

Gueli declined to speculate on the hotel's future, but did say, "I'm optimistic that there are serious, interested buyers out there. I think that will lead to a sale."

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