To chocolate maker, Christmastime was bittersweet

HAPPY EATER

January 30, 1994|By ROB KASPER

Like most chocolate makers around Baltimore, Albert Kirchmayr hopes to be busy during the next two weeks, leading up to Valentine's Day. But this year he is counting on the Feb. 14 holiday to be doubly sweet. He is hoping that customers will read the notice posted in his small shop and pay him again for the chocolates they bought at Christmastime.

That is because many of the checks customers wrote to the chocolate maker in December were stolen from his unlocked car two days before Christmas.

About 300 checks totaling about $19,000 were taken, Kirchmayr said. Because the checks are made out to the business, banks have assured Kirchmayr that the checks are virtually useless to the thief, and as best Kirchmayr can determine, no one has attempted to cash them.

While the checks have no apparent value to the thief, they are vital to Kirchmayr's small business. The missing checks, he said, represented a sizable portion of his Christmas revenue.

The most effective way to get the funds back, he figures, is to get word of the theft to the customers who make their way to his quaint shop in the 6200 block of North Charles. There for the last five years, Kirchmayr, a native of Schongau, Germany, has been turning out high-quality chocolates, like his chocolate Valentine's heart filled with hand-made truffles.

When I spoke to him the other day on the phone, Kirchmayr was mad at himself for not locking his car. "It was stupid," he said. He proceeded to tell me the details of the incident.

It was two days before Christmas, he said, when he made an early morning stop, en route to the bank, at Rudy's Patisserie in West Baltimore. He often stops there to visit the shop's proprietor, Rudolf Rauch.

He parked his car in front of the Carrollton Avenue bakery but did not lock the car doors. He now says he was wrong not to lock the doors. But at the time, he thought he was just going to be in the bakery for a minute. And besides, the car was within his sight.

But as happens when friends get talking, time got away from them. The "one minute" became a much longer visit. When Kirchmayr returned to his car he found someone had rifled it, "taking everything that wasn't bolted down.

"The checks were in an envelope, in a box of aprons," Kirchmayr said. The aprons might be worth something to a thief, but since the checks were made out to the chocolate shop, and therefore are difficult to cash, Kirchmayr hoped that the thief would return them. He filed a police report, and he posted signs around Rudy's shop, offering a reward for the checks. But the promise of a reward did nothing.

Thinking that the thief might have tossed the checks in a nearby trash can, Rauch alerted the neighborhood trash collectors to be on the lookout for them. But late this week, the checks were still missing. And Kirchmayr was without the funds. The notice in his shop asks customers to see if their checks written to Kirchmayr between Dec. 13 and Dec. 22 have cleared their banks.

"Since we have no record of the issuer," the notice reads, "and the checks have not been recovered, we must rely on you, and your honesty, to help us recover from this misfortune."

So far, this notice has resulted in his recouping about 20 percent of the missing funds, Kirchmayr said.

He said he is relying on word-of-mouth, which helped build his business, to produce the rest of money. In his business, he said, the money from Christmas is what buys supplies for Easter chocolates.

"The economy hasn't been able to put us out of business," Kirchmayr said. "This almost did."

I found out about Kirchmayr's situation last week when a friend, Neil Grauer, came to our house with a box of Kirchmayr's chocolates. As we feasted on the chocolates, Grauer told my wife and me the unhappy story of the missing checks.

Sure enough, when my wife reviewed our checkbook she found that the check she had written to Kirchmayr in December for truffles and chocolate statues of St. Nicholas had not cleared. Since the bank's fee for stopping payment on the first check, $22, would almost equal the amount of the check, we decided to take the gamble that the first check was gone for good. We put a new check in the mail. Kirchmayr is optimistic that increased traffic in his shop before Valentine's Day will result in more customers rewriting checks.

So spread the word. This fellow and his chocolates are too good to lose.

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