Miss Louise selling gift shop after 61 years

May 05, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

The little ad said it all: "For sale gift shop. Long estab. Owner retiring."

Indeed, after nearly 62 years at the Ambassador Gift Shop in the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood, Louise Mullen Flanigan has put her sachet-scented store on the market.

"That little ad brought 14 inquiries. I'm looking forward to having the time to travel," she said the other day.

There's also another reason. The woman generations of customers have called Miss Louise is now Mrs. Leo Flanigan. She and Baltimore contractor-builder Leo Flanigan were married Feb. 12.

It was September 1933 when Miss Louise opened her gift shop on the ground level of the Tudor Revival-style apartment house her father had constructed at Canterbury Road and 39th Street. The building was called the Ambassador, cost $1 million in Depression dollars to build, and remains to this day one of the neighborhood's finest addresses.

"The building was always special. It was my father's first high-rise," Miss Louise said.

"We sold cards and magazines and we also carried the Racing Form. The little ladies came in and bought it. So did the men. I guess we were known for it," she said.

Somehow this guide to the thoroughbred turf disappeared from the Ambassador's inventory. Miss Louise and her cousins, Virginia Detrow and Nell Lamond, staffed the shop and dovetailed its wares to the tastes of residents of an area of North Baltimore's geography often called the Golden Triangle -- the slice of land bounded by Charles and 39th streets and University Parkway.

"Virginia and I went on our first buying trip to New York in the early 1930s," Miss Louise recalled. "I think we had $98 and that was for the train fare and the hotel. We bought cards, pottery and toys."

Her father, the late Thomas F. Mullen Sr., was one of the city's most prolific builders. He began his career at the time of the 1904 Baltimore Fire. His teams of horses hauled away burned building materials while his work crews dug the foundations of new buildings. His firm is responsible for many Baltimore structures, from rows of Govans houses to the Ridgemede, Carrollton, the 3900 N. Charles and Charles Center's Twin Towers at Charles and Saratoga streets.

After her father's death she and her brothers, Thomas F. Jr., Charles A. and Joseph, inherited the Ambassador Apartments. However, customers at her little shop would never have known the tall woman who stood so erectly behind the counter owned the 11 stories above. Some years ago, the Mullens sold the building to a Kansas City owner, but she retained her little shop whose entrance is off 39th Street.

Her fashion trade mark is a neat suit. She wears half-frame glasses. She exhibits consummate patience with her customers, who are often in no immediate hurry to make their selections.

The shop is unashamedly old-fashioned. It carries a large inventory of men's and women's handkerchiefs, priced at $1.95 to $20. Grandchildren bring in their grandmothers for an afternoon's worth of selecting handbags, scarves, note cards and novelties. A local publication called it "Baltimore's best classic gift shop."

Until they were no longer available, Miss Louise placed all purchases in paper bags printed with purple violets.

"The ladies loved our bags. They reused them for taking sandwiches to bridge games. Often people would come in and ask for an extra bag along with whatever they bought," she said.

Miss Louise had never married until this year. Although the Mullen and Flanigan families had been friends for many years, she met her husband at a dinner party.

Word of her nuptials became a topic of conversation in the Ambassador's corridors and lobby.

"One of my customers came in and said, 'I've come in to congratulate you and to thank you.'

"I said, to thank me for what?

" 'For giving me hope' was her reply," Miss Louise said.

Now she looks forward to visiting more countries than the 100 she has already called at. Her husband has promised to carry all the luggage.

"It's been a fairy tale with a happy ending," she said.

"Not happy ending," her husband interjected. "A happy new beginning."

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