Chocolatier will trade a pound of smiles for a dollop of decency

THIS JUST IN . . .

September 26, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

This has been a year of paradoxes for Albert Kirchmayr, the master chocolatier from North Charles Street. He lost something valuable, yet worthless. His business suffered a loss but at the same time benefited from it. And he discovered a paradox of generosity -- that people with the least often give the most, if only because it makes them feel good.

Let's go back to Christmas 1993. On December 23, Albert Kirchmayr stuffed close to 300 checks worth $19,000 in a large envelope, put the envelope in a box packed with aprons, got in his car and drove to West Baltimore. On the way to make a deposit at his bank, he stopped at Rudy's Patisserie to pick up some nuts. He left his car unlocked. Kirchmayr was in Rudy's for 10 minutes. When he returned to his car, the box and the checks were gone.

"At first I panicked," he says. But in that panic, laced with guilt, he did everything right: Alerted banks, check-cashing shops and liquor stores; distributed posters offering a reward for the checks; searched through trash cans. Banks told Kirchmayr the checks, accounting for about 30 percent of the chocolatier's annual revenues, were virtually useless to the thief. (Nine months later, as far as Kirchmayr can tell, no one has tried to cash them.)

He placed a sign in the shop that tested the honor of customers. It asked them to say if they had paid for chocolates with a check between Dec. 13 and Dec. 23. If a check had never cleared, the customer would be asked to write another. So far, the chocolatier has recouped 45 percent of his loss that way.

Kirchmayr received a fair amount of news coverage, and though reports of the lapse that made the theft possible might have been considered bad publicity -- "It was stupid of me," Kirchmayr told a reporter -- it actually led to greater public awareness of his shop. Increased business for Valentine's Day and Easter helped Kirchmayr make up his loss.

Also, people of modest means, some of whom had never been to his shop, mailed him cash. Others offered money. One man offered an interest-free loan for the full amount. "I was too proud to take these offers and rejected the generosity," Kirchmayr says. "But I later realized that people made these offers not just to help me, but to make themselves feel good. I should not have rejected them."

Still, there's this: Some people, by now fully aware of Kirchmayr's problem, have not yet offered to make good on the (( chocolates for which they wrote checks back in December. Most others probably did not hear of the incident -- until now. Kirchmayr is at 6223 1/2 N. Charles St. The phone number is 323-7705. I'll leave it at that.

The clock stops here

Allow me to intercede on behalf of a Sun colleague, Rafael Alvarez, to attest that a short story he wrote, titled "The Fountain of Highlandtown," was fiction. The story was voted best of those submitted for the Artscape '94 Literary Arts Awards and was published in July in Sun Magazine. I emphasize the work's fictional nature for good reason: Many people apparently believed Alvarez's reference to the "Great Bolewicki Depression Clock," and went looking for it on Eastern Avenue. Here's how Alvarez described it: "It is a huge, vivid piece of machinery bolted to the front of an appliance store called Bolewicki's; a clock with a lollipop face and crystal hands filled with bubbling water -- the little hand bubbling lavender and the big hand bubbling pink. . . ." There's no such clock, but there is a Bolewicki's. It's an appliance store on Eastern Avenue. After Alvarez's story appeared, Joe Bolewicki started getting calls. Would he sell the clock? Did he have any idea how much it was worth? "Two nuns came down here from Holy Rosary wanting to see it," Joe tells me. "Some tourists came by to see the clock. One guy wanted to know if I'd donate it to hang on the Rec Pier in Fells Point. I got calls from people I haven't spoken to in 20 years." Apparently, some people thought the clock was stolen after being featured in Alvarez's story. I hope this clears things up.

The New Jersey example

Encouraging words for Ellen Sauerbrey, the tax-cutting Republican gubernatorial candidate, as reported in the Sept. 19 issue of what her conservative colleagues like to call "that liberal rag," Time magazine:

"New Jersey in six months has reduced income taxes by 15 percent, half of what once seemed a pie-in-the-sky promise by new Governor Christine Todd Whitman to enact a 30 percent slash over three years. The reductions have made Whitman not only highly popular locally but also a rising star in national Republican circles."

Twins through the ages

Here's something for your sports nuts, your astrology nuts, your trivia nuts, your basic Zoe and Bob Hieronimus types:

Peter Angelos, your basic mover and shaker, Orioles owner and Rams wanna-be-owner, goes to a meeting with Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis, your basic mover and shaker and maverick among NFL owners. They're a couple of outspoken men who draw strong reactions from people. Together they could raise some delicious havoc among the suits who control professional sports. Now here's the part Zoe and Bob will love: Angelos and Davis were born on the same day: Thursday, July 4, 1929 -- Davis in Brockton, Mass., Angelos in Western Pennsylvania. Just sit down and puff on that a while.

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