In a hidden Hampden behind the North Baltimore neighborhood's Methodist church steeples and corner taprooms, lunch box-toting workers collect weekly paychecks as meatpackers, computer software designers, stitchers of leather dog leashes and bookbinders.
Most commuters along the Jones Falls Expressway get only quick, sidelong glances at the 19th century neighborhood, where the time-temperature pylon of a Pepsi distributor is the outstanding industrial landmark.
But when Martha Stewart, the grand diva of glamorous country life, wanted someone to restore her gilt-edged mirrors, she chose a firm at 36th Street and Falls Road, the commercial crossroads of this working-class community where many laborers still use their feet to get to their jobs.
It's a neighborhood where 7-Eleven convenience stores stock their deli counters with Caribbean-style pocket sandwiches made by Hampden's oldest meatpacker.
Coupon books for summer promotional sales at a suburban-Philadelphia shopping mall were glued together at an Elm Avenue bindery. And Baltimore's bronze tribute to Babe Ruth, the statue on the Eutaw Street side of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, was cast at a foundry across Jones Falls from the light-rail line.
Hampden's role in the local job market is not in the same league with Baltimore's major employers, the Johns Hopkins University and Bethlehem Steel Corp. -- a payroll of 35 employees is large in this neighborhood.
Even so, the small workshops adjacent to the Jones Falls Valley turn out an unexpected variety of crafts and products.
"Our clients are amazed when they visit us. They can't believe this space exists and that we occupy it," said Jon Kinneman, art director at Robert Rytter and Associates Inc., a graphics design studio on the top floor of what had been an Odd Fellows meeting hall in the 3600 block of Falls Road.
The first floor of the cavernous 1922 building, whose basement is a recording studio, holds retail shops. The second floor, a former bowling alley, is a craftsman's workroom. On the third floor, corporate logos are born and magazines, and brochures and computer World Wide Web sites are created.
That top floor, with high ceilings, refinished pine floors and the latest design equipment, is also home to Oz Media, where designer Steve Palmieri spent a year behind a computer terminal creating a medical CD-ROM.
One flight down from Oz Media is a very different business.
Some of the best-known names in American and European art and antiques have called on R. Wayne Reynolds, a conservator of gold leaf and maker of picture frames whose client list includes the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the White House, the State Department, Martha Stewart and New York designer Mario Buatta.
Bowling alley transformed
Reynolds' cavernous, light-filled studio was once the Odd Fellows' bowling alley. The windows overlook a Falls Road funeral parlor and a convenience store. Nearly nine years ago, Reynolds walked into the empty site and immediately told the building's owner, "I'll take this space."
For the past eight months, he and his staff have been restoring a huge gilt picture frame that usually hangs in the U.S. Capitol and supports a huge oil painting, "The Electoral Commission of 1877," by Cornelia Fassett (1831-1898).
Reynolds' staff of six painstakingly restores girandoles, mirror and picture frames with numerous sheets of featherweight gold leafing. His staff also carves damaged frames or restores their surfaces with layers of a plaster-of-Paris substance.
Three years ago, his crew mounted a scaffold atop the NationsBank Building on Light Street downtown and gilded the landmark's huge mansard-style roof, his largest project.
Only a brick wall away from the Odd Fellows Hall (one building to the north) is a meatpacker called Caribbean Products.
Brian Hartman, its president, moved his operation from Cockeysville last year after acquiring the former Henry Heil meat plant. His 35 employees produce chicken wings and meat pies flavored with jerk (spices that include pepper, ginger, thyme and cinnamon), along with the pork products sold under the Heil name.
"About 20 of our employees live so close they can walk to work," he said.
Not all of the buildings that house local businesses are as easily identified as the Free State Bookbinders, on Elm Avenue opposite Frazier's Restaurant & Taproom. Stand outside the 1920s plant and you'll hear the mechanical clanking sounds.
"We do a lot of timely government work. One day I turned on the TV and President Clinton was holding the book we had just finished, the final report on the gulf war illnesses," said Bill Connolly, the bindery's sales manager.
On one recent warm afternoon, workers pushed carts filled with reports for the International Monetary Fund and coupon books for a shopping mall in King of Prussia, near Philadelphia.