Timely help, at a price, for the busy Service: At-home, at-office aid with chores abounds for time-strapped, stressed modern families.

November 23, 1997|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

The newest traveling salesmen in the bustling Baltimore-Washington corridor are peddling one of the most coveted commodities: time.

Can't squeeze in a trip to the bicycle repair shop? Call American Bicycle Mobile Sales & Service and tell John Fuller how to slip into your garage. He has clients he has never seen.

No time to get to the grocery store? Just go online, click-and-fill a virtual shopping cart, and within hours you've got food in the kitchen.

Your windshield is cracked? Ask Jeff Price of Appaloosa Auto Paint & Glass Repair to come by the office and repair it in the parking lot.

Up and down the corridor, the time peddlers offer fresh $l vegetables, Christmas trees, podiatry visits, mall-shopping, dog-grooming, child-hauling, car-washing, car-repairing and a full range of concierge services.

Throughout the nation, businesses are feeding off fears the world is flying by.

"Anything on wheels is exploding right now," says Marge Lovero, president of the Entrepreneurial Center, a small-business training center in White Plains. N.Y. "Bring something to someone; save them time. They almost don't care what it costs."

The growth comes even as some new statistics challenge the notion that people are busier than they were 30 years ago. One thing seems certain: They feel busier -- stressing along in a society that demands that they work harder, exercise harder, buy larger televisions, and for goodness sake, spend more time with the kids.

Not every time peddler's service is a new concept.

Take the case of dry cleaning pickup and delivery, a mainstay in the Baltimore area in the 1950s and early 1960s, when people still got milk and bakery goods delivered. But many customers back then were stay-at-home moms. The family car was at work with dad.

Today, dry cleaning delivery workers typically never see their clients. Such is the case for Harry Rollins, a 62-year-old driver for Lord Baltimore Cleaners, one of a handful of companies delivering in Columbia.

One typical morning, Rollins is in the tony Far Side neighborhood just north of Columbia by 8 a.m. One longtime customer has given him the lock combination to her garage.

"I couldn't tell you what she looks like," Rollins says after retrieving clothes from her garage, as he does twice a week.

At most stops, Rollins simply exchanges clothes left on front porches.

Occasionally, he runs into customers like Jolie and Robert Weinberg, a lawyer couple in Columbia. As Rollins walked to their porch one morning, Jolie Weinberg was loading the day's supplies into the trunk of her Lexus.

"I thought you'd have left by now," Rollins says quietly.

"I wish I had," Weinberg replies, in a polite but distracted tone suggesting that her mind was already at the office.

The Weinbergs each commute up to an hour a day. At night, they try to keep up with two sons, 4-year-old Brent and 2-year-old Chase.

"It's constant stress," Robert Weinberg says one evening, standing in his living room while Brent and Chase use a sectional sofa as a running track. The boys take breaks only to inquire about after-dinner snacks.

"It's always like, 'What do I have to do next?' " Weinberg says.

That so many time peddlers are out there is no surprise to John Robinson, a University of Maryland sociology professor and co-author of the recently published "Time for Life."

Bucking common perceptions, Robinson believes that people have more free time than they did 30 years ago. But his survey data confirm that people are so concerned about rushing that they fear managing time more than managing money.

Slowing down doesn't seem to be an option -- at least for those on Rollins' route. Says Deborah Gallagher, whose husband leaves his shirts in the garage, "I think we, as a society, have a lot of guilt if we're not busy."

Too busy to go to the mall?

It's certainly the hope of Smart Aim Corp., a Michigan-based time peddler that has hooked up with The Mall in Columbia. Beginning as soon as Dec. 1, Columbia residents will be able to use a computer to place orders from mall stores, receiving merchandise within an hour. The mall's owner -- Rouse Co. -- plans to install the service at other malls across the nation.

As for online grocery shopping, it's up and running in the Maryland suburbs near Washington.

At All Things Delivered in Bethesda, owner Byrne O'Brien says his company receives about 25 grocery orders a day, roughly half of which are placed over the Internet. The company then picks up the food at wholesale clubs and specialty shops. It tacks on $12.50 per delivery.

Closer to Baltimore, Internet shopping hasn't caught on yet, says Charlie Roach, the assistant vice president of information services at Metro Food Markets. He said none of the major stores offers the service.

Metro had planned to offer the service this year but now is looking to start in April, Roach says.

"We all think it [online grocery shopping] will grow; we're just not sure what the rate of growth will be," Roach says.

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