Working to maintain its nuts and bolts reputation in manufacturing, the city has helped one of its own keep shelling out products in Baltimore.
Managers of the 76-year-old Barcelona Nut Co. used city and state loans to buy and expand the West Baltimore company, which they purchased Aug. 1 from their bosses for an undisclosed sum.
A $250,000 loan from the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, helped the managers buy Barcelona's South Fulton Street processing and packaging plant, said Tony Tsonis, president and one of three new owners.
He declined to give the purchase price, but city officials said the type of loan typically doesn't exceed 30 percent of the total cost.
A $200,000 loan from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development also helped the company buy and renovate a warehouse around the corner on South Mount Street that was once belonged to the Misty Harbor raincoat factory. Barcelona spent $600,000 on the building, the city said.
Until recently, Tsonis said, Barcelona was owned by a company controlled by New York and Connecticut businessmen.
"There was a window of opportunity to buy it, but some other out-of-towners expressed interest. Fortunately for me and Baltimore, they let me step up and acquire it and keep it in the city."
Bercelona Nut's history is sketchy, but Tsonis said the firm was founded in 1924 by a Spanish immigrant. It was shuffled back and forth between Washington and Baltimore for years and finally wound up at the South Fulton Street plant in 1986.
Barcelona's processes, packages and ships a variety of nuts to convenience and grocery stores in 40 states.
The company also packages and distributes potato chips, candy, bread mixes and pretzels under the brand name Chef's Taste.
The company's products can be found in local retail stores as well as at Camden Yards, where Barcelona peanuts are the Baltimore Orioles' official nuts.
"We want to be recognized as a Baltimore company," said Tsonis, 43, a Barcelona employee for 10 years.
Like the company, Tsonis has roots in the Baltimore area and is a graduate of Towson State University.
He and a fellow owner, Executive Vice President Mike Adams, have known each other since the seventh grade in Columbia. A third owner, Karl Kessler, does not work at the company.
City officials said there are reasons beyond nostalgia for keeping the company in town.
Manufacturers have been abandoning the city in recent years, taking with them large numbers of skilled and semi-skilled jobs and eroding the tax base.
Barcelona employs about 75 workers. And if the 12-15 percent annual growth rate continues, another 10 jobs will be added within a year, said Tsonis.
Baltimore Development Corp.'s chief financial officer, Jeffery P. Pillas, said the agency has several loan funds, many of them benefiting small and medium-sized manufacturers.
Barcelona, deemed healthy and able to pay back the loan in 15 years, is among 15 businesses that have received city loans at below market rates since 1996. Barcelona also gets tax credits for being in a state enterprise zone.
Retaining manufacturers in the city "is a perpetual struggle," said M. J. "Jay" Brodie, the Baltimore Development Corp.'s president, who said for the last 20-30 years companies have been going out of business or leaving the city, sometimes going overseas. The city, for example, no longer has a garment district.
"There's no magic we have to bring those folks back or even keep them alive. But sometimes we have an opportunity to keep them and even see them expand in the city," he said.
"There are many positives to keeping Barcelona, not the least of which is that it's a nice snack."