Second closing may be brief

Landmark: Weeks after closing its restaurant, the Woman's Industrial Exchange shutters its craft shop. A March reopening is planned.

February 15, 2005|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

First the restaurant and now the gift shop.

The Woman's Industrial Exchange, which has served chicken salad and tomato aspic to generations of Baltimoreans from its North Charles Street storefront, has shuttered its craft shop at the same location with a promise to reopen early next month.

"This is a bump in the road," said Helen Weiss, president of the volunteer board that runs the Exchange, which got its start in 1880. "I am confident that we will reopen bigger and better, and brighter and shinier."

The gift shop, which showcases handcrafted items by artisans and needy people, closed Friday, Weiss said, although it was open for a few hours yesterday because Weiss happened to drop by.

Weiss said the shop will reopen March 3 with scaled-back operating hours from noon to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.

She said that after the restaurant, which had been operated for the past year by a woman who leased the space from the Exchange, closed Jan. 21, foot traffic dropped and it didn't make sense to keep the shop open. Two employees -- one who worked in the shop and one who helped manage Exchange operations -- were let go.

"Most people thought the shop was closed anyway," said Weiss. "So we thought, `What are we doing here?'"

Weiss said that the Exchange, at 333 N. Charles St., will host an exhibit of pottery by artist Susan H. Gladstone from March 3 to 30 as part of the "Tour de Clay," a citywide collaboration between artists and galleries to showcase all sorts of clay works.

Weiss said she hopes the show will help to generate new business.

"We are going to be fine," Weiss said, addressing rumors that the Exchange, which has been at its current location since 1887, will close for good.

Weiss said that the group's finances are in good shape.

"This is not a bad thing," she said. "The reason I closed the shop is to conserve cash. If I left the shop open we would have closed up. ... We saw what our sales were and we had to stop the bleeding."

The nonprofit group also owns seven apartments above the restaurant and shop. Income from the rental units covers the mortgage on the 19th-century building, Weiss said.

The apartments, most of them one-bedroom units, were renovated several years ago as part of a $2 million project that included federal funds.

Weiss said that the 15-member board has heard from 12 business people who have expressed interest in leasing the restaurant. She said that some of those who could sign a licensing agreement with the Exchange are "names you would know" from the Baltimore restaurant scene.

"We have some wonderful prospects," she said, adding later, "The chicken salad will be back!"

Weiss said that once the Exchange signs a contract with the winning bidder, it could be another six weeks before the restaurant reopens, a date she describes rather loosely as "spring."

Diane Coleman, who was executive director of the Exchange from 1997 to 1999, said she was sorry to hear that the gift shop, which features hand-made quilts and baby clothes, had closed, even temporarily.

"It is a wonderful place," she said.

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