Above It All

Some area shopkeepers are still living over their stores and relishing the short commute to work

July 31, 2005|By Lynn Marie Honeywill | Lynn Marie Honeywill,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Alicia and John Horn bought their Fells Point bar, they opted to eliminate a late-night commute home.

Instead, after closing they climbed the stairs - to their home on the two floors above their Scotch whisky bar.

"We thought, who's going to drive home and chance it? Why have two places when you can live [and work] in one?" said Alicia Horn, proprietor of Birds of A Feather. Her bar is on the first floor of the 203-year-old brick rowhouse she and her husband, now deceased, bought 23 years ago.

There aren't many merchants like Horn left.

In metropolitan Baltimore, a relative handful of shop, tavern and restaurant owners reside in the same building as their business, usually on the floors above.

They are the remnants of bygone days when shopkeepers in towns and in city neighborhoods customarily lived above their livelihoods. Indeed, their modern Baltimore-area counterparts tend to set up shop in the same historic neighborhoods, places such as Fells Point and Federal Hill.

"Years ago, most of the merchants here in Federal Hill lived above their stores," said Ken Horsman, who dwells above his shop, Ken-Zo's Yogi Magic Mart, which he's owned for 19 years.

Horsman, a professional clown and magician, took up residence above his business three years ago. Unmistakably the home of a clown, Horsman's studio apartment is filled with such gear as juggling balls, unicycles, oversize clown shoes and souvenirs of his 30-year career, such as the giant bridle worn by an elephant he rode in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Since he had previously remodeled the space as a theater, his bed is ensconced on its curtained stage

"I basically adapted my lifestyle to what I do for a living," said Horsman, 47. Living above his shop is convenient, too - just an 18-step commute down the stairs.

Not having to leave the building to get to work is one convenience that Horsman and Horn - like the old-time shopkeepers - share with suburban telecommuters. What they don't share is the telecommuter's isolation from face-to-face contact.

Take Michael Staylor, who lived above Souris' Saloon in downtown Towson while working below part-time.

Often Staylor couldn't go out his front door without being flagged down by a honk or a wave from a patron or acquaintance cruising down Allegheny Avenue. And since Staylor's front door was near the saloon, his co-workers kept abreast of his personal life by observing visitors come and go.

"Everybody knew everything that I was doing all the time," recalled Staylor, 45, who in May relocated to the relative seclusion of his girlfriend's Perry Hall townhouse.

Still, he relishes memories of life above the saloon.

"For someone who likes to be around people, it's incredible," said Staylor, who also works in a body repair shop and as a security guard for Baltimore Ravens events. "It's not for everyone. You have to be outgoing."

Staylor's bosses and co-workers appreciated his proximity. If the saloon was short-handed, co-workers kept a lookout to recruit him for work. If a blizzard struck, Staylor was on the job, shoveling the front walk.

"It's great. If something goes wrong, they're here to call," said Souris owner Kathy Farrell about Staylor's on-site residence - where the saloon's original owners, the Sourises, once lived.

For Marie Gallagher, living for two years above her Federal Hill storefront wellness center, The Healing Path, made it easier to put in long hours to launch her business.

The wellness center's hours stretch from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week to accommodate customers with acupuncture and massages, yoga and pilates classes.

Even when Gallagher left her apartment for a night out, she'd stop in the center as she left to check in with her staff.

"When you live above your business, there really is no privacy. Maybe privacy isn't the right word, maybe it's boundaries," said Gallagher, 34, who is moving out of her rented apartment above the center this month.

"I think I'll be able to focus on work when I'm at work, and then enjoy my time off when I'm not," she said.

Unlike most shopkeepers who live above their stores, Luann Carra, 43, had no plans to share her brick rowhouse with a shop when she bought it 15 years ago. Then she burned out at her job designing department store displays - and her house happened to be in a prime location for shops, Fells Point's Fleet Street.

So Zoe's Garden, a gift shop and gallery, was born nine years ago on the first floor of Carra's home, replacing her living and dining rooms.

"You have to pay your mortgage anyway, so it's like free store rent," she said.

Carra feels right at home with a shop in her house.

"It feels like you're being welcomed into my home when you shop here, because it is my home," she said. Some visitors, however, drop by not to see her or to shop but to visit the store greeters, a Dalmatian and two "mutts," she said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.