NINETY-TWO years ago, August Rosenberger built a four-story brick factory at the corner of Baylis and Boston in the Canton section of Southeast Baltimore. His workers made Little Lady and Little Nugget brooms, and Rosenberger shipped them all over the country under the Atlantic-Southwestern Broom Co. banner. The broom boom at Baylis and Boston ended in 1989.
The Atlantic-Southwestern sign is
still visible on the old factory's western wall, and, though it's hard to tell
from the outside, the place is as busy as ever. There's still a Rosenberger in
In fact, August Rosenberger's
great-grandson, Scott, doesn't make anything.
He's a host.
He has the most
eclectic mix of tenants imaginable under one post-industrial roof. (A coffee
roasting company, a silk scarf designer, cabinetmakers, an upholsterer,
puppeteers, a forklift repair shop.)
And, trading as
SkyNetWEB, he serves as host to Web site servers all over the
world -- 100 in the United States and 25 in other countries, including in Europe
and Asia -- from a second-floor corner of the old broom factory, its dark wood-
beamed rooms wired for action in cyberspace with a Bell Atlantic fiber-optic
system that can move a vast amount of data through the Internet at high
Rosenberger has his hands in two types of real estate: He leases
space to artists and craftsmen -- cheaply, at between $3 and $5 a square foot --
and he leases space on the World Wide Web.
The bulk of
SkyNetWEB's business is with companies that serve as hosts to
Web sites and handle e-mail accounts. They tap into Rosenberger's system. "This
is a great solution for small- to mid-sized businesses that wish to sell
services but cannot afford the cost of high-speed Internet connectivity on their
own," Rosenberger says. "It gives them the appearance of being a major player
without the cost. ... Sambros is a Web site development company located in
India. Spawnet is located in England and has 15 servers with us. Another is
SmartArtist, a Web hosting company in Australia."
SkyNetWEB's other clients are just a short walk down the hall
from its network operations center in the broom factory. There's a Web developer
called Glows in the Dark, a "network solutions provider" called CAMS, a database
developer called Symet, and a Web publisher called Oxbridge.
The other day,
Bob Peters of Atlantic Internet, another broom factory tenant, showed Dee
Herget, the grand dame of Baltimore screen painters, how she might sell her
famous folk art on the World Wide Web. Meanwhile, Wally Orlinsky, the former
Baltimore City Council president, slipped a personal check across a table. It
was written for his wife's company -- Japonaji Ltd., an emporium of Eastern art
objects, furnishings and clothing accessories -- from a customer of Japonaji's
Web site, also developed in the broom factory. (In addition to doing business in
cyberspace, Japonaji has a small showroom and gift shop down the hall from
Atlantic Internet and Orlinsky's Internet service.)
Rosenberger turned the
broom factory -- officially, it's called the Harbor Enterprise Center -- into
this "business incubator" within the past six years, with the help of Lois
Foster, a Realtor with a legal background and a specialty in bankruptcy
services. She and Rosenberger started leasing space -- as-was, pigeon droppings
and all -- in 1993. They let their tenants refurbish their suites. Foster,
resident manager, says the broom factory has 80 tenants and a waiting list.
This is urban recycling in its simplest, most organic and efficient form. A
place like this perks up any Baltimorean weary of news about businesses and
people leaving the city.
Walk through and you find an almost breathtaking
assortment of tenants -- John Dawson teaching tango in Studio DNA, down the hall
from Mimi Bennett's Really Raw Honey distribution site, which is across the hall
from art dealer Daniel Inglett's gallery.
One floor up, you'll find the
funky, cluttered headquarters of Jill Kyle-Keith's Beale Street Puppets,
cabinetmaker Eric Rink's Artisan Interiors, Carol Lidard's Off The Wall studio -
- she's an urban scavenger who makes neat coat racks, shelves and wall mirrors
from "architectural remnants" of Baltimore rowhouses -- and Gretchen Morrissey's
hand-painted, hand-dyed, hand-etched silks. You'll also find a woman sitting at
a sewing machine making place mats and decorative pillow covers for Baltimore
Textile Creations. On the fourth floor, David Key roasts beans for his Daily
Grind and other coffee shops, Florence McDermott carves carousel horses, and Sei Peterson restores old movie posters.
Down on the first floor, Fran Hitt has
an upholstery shop, Eric Butler has an ornamental ironworks and Jim Foti has a
forklift reconditioning shop. You'll also find the last remnant of the old broom
factory -- Champion Brush. It's a small shop with an Italian-made machine that
turns out horse-grooming brushes with colorful bristles. Champion doesn't have a
Web site yet, but how
far off can that be?