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 charge, too.
But he doesn't make brooms.
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 speeds.
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."
Some of 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 howfar off can that be?