Several business owners talk about West Baltimore's Cambridge Building, which has an eclectic mix of businesses and entrepeneurs. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun video)
If you've traveled down South Pulaski Street in West Baltimore, it's possible that you have seen but overlooked the five-story red brick Cambridge Building.
"Most people think it's abandoned," said tenant Lindsey Brown, owner of vintage boutique A Day N June. But the building is far from desolate.
Built in the 1920s, 208 S. Pulaski St. houses 35 very different establishments: There's A1 Jukebox, a distributor that has sold and shipped parts for antique jukeboxes within the building for three decades; Barry Freeman, a photographer who creates new worlds within his 1,200-square-foot studio; Winecream, a wine-infused ice cream company, and even a church, Excellent Way Ministries.
The space — which began housing clothing manufacturing businesses starting in 1925, according to Maryland Historical Society documents, and later served as a creative haven for photographers — is an alternative to expensive and in-demand storefronts in areas like Canton and Fells Point, said Brown. With more than 100,000 square feet of rentable space and low rents (ranging from $110 to $3,577 monthly), the building draws tenants "that need to keep the cost down," said Ron Hoff, the managing member of Pulaski Development, the company that has owned the building for the past 10 years. Hoff, 56, is also the president and CEO of RGH Enterprises, an office product and machine repair company housed on the first floor.
The Cambridge exudes the style of a New York warehouse, with its no-frills operating system (sans intercom, visitors must call business owners on the phone to gain access), antiquated freight elevators and reputation for drawing artists and other creatives. The building's surrounding neighborhood, riddled with abandoned homes, and its lack of advertising, however, have been off-putting for some guests, according to many tenants.
Some businesses value the privacy of being less popular than other creative hubs like Station North's Copycat building. But other up-and-coming enterprises are thriving off word of mouth and hoping to expand their reach, like vintage furniture and home goods shop Cedar and Cotton, owned by self-taught woodworking and upholstery duo Raina Smallwood and Nasira Latif.
"We're so off the beaten path. A lot of people don't know about the building or the other stores. … They're amazed that there's so much going on and no one knows about it," said the 35-year-old Smallwood, who, along with Latif, handcrafts much of the pillows and furniture featured in their Cambridge Building showroom.
"It's the best-kept secret in the city."
Here's a peek inside five other enterprises inside the Cambridge Building.
On select Friday nights, music blasts from Keith "K.C." Cooper's second-floor suite, where hip-hop fans, emcees and dancers gather for Be Civil Battles, one of the most anticipated rap and dance battles in the city. On other days, it's a gathering space for community leaders, workshops and back-to-school drives for school supplies and haircuts. And it's always a showcase of art.
Baltimore's underground hip-hop scene is brimming with up-and-coming artists, and forums where they display their unbridled talent. From rap battles and dance competitions to open mics and spoken word readings, here are seven events where you can take in the sounds and sights.
Cooper's organization, #FixBaltimore, aims to improve city neighborhoods through artistry, volunteer work, workshops and community gardening.
The South Baltimore resident and a group of friends formed the urban-empowerment group in spring 2015 after seeing damage from the uprisings that followed the death of Freddie Gray and after Cooper himself had a near-death experience when a pothole ripped a tire from his car. The group began cleaning up around the city and filling potholes with flowers, now the organization's signature program, which promotes awareness of dangerous street conditions.
"The flowers don't last that long, not even 24 hours," said Cooper, 30, who has helped fill more than 150 potholes since his organization's inception. "But it's not about the actual flower. It's about the community. … You can't control everything, but you can do your part."
The organization has since evolved, aiming to educate and teach members of the community how to be self-sufficient, while also advocating for the use of the city's 311 call service that allows residents to request help with needs such as trash pickup, tree trimming and street repairs.
Cooper, an artist and metal fabricator, also hosts a range of events and workshops in his second-floor suite and works in local gardens, including a plot near the building, teaching people how to plant raised garden beds and cook fresh produce.
#FixBaltimore meets Sundays from noon-3 p.m. at Suite 2C and every other Wednesday 5-7 p.m. at 803 Hamburg St. fixbaltimoreweb.wixsite.com.
Myong and Joseph Tillery are stubbornly clinging to an industry that has drastically downsized in the United States over the past few decades.
The married couple have operated their clothing manufacturing business, J&M Manufacturing, in the building for more than 20 years, producing everything from dance- and sportswear to hospital gowns, flags and banners for companies across the country, Joseph Tillery said.
The company launched in 1994, after Myong Tillery, 61, who worked with another manufacturing business in the building, decided to start a company of her own. Joseph, 65, soon signed on and they expanded, employing more than 50 employees for almost a decade before paring its workforce.
Today, the Tillerys and four employees attempt to keep up with the demands of an evolving industry that has largely been outsourced overseas. The couple have bought screen-printing equipment, combining it with their standard cut and sew services, embroidery, and heat pressing to create special graphics and patterns requested by clients and major clothing companies.
"It's been tough with domestic clothing manufacturing," he said, attributing their survival to the many clothing companies that need customization and a quick turnaround. "But we seem able to keep rolling."
Brown, a 26-year-old business owner, took a giant leap last year when she quit her management job in retail and opened a physical showroom in the Cambridge Building for A Day N June, which had been operating online, in November.
"I was doing pop-up shops around the city. I wanted to have a place for my customers to come and feel the whole vibe of the brand without always having to be outside," said Brown, who was told about the space by Cedar & Cotton owners.
The A Day N June showroom now houses a vibrant assortment of women's and men's clothes and accessories acquired from trade shows in L.A. and New York and vintage and thrift stores across the country, along with original artworks for art gallery events and shows hosted within her suite.
It's a deep departure from the building's surrounding area, which Brown said is not known for its shopping.
"There's not a lot of other shops around here or really a reason for people to come through this way, and it's a warehouse, and that's more of a New York-style setup," she said. "It's new to Baltimore, but we're trying to get the word out."
Noon-4 p.m. weekends. Weekdays by appointment only. Suite 4G.adaynjune.com.
Inside Suite 4E is what happens when people start drinking and, basically, don't want to stop.
Winecream, the boozy ice cream company and family business that inhabits the space, was created in 2012 when its managing member Katie Gorham, 29, her husband, brother and parents refused to turn in their wine glasses for dessert on Christmas Day. They wanted to keep drinking, and so they combined the two, mixing wine with ice cream.
"It started more as a wine float," said Gorham, but with her background in microbiology and her brother's in fire protection engineering, they knew they could perfect the recipe using liquid nitrogen to flash-freeze the combination into a frozen dessert.
That night, the family, while still imbibing, incorporated their business online.
A few years later, the company sells ready-made pints of Winecream, each roughly equivalent to the potency of a half bottle of wine, online and in a few retailers in the region for $15, and operates in the Cambridge Building, where they house their winery, dairy and tasting room.
There, Winecream conducts hour-long tours, introducing guests to the Cambridge Building's history and various businesses, before inviting them to the tasting room where they sample an assortment of flavors, including chocolate-covered strawberry, peach cobbler and mango, a new favorite, Gorham said. Guests also create their own flavor combinations, choosing their favorite fruit wine flavor and ice cream base, which employees mix and flash freeze before their eyes.
Ticketed tours, priced at $15, are available on Saturdays, but they are sold out through the rest of the year. Tour dates for 2018 are available on Eventbrite. Suite 4E. crossroadco.com.
Six Point Pictures
On a recent Friday, Six Point Pictures' fifth-floor suite is buzzing with energy. Crew members assemble props for the set while statuesque models in elaborate garb await their cue during the shooting of local rapper Greenspan's B.'s music video for the song "Indie," featuring artist Christen B. Ja-Mar Jones, the founder of the film production company, is behind the camera.
It feels like home, he said.
"I've been here for so long, and I've spent so many hours creating here," said Jones, who first signed the lease for the 2,800-square-foot suite in 2010 — a time when the building was mostly occupied by photographers looking for creative places to shoot. Back then, however, "it looked like a haunted house," he said.
Jones, 32, has since revamped his space, transforming its rooms into an art gallery and DJ-lounge area for events, a main office, a filmmaker space, and a production area.
It's served Jones' production company well. The space has been used to create a range of video content for local artists and organizations, as well as signature programming. Jones plans to organize a filmmakers meetup in the new year to provide resources and work development for filmmakers of color, and to relaunch web series Good News Baltimore, which he started in 2008 in hopes of spreading the positive happenings in the city.
"There's so many things happening in Baltimore and you typically don't hear about it unless it's one of the negative things … We want to make sure that we are one of the organizations that [are] changing the perception of Baltimore," said Jones, adding that creating their work in the Cambridge Building is also adhering to their goal.
"This is who we are, and this is a comfortable place for us because we see it for more than what people would see at face value. … When people come into the space, their whole energy and whole mood changes. They're just surprised that something at this level could exist in a building that they never knew about," he said, with an added word of advice: "Don't have any preconceived notions about people or places before you get a chance to investigate yourself."