Exodus from building leaves shopkeeper's future unclear


Though most of the upper floors in the 13-story Towson office tower are empty, Pat Douglas is at work every weekday in her lonely outpost, selling greeting cards, candy and sodas to the few remaining tenants and any passers-by.

Douglas has owned Pat's Kard Korner on the ground floor of the Investment Building for 20 years, and worked there for 10 years before that. But the past 13 months have been the most trying.

In January of last year, more than 900 Baltimore County and state workers were moved out of the building after complaining for years about unhealthy working conditions. The mass departure has left the future of the Kard Korner in doubt.

"If no one comes into the building, yeah, I'll go under," Douglas said. "I used to sell a lot of greeting cards for office birthdays."

Pat's Kard Korner is a windowless nook on the ground floor of the Investment Building, a concrete and glass tower just north of the Towson traffic circle at 1 Investment Place. The center rack of greeting cards contains only a few of each type, and the shelves behind the countertop are empty.

"It used to be more like a hospital gift shop," Douglas said. Her inventory is down to the bare minimum.

KLNB Inc., the Towson firm that manages the Investment Building, stopped charging Douglas rent in February of last year, the month after the county employees departed.

"Otherwise I never would have made it," she said.

These days, a large sign across the back of the building, visible from York Road, proclaims that space is available for lease.

The windows appear empty throughout the building, except for the fourth floor, which is home to Sigman and Summerfield Associates Inc., a computer industry recruitment firm; BestCare Staffing, an employment firm; Harvey West, Auctioneers; and Knickerbocker Realty Co. Inc.

Another tenant is Changes, a hair salon on the plaza level. Changes draws as many customers as ever, according to two workers there who said the business did not rely on office workers.

KLNB officials declined to comment on leasing efforts. However, the Investment Building is listed prominently on the company's Web site.

The county and state employees who worked at the Investment Building were moved in stages to the Drumcastle Center on York Road, a former Caldor store, in January of last year.

Since early 2000, workers had complained that they were being made sick by contaminants in the building. By July 2001, 30 employees had filed an $18.3 million lawsuit in Baltimore County Circuit Court against former and present owners and managers of the building, alleging that negligence caused them to contract debilitating illnesses from mold and other substances.

The suit has since been refiled in Baltimore City. M. Thomas Myers, attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the suit is proceeding and that hearings are being scheduled.

The defendants have denied any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Pat Douglas tries to keep her store afloat until the day when offices in the Investment Building are again filled with workers.

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