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Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: One man’s commitment to Baltimore, Our City of Perpetual Recovery | COMMENTARY

Christopher Schafer, maker of men's suits in Baltimore since 2010, moved his operation into a 19th Century factory on Aliceanna Street in October.

As Christopher Schafer, tailor to men rich and poor, described two terrible events of the last year — the thief who pointed a gun at him, the fire that damaged his new shop in Fells Point — it suddenly made sense that a man who had successfully pulled away from addictions to drugs and alcohol would become attached to Baltimore.

A man in recovery — for Schafer, 18 years now — understands that it’s a long, hard road that never ends. Recovery means remembering who you were, what you went through, never losing hope for a better life, never letting go once you get there. It tends to foster empathy, too.

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And so, even after the incident with the gun, Schafer was not about to give up on Baltimore, Our City of Perpetual Recovery, with all its well-known and incessant problems. The last thing Baltimore needed was more abandonment.

Schafer learned how to design and make suits 15 years ago, after he left life as a rock drummer, got sober and moved with his wife, Gina, to London. He trained to be a tailor there. When he returned to Baltimore, he not only established an upscale enterprise, Christopher Schafer Clothier, but a nonprofit called Sharp Dressed Man.

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The mission of SDM is to outfit men who can’t afford new threads with good secondhand suits, many of them donated by Schafer’s affluent customers. Hundreds have benefited from SDM’s annual suit giveaway, and many are in recovery from addictions, prison or homelessness. (The latest giveaway, held Dec. 3, put 250 men in suits.)

So Christopher Schaefer is the kind of citizen Baltimore needs — operator of a classy business with a commitment to philanthropy. But the incident with the gun got him thinking about taking his business elsewhere.

Schafer’s business, like many, suffered during the pandemic. “Men stopped buying suits except for weddings,” he says. “But we waited it out.”

The business had started to recover in 2021 when his landlord of 10 years told Schafer he had to leave his spacious shop in Harbor East and find a new location within a few months, by Christmas Eve.

Schafer bought a place about seven blocks away, on Aliceanna Street. It was a three-story factory that once housed a coppersmith and wagon builder. The place had been vacant for years, but the spaces suited Schafer’s needs.

A fire broke out accidentally during the roofing phase of the renovation in September, causing about $160,000 in damage. (“Things have been pretty colorful around here,” Schafer says.) But he recovered quickly from that setback and moved his inventory and furnishings into the new space in October.

The gun incident was different, far more troubling and dispiriting, and its effects have lingered.

It happened last December, just as Schaefer’s big plans to move were falling into place.

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Leaving his Harbor East shop on a Saturday night, headed to a client’s holiday party, Schafer found his car burglarized; the passenger-side window was popped out, and a man was sitting in the passenger seat. For a moment, he thought about confronting the guy.

“But that’s when he pointed the gun at me,” Schafer says. “I took off running.”

Later, after returning to the scene, Schafer noticed a cup of coffee on the pavement by the passenger side of his car. It was from Dunkin, and still warm. That meant the armed thief had probably just visited the Dunkin a couple of blocks away. Police checked the video from security cameras at the coffee shop, and that’s what led to the arrest of a 39-year-old man named Marcus Garcia. Schafer says he identified him from the surveillance video.

“I went from being scared to being angry,” Schaefer says. “At some point, I wanted to have a face-to-face with this guy, to talk to him.”

The state was set to prosecute Garcia on assault and firearms charges this week, but the case was postponed. Schafer was disappointed. He had anticipated a short trial or hearing where he’d be allowed to speak. He prepared a statement to read in court. Here’s part of it:

"I love Baltimore. I’m born and raised here. That love was nearly lost when I had a gun pulled on me after I closed shop for the night in a nice Baltimore neighborhood.

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“I was in the process of moving to a new location in the city, and I considered whether or not to stay. I decided to stay, but that evening constantly replays in my mind. So many times over the last year I’ve closed my eyes and seen the barrel of the pistol pointed at me. It’s a horrible feeling.

“I hope that the defendant gets the help he needs. I believe that people can change. I’ve changed myself. … I know that there are lots of resources available to help him change his ways to make a better life. I, for one, would be willing to help. If the defendant decides to stay the course of a life of crime, then I pray for him that we never meet again.”

There’s empathy in that statement, but anger, too, because seeing lack of will in others is frustrating to those who took the long, hard road to recovery. Christopher Schafer speaks for a lot of Baltimoreans frustrated at seeing their city make progress only to be pulled back by the same problems that have festered for so long. But we don’t give up.

Give up, and there is no Baltimore.


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