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Another small business bites dust in South Baltimore

While much of the talk about restarting the tight job market centers on small businesses, there is a crisis in the works in Federal Hill where such entrepreneurships are concerned.

Many small businesses have closed shop over the past six months, leaving a budding retail hole on the south Baltimore peninsula.

Last week, Amy Mutch announced she was shuttering her popular upscale women’s clothing boutique, Amy’s, at 1133 S. Charles St.

It is the third small clothing shop to close in six months in SoBo, following Babe, which recently relocated to Fells Point, and Whimsy Boutique, which went out of business in September. Their retail spaces remain vacant.

Mutch was living her dream by opening the boutique five years ago. She hired Owings Mills sculptor David Bacharach to help design lighting and displays for the small shop, located on a tree-lined block with other businesses, restaurants and bars.

“We were catering to the urban woman who had an edginess to her style,” she said this week as a 30-50 percent off sale whittled away her inventory. “We offered cutting-edge fashion.”

When the deadline approached to make orders for spring 2012 togs, Mutch said she decided to fold.

One problem Mutch pointed out is the high cost of parking meters in SoBo — $2 per hour. That’s a whopper when compared to the meters at Belvedere Square in north Baltimore, where 20 cents will get you in a parking space for an hour without threat of a city meter maid wielding a ticket book. Of course, there are not two sports stadiums located within walking distance of that location.

Mutch reminisced about her business: “The first two years, business was growing 25 percent — I made a tiny profit the first two years. Then it literally tanked in 2008. I’m proud I kept the doors open, but I never made money.”

The recent Baltimore Grand Prix race also hampered business, she said, choking off foot traffic to SoBo over the Labor Day weekend.

She plans to close the doors for good after Thanksgiving — or whenever her inventory runs out — and return to her roots as a nurse practitioner.

Mutch said she plans to use her experience to help others in the community. She was just elected president of the South Baltimore Neighborhood Association and is on the board of the Federal Hill Business Association.

“People need to look at small businesses and what that means to a community,” she said. “It is such a hard business,” she added, of the life of a sole proprietor. “As a nurse practitioner, I used to say that cardiologists were the real heroes. Now, I say it’s the small business owners.”

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More bleak news: The third quarter commercial leasing report by MacKenzie was released this week — with few surprises.

The net office market absorption rate in the Baltimore metropolitan region totaled 115,177 square feet, while in center city that rate was a negative 77,300 square feet. That trend held in Columbia at negative 61,700 square feet and in Towson, with negative 32,900 square feet. In the first three quarters, the Baltimore area net absorption rate is a negative 172,134 square feet.

Baltimore City also posted the area’s highest vacancy rate of 21.7 percent, an increase over the second quarter by 21 percent. The average rental rates in the region was $22.35 per square foot.

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Two unique developments got the welcome mat this week from Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

A former roller rink in historic Oella is now The Breadery, a commercial artisan bakery and retail shop. The bakery is located at 418 Oella Ave. on the cusp of Baltimore County’s border with Howard County in the Patapsco River valley.

Nearby in Catonsville, the family-owned Ken’s Old Fashioned Candy Shop sweetened the mix of retail at 819 Frederick Rd. Owners Mary Chizmadia and her son, Kenny, are selling penny candy and other sweet treats there.

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An initial list of 200 potential sites for a new headquarters for Constellation Energy Group has been narrowed to nine, the Baltimore Business Journal reported this week.

Exelon Corp. is expected to pay between $95 and $125 million for the move if the merger between the company and BGE closes in 2012, said Calvin Butler, the company’s senior vice president for corporate affairs this week.

Potential sites include Harbor Point, the former McCormick & Co. site at the Inner Harbor and the former site of The News American on Pratt Street, near the National Aquarium.

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TIDBITS: The ultimate fire sale: Check out Mayfair Wholesale at 323 N. Paca St. The development is a clothing markdown haven that’s located in a former Baltimore city fire house … Eager for sunshine during this rainy fall? Baltimore-based Continental Realty Corp. this week announced a $5 million acquisition of yet another Florida property. This time, it’s a 30,500 square foot shopping center in Royal Palm Beach, Fla. The center is totally leased … Lisa Stachura, former deputy director of Jubilee Baltimore Inc., has been named executive vice president of real estate development for Empire Homes of Maryland, a nonprofit community housing development organization that is part of AIRS Inc., or AIDS Interfaith Residential Services. EHM acquires, rehabilitates, constructs and manages affordable supportive housing for people with limited incomes, disabilities and/or histories of homelessness. EHM owns and oversees 250 scattered-site rental-housing units in Baltimore … The Urban Land Institute will hold a timely seminar in Washington on Nov. 14-15 on how to reposition and assess distressed properties … City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young will help plant bulbs, pick up trash and pull weeds at Mother’s Garden, the northeast Baltimore park dedicated to the memory of the late William Donald Schaefer’s mother, Tululu. The Nov. 2 event begins at 10 a.m. and is part of “Do It Now Day,” a community service blitz in the city’s neighborhoods named for Schaefer’s signature saying … Baltimore Planning Director Tom Stosur will be a speaker at a Nov. 9 forum titled “The Future of American Cities: Opportunities and Challenges.” The free event begins at 7:30 p.m. and will be held in the Levering Hall Glass Pavilion at Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood Campus. The forum will be moderated by local radio personality Anthony McCarthy.