Tag: recession

Divorce Rates Dropped During Recession–But Don’t Worry, They’re Back Up Again

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Chocolate cake Just divorced

Money problems cause stress and stress causes relationships to dissolve — sounds logical, right? But that’s not how things played out in recent years, according to recent research from University of Maryland sociologist Phillip Cohen. In fact, between 2009 and 2011 (aka, those recessionary years), there were actually 150,000 fewer divorces than would otherwise have been expected.

What Is This, 2008?! Foreclosures Are Up, Way Up, in Baltimore

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In 2010, to stem the tide of foreclosures post-housing crisis, Maryland passed legislation requiring banks to seek “alternatives to eviction” before foreclosing on a borrower. And that legal dam held back foreclosures for a couple years. But now banks have broken through and properties “getting default, auction, and repossession notices” are on the rise — big time.

Foreclosures in Baltimore are up 182 percent from last July at the same time that they’ve dropped 32 percent nationwide. And Maryland’s foreclosure rate last month was second only to Florida. 

Maryland Ranks 35th on Recession Recovery Score Card

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So, which states have best braved the five-year-old Great Recession — the most severe economic contraction the United States has experienced since the Great Depression?

Maryland was among the states that have been less successful in taming the recessionary conditions, ranked 35th in an analysis by 24/7 Wall Street. Current unemployment is at 6.7%, down 1.3 percentage points from the peak of 8%; and 2011 GDP growth was a mere 0.9%.

Cookies Stolen from the Great Cookie in Towson + Odder Items People Like to Lift

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The Great Cookie at Towson Town Center has seen its share of crime in the last month and a half, the offenses reaching well beyond the hand-in-the-jar style of snatchery. Last week, two 16-year-old-boys were apprehended just after 2 a.m. for somehow entering the mall and stealing cookies from the popular chain bakery location. Just two days earlier, burglars nabbed 24 pounds of cookies – in equal denominations of snickerdoodle and chocolate chip – from the same location. Police suspect the crimes are unrelated.

Advice for the Class of 2012: How to Live with Your Mom

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University of Baltimore Asst. Prof. and Bohemian Rhapsody Columnist Marion Winik welcomes her second grown son back home with open arms and a long list of suggestions.

Are you are a member of the elite group of young people who completed their undergraduate studies last May? If, in addition to passing your classes, you returned your library books and paid your parking tickets, you are now the proud owner of a college diploma. And there it is — tacked between a faded Tony Hawk poster and a stolen street sign on the wall of your childhood bedroom.

Like so many of your peers, you have moved back home. The way things are going, this return to the nest may last quite a while. Here are some things to consider as you navigate this tricky situation.

Okay, Now I’m Full-On Mad About the Libor Scandal Like a Good Baltimorean

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Those are my eyes, and I’m looking off in the direction of London!

When I first posted about the alleged rigging of Libor, the London Interbank Offered Rate — a key interest rate in the global finance world which is set by banks using the honor system — I didn’t know how mad to be. First off, I didn’t really understand the allegation that the rate was set artificially low — it’s determined by banks themselves so isn’t it artificial from the get-go? — and secondly, as a borrower and not an investor, I may have won out with a lower interest rate.

Worst Places to Work in Baltimore? Let the Nominations Begin!

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Maybe you read about The Sun’s invitation to nominate your workplace as one of the best in the city. We’re inviting you to do something similar, but slightly different. We’ve all had terrible jobs. If you currently hate where you work, please tell us why, using plenty of good, concrete detail (or as much as you feel comfortable sharing). Feel free to post anonymously. The best worst stories will surely brighten other disgruntled laborers’ days, and the best of all wins special recognition on BFB. Let us hear!

Baltimore’s Chesapeake Shakespeare Company to Emulate Historic Globe Theatre

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On May 7th the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company announced its acquisition of the old Mercantile Trust and Deposit Company building, at 200 East Redwood Street. The renovations of the 10,000 square foot building will transform the former nightclub into a 250-seat Elizabethan-style theater in time for the 2014 season, according to the company’s press release.

For over a decade the Redwood Street address has been home to a string of nightclubs and after-hours destinations. Before that, it spent over a century as a bank. Now, as the home to the Chesapeake Shakespeare, 200 East Redwood is going to house a stage based on the historic Globe Theatre. The architectural firm Cho Benn Holback and Associates is currently at work on a design which is going to incorporate traditional Elizabethan design into a modern, efficient theatrical setting.

Now in its 10th season, the Chesapeake Shakespeare was founded in 2002 by actor/playwright Ian Gallanar, who has since served as its artistic director.  The largest non-union professional theatre in the U.S., Chesapeake currently produces its outdoor summer productions under the Doric Columns at the 12-acre Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park.

The popular summer productions will continue, but this new development will represent the Chesapeake Theatre’s transition to an eight-month season. The Chesapeake also plans to use the new site to expand its educational programs, which include after school and weekend programs for Baltimore students. An international theater festival is also on the agenda.

This shift represents a rapid change in fortunes for a city that’s long been looking for a permanent local base for honoring Shakespeare. In 2011, under mounting debt, the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, Baltimore’s other professional Shakespeare Company, shut its doors for the last time. Situated in Evergreen Park during the summer, Baltimore Shakespeare seemed destined for greater things: especially after a $1 million dollar anonymous grant in 2007. That headlines-grabbing grant, however, wasn’t enough for a theater with a short season and an equity contract to overcome the burdens of the great recession.

The Baltimore Shakespeare Festival certainly is a cautionary tale, but it’s hard not to be encouraged by the Chesapeake development. This could add variety to a downtown scene which is largely associated with bars and comedy clubs. The Globe-style theatre will have the opportunity to tap into a market of convention goers and tourists in the Harbor area. With the demise of the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, it also has access to a larger pool of Shakespearean actors than it had before. There are no guarantees in this business, but, for the moment, it looks like the Bard is back in Baltimore.

Historic Carousel Kicked Out of Inner Harbor

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Among the ESPN Zones (RIP) and Luckie’s Liquors at the Inner Harbor, the carousel was the kind of old-fashioned entertainment that charmed children and adults alike. But if you haven’t yet ridden the century-old, hand-carved wooden horses, you may be out of luck — the city has ordered the carousel’s owner to get it out of the Harbor by March 31.

A victim of the sagging economy, the ride’s owner, Richard H. Knight, hasn’t paid rent for five years. At one time, according to Knight, the carousel charged 75 cents a ride, and made over $100,000 annually. But in recent years, as the price of a rise rose to $2, profits started to sink, and Knight has taken in about $25,000 each year. City officials claim that he’s allowing the historic artifact to fall into disrepair. “We have been extraordinarily patient with Mr. Knight,” Jay Brodie, the president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said. “We simply reached the end. We are at this point with regret.”

If you prefer a conspiracy story, consider that the BDC has received several proposals to revamp the Inner Harbor — and none of those plans included the carousel.

“They’ll have to drag me out kicking and screaming,” Knight said. “I mean, this city keeps losing things. They lost the Colts. They lost the ice rink at Rash Field. They lost the trapeze school. How many more things can we lose? This ride is an icon.”

Merry Recession! Local Mall Santas Get Sensitivity-Trained

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On Saturday morning, I first found Santa in a nearby park in Hampden, sitting next to a baseball diamond, with two elves. He was handing out free presents. I decided to ask the question that had been bugging me. It went something like this: 

You’re Santa. The North Pole is melting.  The economy is flat-lined. Parents may have just had their Humvee seized. What happens when the kid asks you to buy an iPad. Is there a sensitive way to place a damper on their more extravagant wishes?

He looked at me through his spectacles, as though I’d just asked him to sit in my lap. “I’m head of the neighborhood group,” he said. “I only do this one day a year,” he said, and declined to be interviewed. Fair enough. So I headed north to Towson, to find a Santa, maybe, closer to the North Pole. 

The Santa, on the first floor of Towson Town Center, clearly was doing this as a day job. He had an enormous spread, surrounded by photographers, digital displays, and Poinsettias, richly draped with red cloth. He was a pro. He was lying back in his high-backed chair, with a long line of kids, an army of elves, and a visiting fee. I watched the children bounce on and off his knees, waiting for a chance to get access. Then Santa got up, apparently on break. Now was my chance.

I pushed my way around the exit and held out my digital recorder. Santa’s handler told me that he needed a break, apparently to check on toy production, and he would be back in an hour. I told Santa that I was a reporter and needed to interview him briefly about being Santa in a time of high unemployment and low prospects. 

He looked down at me through his glasses, genially but severely. He was about five inches taller than I. 

“Santa doesn’t do interviews.” And then with a twinkle, he told me that if I wanted, though, I could line up and get photographed telling him what I wanted for Christmas. For about 20 bucks. That would be in an hour, though. He had to eat lunch. His elf cut me off and guided him through the gate.  

I watched Santa heading into the jam-packed hallway towards the food court, which had absolutely nothing to do with toy production. What the hell was that about? I’d been one of his biggest fans. I wasn’t anymore though. Did he even exist? I would have to ask that question while sitting on his lap. And I would get photographed. It would probably go viral. It wasn’t worth it. 

The journey to find a Santa who wanted to talk about the paralyzed economy continued. 

I headed west. Across Charles Street, right off the Beltway: to Kenilworth Mall. It was smaller and cozier, with an elaborate, old-school electronic train greeting me upon arrival.

There, I ran into a four-year-old neighbor of mine, Audrey, who was watching the train and holding a huge ball of cotton candy. We came up with a deal: I would tell her where Santa was, and she and her mom would get me access. I wouldn’t have to sit on his lap. She could ask him for a present. 

The Santa Experience was on the second floor of Kenilworth Mall. The Santa Claus himself didn’t have the intimidating charisma of the Towson Town Claus. He was shorter, plumper, and a little easier to approach.  Audrey lined up with her mom. I asked her what she planned on getting for Christmas, but she grabbed her mom’s leg. “I’m shy,” she explained.

But she did help me squeeze by the elves and through the barriers. She completed the photo shoot, on Santa’s knee whispering something off the record in his ear. Now was my opportunity. I revealed to Santa that I wasn’t her dad, I was an undercover investigative journalist interviewing for Baltimore Fishbowl. 

Unemployment is hovering around 10 percent. How do you stop kids from driving their parents into the poorhouse?

Santa had no immediate comment. But I was directed to his handlers, a pair of photographers who were running this Santa Experience. Mike, a friendly and talkative assistant, talked to me a little about the business, Class Images. The emphasis on the experience, with more lap time, and not just on the transaction itself. 

“So we want the kids to have a lot more quality time with Santa. With other malls, it’s in and out quick, but we want kids to talk to Santa — we want Santa to interact with the kids. We really want them to leave with a positive experience.”

The current Santa, he said, is “Santa Pat,” the breakfast Santa. “He actually works for the federal government.”  Santa in the afternoon is Santa Dave. “He’s actually a college professor, who teaches criminal law at the University of Maryland.” Their third Santa, Santa Carmen, is from Pennsylvania. “We found him in a parking lot, and we walked up to him and told him, we want you to be Santa.” He emphasized that, like everyone in the industry, they did background checks on all the Santas.

He had to break for a moment. A one-year-old had started screaming in Santa’s lap. That was taken care of. He continued.

“Some of the other Santas, in the big malls, it’s ‘Get a picture, and you’re gone.’ Of course, the pictures are part of the experience, but the real part is sitting on Santa’s lap, asking him for a present or having him or her ask, ‘How was your year?’”

But what if it has been a lousy year for the parents? How has the economy changed Santa’s approach? 

“That’s a good point. And it’s a very valid point today. They get the questions like that all the time. Our Santas are instructed to say this: ‘Santa will try and do his best. But everything that Santa is going to give you is going to be one special gift this year.’ It’s hard when that child asks for an iPad. But we instruct our Santas, especially if you see that expression in their mom’s eyes, you tell the child, ‘Whatever you get, it’s going to be especially made for you.’”

Of course, kids aren’t the only ones who have to ratchet down expectations. As Mike explained, Santa has had to tighten his own belt a few notches. 

“Now, times are tough. So this year, it’s our Dollar Store mentality. We lower the package 30 percent (from $35 to $20). In today’s economy, that’s really important. We shopped from Virginia to Pennsylvania to make sure we met every competitor out there.”

Towson Town Mall, he noted when pressed, hires a nationwide Santa Claus company. “So thanks for supporting a local business,” he said, shaking my hand.

Mission accomplished, I headed to the food court. I grabbed two slices of cheese pizza. I had gotten the answer I needed. But still, something didn’t ring right about his answer.

Wait. Santa Claus is local?

But that would be material for another story.

 

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