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Baltimore Sun
September 26, 1994
By Dan Rodricks

Chocolatier offers a pound of smiles for a dollop of decency
This has been a year of paradoxes for Albert Kirchmayr, the master chocolatier from North Charles Street. He lost something valuable, yet worthless. His business suffered a loss but at the same time benefited from it. And he discovered a paradox of generosity --- that people with the least often give the most, if only because it makes them feel good.

Let’s go back to Christmas 1993. on Dec. 23, Albert Kirchmayr stuffed close to 300 checks worth $19,000 in a large envelope, put the envelope in a box packed with aprons, got in his car and drove to West Baltimore. On the way to make a deposit at his bank, he stopped at Rudy’s Patisserie to pick up some nuts. He left his car unlocked. Kirchmayr was in Rudy’s for 10 minutes. When he returned to his car, the box and the checks were gone.

“At first, I panicked,” he says. But in that panic, laced with guilt, he did everything right: Alerted banks, check-cashing shops and liquor stores; distributed posters offering a reward for the checks; searched through trash cans. Banks told Kirchmayr the checks, accounting for about 30 percent of the chocolatier’s annual revenues, were virtually useless to the thief. (Nine months later, as far as Kirchmayr can tell, no one has tied to cash them.)

He placed a sign in the shop that tested the honor of customers. It asked them to say if they had paid for chocolates with a check between Dec. 13 and Dec. 23. If a check had never cleared, the customer would be asked to write another. So far, the chocolatier has recouped 45 percent of his loss that way.

Kirchmayr received a fair amount of news coverage, and though reports of the lapse that made the theft possible might have been considered bad publicity --- “It was stupid of me,” Kirchmayr told a reporter --- they actually led to greater public awareness of his shop. Increased business for Valentine’s Day and Easter helped Kirchmayr make up his loss.

Also, people of modest means, some of whom had never been to his shop, mailed him cash. Others offered money. One man offered an interest-free loan for the full amount. “I was too proud to take these offers and rejected the generosity,” Kirchmayr says. “But I later realized that people made these offers not just to help me, but to make themselves feel good. I should not have rejected them.”

Still, there’s this: Some people, by now fully aware of Kirchmayr’s problem, have not yet offered to make good on the chocolates for which they wrote checks back in December. Most others probably did not hear of the incident.

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