It was clear for several weeks that something new was happening at the corner of Bolton and Mosher streets. Big boxes moved into the garages that face Mosher. Workmen on the outside were building shelving and opening crates. New paint, awnings and planters were installed on the Bolton-facing retail space that most recently housed an accountant’s offices.
And now it is public. Chris and Ryan Sirois Heller are a full-fledged professional presence in the neighborhood, and they brought with them to 1500 Bolton Street the first new retail outlet in Bolton Hill for a generation. The Margaret Cleveland is an elegant shop offering an array of personally collected art, furniture, ceramics and artifacts to be shown, ogled and sold on a leisurely schedule as a sidebar to the Hellers’ primary business.
They operate Helium Creative, a boutique Ft. Lauderdale (and now Baltimore) branding and marketing agency whose clients are resort developers, real estate entrepreneurs, and consumer products firms, among others.
“It all starts with a story,” as branding gurus like to say. Margaret Cleveland was Chris’ grandmother, a distant relative of President Grover Cleveland. She moved back to her birthplace Kensington, MD, after separating from her husband. Chris Heller grew up in Lancaster and visited Bolton Hill as an adolescent often, staying with his grandfather on Park Avenue. He intermingled with artists and art students at MICA, where, as it turned out, Ryan’s mother had enrolled. She lived on Bolton Street then.
Chris studied at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and did creative design work with agencies in Philly and South Florida. In 2004, a client opportunity came along, and Chris struck out on his own, creating what became Helium. Ryan, a creative with his own portfolio, was Helium’s first hire. They married in 2015 shortly after the Supreme Court Obergefell decision made it possible in Florida.
“We’d always said we’d come back north,” Chris said. They have 5-½-year-old twins, a girl and boy. They explored mid-Atlantic options from Philadelphia to Lancaster to DC, eventually taking a place in north Baltimore. “We like south Florida, but we didn’t want to raise kids there. We wanted them to know seasons, and the holidays and traditions that go with them.”
Friends found Baltimore a troubling choice, “but we were inspired. ‘Have you seen what is going on?’ we told them.” They mentioned Port Covington’s massive new development (AKA Baltimore Peninsula) and other things they saw and loved. They travel often back to Florida and elsewhere for work. On weekends they explore, often on bikes, and that was how they stumbled upon 1500 Bolton Street, where Joe Palumbo had offices. They connected and struck a deal to buy the space that now serves as their Helium local studio and The Margaret Cleveland store.
“My mother had me when she was young. Margie, my grandmother helped raise me,” Chris said. “I worked retail in college and over time, as I’ve traveled, I’ve enjoyed picking up things I love—things that are interesting and show creativity.” The Helium studio at the beach in Ft. Lauderdale housed many of these same objects and functioned like a little store, he said.
Margaret Cleveland, the store, is for now only open on selected weekends. Weekdays are for the core business. When the weather is warmer there may be Friday evening wine drop-ins, perhaps creating some sort of informal symmetry with Cookhouse across the street. They currently are doing events and classes listed on the website.
Their shop once housed a small grocery, with the owner raising poultry above the carriage houses. Later it was, for a while, a high-end antique shop. “Now it’s a passion project, my vision,” Chris said.
– Bill Hamilton