Harry Little Submarines closed in Towson after 56 years in business

Any business that survives 56 years will inevitably foster loyalty among its customers.

Since the news spread that Harry Little sub shop, which served its own brand of high-quality "fast food" before such a term existed, was closing, it's clear the Towson mainstay was no exception.

The last of five area stores, located at Regester Avenue and York Road, of a regional chain shut its doors for good Oct. 29.

"We've had great support from the community, and we're going to miss our customers," said owner Christa Gunther, a Rodgers Forge resident and Anneslie native. "I know people are coming to the door and looking at the sign and are really shocked that this is happening. It's sad, because we've loved it up here and we've had some really good customers over the year that have come from our (other) stores."

Gunther said she took over the business from her parents, Anneslie residents Edward and Stephanie Rohe, about a year and a half ago. Her father had been looking to sell, and Gunther, one of five siblings who grew up working at the shops, thought she could balance her domestic life with managing the store.

"I thought it was something I could do with one child, but (a second child) came on me quicker than I thought," she said.

Ultimately, family life trumped family business, though even Gunther's 3-year-old daughter already loved putting on her work shirt and walking around the kitchen area, ready to help out when she could.

Gunther said a confluence of a sluggish economy and the development of the surrounding area also contributed to the closing.

"(The economy) has affected us a lot lately," she said. "Not only the economy … but the growing area. Back in the '80s and early '90s, we were the only food place around here. There wasn't any of that (Panera Bakery, Boston Market, Qdoba and Chipotle Mexican food chains) down there by the Giant, there wasn't Uncle Wiggly's (ice cream store). We were the only ones."

Still, the loyal customer base always returned, even those who moved away.

"When people came back to the area, this is where they want to go," Gunther said. "It's going to be missed by a lot of people."

The decision to close was made in early October, and while she thought about having an event to mark the beloved shop's closing, most of the final days were marked by family and friends having one last meal.

One night, all of her siblings and family members in the area came to the store for just such an occasion. Some customers learned the news and returned day after day for more until finally, the doors were closed for good.

A note on the door last read simply, "We appreciate your support and business for the past 56 years."

Last week, an online call for readers to share their Harry Little memories drew several responses.

Carol Hogan, 64, recalled in an email how important Harry Little was to her and her family.

"As a young married person, my Saturday always included chores followed by Harry Little's subs for lunch," she wrote. "When I was in the hospital recovering from the birth of my babies, I always requested a Harry Little's sub for a treat. As my children grew, they, too, became fans."

Hogan said she moved to Florida in 2004, but whenever she returns to see family in the area, "they always knew a visit to Harry Little's was on my itinerary."

When word spread on social media, it reached not only Hogan in Florida, but her brother, Bernard Thomas, in California.

"I suspect I owe at least half a point on my GPA at Johns Hopkins (University) to Harry Little's hamburger subs, which sustained me through more than one "almost all-nighter" — but not the one in Towson" Thomas wrote. "We used to go to the branch somewhere around 32nd and Greenmount Avenue, which we could walk to."

Todd Armstrong, an Anneslie native who now lives in Baldwin, wrote that he used to shovel sidewalks in Rodgers Forge on snow days to save money for Harry Little's french fries.

"Now that Harry Little's has closed, there will be an empty place in my heart," he wrote, "(but I'm) hoping that I find out Harry Little's finds a new home to serve the residents of Towson."

Send more comments about what Harry Little has meant to you over the years to jmeoli@tribune.com.

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