Fifty years ago, a waitress at the County Coffee Shop in Towson was looking for a new gig. She asked the owner of a local shoe store, a frequent patron of the restaurant, if he needed any help around the shop.
As it turned out, R. Richard Rudolph, then-owner of the Towson Bootery, was looking to add to his staff. The waitress, Jean Hammond, began to work as a shoe saleswoman. She has been ever since.
"I never thought I'd be here for 50 years," said Hammond, 82, of Cockeysville. Monday, Aug. 13 will mark her golden anniversary at the Towson Bootery, a staple in the local business community that has moved three times since Hammond began working there in 1962.
Most recently, the store relocated to the Shops at Kenilworth from its second location on York Road, but customers who have shopped at any location will recognize both the large taxidermy bear in the corner of the store and Hammond, a warm presence, as constants that have withstood the test of time.
"I've seen a lot of people come and go," she said. "When I first came here, Dick (Rudolph) used to say, 'I'm waiting on second generations.' I would think that's funny. Now, I wait on second generations, too."
The next generation of Rudolphs, Alex, now owns the store, and has worked with Hammond since he began at the store as a teenager.
"She was there in the early days," he said. "She started with my dad, and she's worked ever since. She's always there on time. I don't think I remember her ever being late."
When she's sick, or something else comes up, Rudolph said, Hammond calls her boss well in advance.
"You don't see people do that anymore," he said. "She's got a good work ethic."
To that note, Rudolph said they're both "old school," especially in their approach to some of Hammond's school-aged co-workers.
"When you see people sitting around playing on their phones, she'll get on them," Rudolph said. "She feels that if you're here, you get paid to work, so you work."
"You can't get away from that," Hammond said. "You just go with the flow."
Though she and her young colleagues may disagree on that issue, Hammond said the children who come in with their families are her favorite customers.
"We like seeing them," she said. "They're fun, because all of them are different. Some of them come in and they remember the ones who waited on them before, and they want to wait on them again."
It's that interaction keeps Hammond, a self-proclaimed people person, motivated to keep coming back each morning. She enjoys the banter with customers, recalling the times she's jokingly told customers who claim to be just looking that the store has begun charging for the privilege.
She used to get that valued interaction from a group of former Towson teens who affectionately refer to themselves as "Jean's Girls."
Hammond and her late husband, Bob, had a son of their own, but after he moved out, the Hammonds ran a 19-acre horse farm on Cowpens Avenue where local children boarded their horses and leaned on Jean for support in their difficult teenage years.
"I can't even think of how many went through there," Hammond said. "If they had a horse, they could board as long they behaved, did what they were supposed to and paid their board. We took them to the shows, spent a lot of time with them that we didn't have to — but did anyway."
She moved from the farm after her husband passed away, but said she got a call from one who lives in Michigan on a recent birthday.
"Virginia, Colorado, Michigan, they're all over the place," she said. "That says something, that means they remember. We had fun with our girls."
As the calendar turns to August, Hammond is seeing many of the girls, and boys, she's come to know, as children come to the Towson Bootery for school shoes. Many parents who bring their children in use the draw of the big bear statue.
"I always laugh, because sometimes a dad will bring his child in and say, 'I thought the bear was bigger than that,' " Hammond said. "I say 'It was, but you were also little when you used to come and see it.' "