By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun
5:06 PM EDT, June 19, 2012
David Cohen, an old-fashioned tailor and men's shop owner who served generations of customers during his six decades at Hirsch's on Main Street in Bel Air, died of a respiratory condition June 16 at Citizens Care and Rehabilitation in Havre de Grace. The Bel Air resident was 94.
Born in Philadelphia to Jacob and Mamie Cohen, he was a South Philadelphia High School graduate who became a machinist at Publicker's Distillery. He studied mechanical engineering at night at Drexel University and later worked as a machinist at the Calvert Distillery.
Family members said that friends introduced him to a Bel Air resident, Hannah Hirsch, an artist and Maryland Institute College of Art graduate. Her parents moved to Harford County in the 1920s and opened a men's tailoring shop they thought would prosper as the Conowingo Dam was completed. Mr. Cohen married her in 1941.
Shortly after the beginning of World War II, he joined the Army and was assigned as a machinist in the 1120th Combat Engineers. He served in the Battle of the Bulge and was stationed in Holland, Belgium and France.
"He told me that his engineering company was called in to disarm a bomb fitted with metric threads. No one else could do it and he defused it," said Bel Air pharmacist Eugene "Gene" Streett, a close friend. "He could do anything using both his hands and with his thought process. They made him a first sergeant after that incident."
After leaving the military in 1946, his in-laws, Ben and Clara Hirsch, asked him to assist them permanently in their haberdashery shop, where he had helped out. He stayed until he closed the shop in 2007.
"What started as a temporary job turned into a lifetime career in Harford County," said his daughter, Lisa Cohen Feldman of New York City. Because of his mechanical ability, he was able to fix and operate the shop's sewing machines, hem-stitching machine, and pressing table.
Over the years he outfitted wedding parties and high school graduates in formal wear, as well as Boy Scouts in their uniforms.
"He could judge when they came in the door what size suit they needed," said Jean Bullis, a sales associate who worked for him for 29 years and lives in Bel Air.
Family members said he was proud that he sold tailored suits to Cal Ripken Sr. He also developed a following among members of the Harford County Sheriff's Department and the Bel Air Police, as well as with fire companies. He would sew service emblems and patches on their uniforms, often free of charge.
"It was a small store but they were always busy," said Mr. Streett. Mr. Cohen drank coffee with Mr. Streett most mornings at his pharmacy, Boyd and Fulford.
"I picture Dave with a tape measure around his neck," said a customer, James Chrismer, a retired John Carroll High School educator. "He was the face of Hirsch's. He always had a smile and always seemed to be in a hurry, but not to get away from you."
Mr. Chrismer described the shop as long and narrow, with a steady clientele of lawyers and business people from Bel Air.
"He had things tucked away in drawers and boxes you never thought he had," said Mr. Chrismer.
At 9 S. Main St., his shop once had busy neighbors: a Woolworth's with five checkers and a grocery store.
"He impressed me when I was a young man and watched him help farmers when they had a death in the family," said a friend, Todd Holden of Bel Air. "Most of them didn't own a fancy suit or a sport coat. He would disappear into the back of the store and find one and lend it to them."
When an Evening Sun reporter asked him in 1982 why he hadn't moved to the Harford Mall, he said, "I can look out the door and see sunshine and that's what I like." He said that his Johnny Carson line of suits sold well and that his customers liked his same-day, in-and-out tailoring.
"We have the same clientele," he said in 1982. "The children that used to buy in here bringing in their children and grandchildren. We don't have the high overhead the malls have and that's a pleasure."
In 2011, the Harford County government named him a "A Harford County Living Treasure," along with his wife, who died that year. He was also active in B'nai Brith.
"Dave was a fixture on Main Street," said Baltimore attorney Randal D. Getz. "He was a part of my life. His was a mom-and-pop shop where you felt like you had gone back in time. He kept on going so long by the sheer force of his personality. It was all about customer service, relationships and being a nice guy."
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Temple Adas Shalom at Route 155 and Earlton Road in Havre de Grace. Mr. Cohen was a founder of the congregation and served as its fifth president.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include two sons, Dr. Jeffrey Cohen of Havre de Grace and Dr. Howell Cohen of Boca Raton, Fla.; three grandsons and two great-grandchildren.
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