Gertrude Brownstein, who worked for eight decades in grocery and department stores and later in a family-owned auction business, died of cancer Dec. 18 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. She was 100 and lived in Owings Mills.
Gertrude Fishbone was born on Jan. 1, 1912, in Baltimore. She was the daughter of Hyman and Ida Fishbone, immigrants from the Ukraine. Family members said they came to this country speaking only Russian and Yiddish. They opened a corner grocery store in 1920 at 3600 Keswick Road in Hampden.
She lived with her parents and five siblings above the store, which remained in family hands until 1970, when the business closed and the building became the Bella Roma Pizza shop. She was a 1930 Western High School graduate.
In 1932 she married Meier Brownstein, who in later years worked at the old Epstein's department stores.
"The family story was they eloped and were married in Alexandria, Va.," said a grandson, Paul R. Cooper of Baltimore. "Then they went on a honeymoon to Atlantic City, and there they ran into her parents by accident."
At the time of her marriage, she gave up driving, after receiving her Maryland driver's license in 1928. After her husband's death, she took driving lessons and passed the test. She drove a Chevrolet Nova for another 25 years.
Mrs. Brownstein worked alongside family members at the Hampden grocery store.
"Family was everything to her," her grandson said. "She was proud of being a sister to Violet and [Violet's husband] Izzy Krichinsky, who were partners with Barry Levinson's father and depicted in the film 'Avalon.' She liked working retail because she could meet people."
When the family sold the grocery store in 1970, 50 years after its founding, she became a sales associate in the children's department at the old Hecht Co. store at Reisterstown Road Plaza.
"She worked for minimum wage because it gave her something to do. I can see her folding the clothes," her grandson said. "She loved the company."
She worked and drove until she was 90 and assisted her daughter, Annette Cooper, and son-in-law, Joseph A. Cooper, at their Alex Cooper Auctioneers. She worked with patrons at the firm's antique auctions and mixed with the extended Cooper family.
"Our customers still asked about her after she retired," said her grandson, who is also a Cooper vice president. "She was the sweetest person you ever met. She was not complicated. Her beauty was in her simplicity."
He attributed her longevity to her straightforward nature and always having a smile on her face.
"She was not a sick person. She retained her original hair color and never turned gray," he said. "She did not drink or smoke. She had a sweet tooth but always remained slim."
He also recalled his grandmother's positive attitude about life. "She saw beauty in each day. She was not a complainer and was just wonderful to be around."
Family members said she was a confirmed daily newspaper reader. She began with the weather and then read the sports page.
She lived at Atrium Village in Owings Mills most recently. After leaving Hampden she lived on Presbury Street, Garrison Avenue and on Brookmill Road.
Services were at Sol Levinson and Brothers.
In addition to her daughter and grandson, survivors include a brother, Irvin Fishbone of Pikesville; two sisters, Freda Weinstein of Pikesville and Nancy Berman of Owings Mills; two other grandsons; and eight great-grandchildren. Her husband of 43 years died in 1975.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun