Getz family has more than a century of history on Bel Air's Main Street

Old photos showing the Getz family store in Bel Air hang on display in the Bel Air lobby of Getz Law Office.
Old photos showing the Getz family store in Bel Air hang on display in the Bel Air lobby of Getz Law Office. (Matt Button, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Stanley Getz has spent nearly his entire life – and legal career – in the same South Main Street building his grandparents purchased more than a century ago.

Getz, 81, his brother Alan, 79, who is also an attorney, and their nephews, Stewart, an attorney, and Marc, a counselor, own the building at 26 S. Main St. in downtown Bel Air.


"It's still owned by the Getz family, who have been in it continuously since 1911," Stanley Getz said proudly.

Getz, a lifelong Bel Air resident, has been practicing law for almost 60 years; he, his brother, Alan, and late brother, Morton, formed the law firm Getz, Getz & Getz in 1957, after Stanley and Alan earned their law degrees from the University of Baltimore.


Morton, who was seven years older than Stanley, had already been practicing law independently. Morton Getz died in the early 1990s. His wife, Irene, has also died, and they are survived by three sons, Stewart, Marc and Shelby.

Today, the firm is called Getz Law Office LLC, and the principal partners are Stewart H. Getz – Morton Getz' son – and his sister-in-law, Lisa Kunitz Getz, who is Marc Getz' wife. Stanley Getz is "of counsel," or an adviser, to the firm.

Stanley Getz also served as the attorney for the Harford County Liquor Control Board for 35 years, and he was a trial magistrate and judge for the county's People's Court, called District Court today, from 1959 to 1971.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Alan – from his home in Baltimore County – and Stanley shared some of their memories of growing up in Bel Air and Harford County.


Alan, who is retired from practicing law other than serving as the attorney for the Harford County treasurer's office, remembers commuting with his brother from Bel Air to Baltimore for law school.

"We would leave at 5 o'clock, and we would leave Bel Air, and the first sign of a red light was at Joppa Road," he said.

He and Stanley also remember the close-knit nature of Bel Air during their childhoods, when all of downtown Bel Air's businesses were clustered along three blocks of Main Street between Churchville Road and Lee Street.

"To be honest, it's a whole different world," Alan, who lives in Baltimore County, said of present-day Bel Air. "It's like you went from a town where you knew everybody, and everybody knew you, to a town where you know very few."

He described Bel Air as a "very friendly small town," and noted how Harford County's population has grown to almost 250,000 people since he was a child.

"When we started practicing law, Harford County had 33 lawyers and 60,000 people," he said. As of the 2010 Census, there were about 245,000 people living in Harford County.

Alan said they could look across Main Street from their law office and see the former Harford County jail and sheriff's house.

The jail was in operation until the Harford County Detention Center was built along Rock Spring Road north of town in the early 1970s.

The brothers noted there was typically only one prisoner in the jail on many weekends, the same drunk man sleeping it off.

'An agricultural community'

The Getzes said Main Street was filled with shoppers on Friday and Saturday nights, when people would come in from throughout the county to shop for food, shoes and clothing and dine at the downtown restaurants.

"Bata Shoe company and Aberdeen Proving Ground were the only two big industries [in Harford], and we were an agricultural community," Stanley said.

The brothers rattled off a list of businesses that were the lifeblood of downtown Bel Air, including the A&P and Acme supermarkets, Hirsch's Men's Clothing Store, the F.W. Woolworth store, the Preston family stationery store, as well as the Boyd & Fulford drug store and Richardson's Pharmacy.

When Stanley and Alan were children, their parents, Louis and Tillye Getz, ran a clothing store, Getz' Clothing Store, that had been founded by Stanley and Alan's grandparents, Solomon and Mary Getz, who came to Bel Air from Pennsylvania in 1895.

Solomon and Mary purchased the two-story building at 26 S. Main St. in 1911, and Louis Getz, one of six children, took over the clothing business when Solomon died in the early 1930s.

Stanley Getz and his brothers grew up in a small apartment, 90 feet long and 20 feet wide, above the clothing store.

The clothing store was converted into a law office after their parents retired in the early 1960s; the law practice started in offices in the rear of the building.

Prominent family

Louis Getz' brothers, Stanley and Alan's uncles, also became prominent business leaders and elected officials in Harford County.

Simon Getz was an optometrist and owned Getz' Jewelers. David Getz was a pharmacist and owned a drug store on Office Street, which Stanley said was a regular spot for "a lot of the courthouse crowd," and Myer Getz, or Mike, as he was known, served as the Harford County state's attorney during the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Stanley Getz, whose family is Jewish, noted his uncle ran for state's attorney when crosses were being burned in parts of Harford County.

"What a tribute it was for the family, for him to be elected state's attorney in those days," Getz said.

Louis Getz' sisters, Rebecca and Hattie, were homemakers, who lived in Baltimore.

Simon Getz was the father of Payson Getz, who took over his father's jewelry business; his brother Marvin, who died in 2010, took over the optometry practice.

Payson Getz also served as a Bel Air town commissioner and treasurer of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company. He died Oct. 6. Stanley Getz said his cousin was a few years older than him.

"He was a very quiet person, quite intelligent," he said.

Payson Getz is survived by a wife, two daughters and three grandchildren.

Stanley is married to Kathlyn, and they have four children, Sharon, Michael, William and Melissa. Michael lives in Bel Air, and he works for the Harford County Parks & Recreation Department, operating and maintaining the Veronica "Roni" Chenowith Activity Center in Fallston.

His daughters are retired teachers, and his son, William, is in finance and lives in New York City.

Alan's son, Randal, is an attorney in Baltimore, and he also has a medical degree. His son, Joel, is a fundraiser for colleges.

His daughter, Lyn Stacie Getz, died in 1999 at age 32, and the Lyn Stacie Getz Creative Playground opened in her memory in 2001 off of Ring Factory Road.

Stanley Getz said that when he was growing up, "you could count the number of Jewish families in Harford County on your fingers."

The local Jewish population has grown since then, and Morton Getz oversaw the incorporation of the Harford Jewish Center in Havre de Grace.

"As a child I knew there was some anti-Semitism still present in Harford County, but it seldom surfaced," Stanley said.

Growing up, he and his brothers had friends from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds, and they "did not encounter problems worth talking about from a religious standpoint."


"We came from a family that had created such a great reputation for honesty, morality and contribution to Bel Air and Harford County," he said.


Stanley Getz said his parents' clothing store was known as "10 Downing St.," the residence of the prime minister of Great Britain because local and state politicians sought his father's counsel.

"He just had common sense beyond description," Stanley said of his father.

The Harford County Council recognized Alan and Stanley Getz on Sept. 11, 2012, for their family's contributions to the county.

The brothers, along with Alan's grandchildren, accepted the proclamation from Council President Billy Boniface and Councilman Jim McMahan of Bel Air.

Stanley shared a video of the ceremony.

"Bel Air is a very unusual community, in the fact that, when we were young boys down on South Main Street, we had an incredible community down there," McMahan said during the ceremony. "We were all brothers and sisters, and we loved everything we did in Bel Air."

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