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Downtown Havre de Grace business mainstays remain strong after decades

Bobby Goll Sr., owner of Goll's Bakery in downtown Havre de Grace, lays out cookies in the bakery where he has worked since he was a teenager.
Bobby Goll Sr., owner of Goll's Bakery in downtown Havre de Grace, lays out cookies in the bakery where he has worked since he was a teenager. (DAVID ANDERSON | AEGIS STAFF, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

In an era when many small retail businesses have disappeared from downtown Havre de Grace – as well as the downtown areas of many municipalities – three of the city's mainstays, Joseph's Department Store, Golls Bakery and Lyon's Pharmacy not only carry on, but adjust to the times when necessary.

The owners of Joseph's, at 122 N. Washington St., a downtown fixture since 1937, are revitalizing the store for a new generation of shoppers.

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"It's about relationships, and that's what a small store's about, is relationships," Dr. Louis Silverstein, who bought the store from his older brother Eli in January, said.

Louis Silverstein, who has been a family physician in Havre de Grace since 1983, owns the store with his fiance, Christy Potter. He purchased the department store because his brother was retiring after running the store since 1981.

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Eli Silverstein, 73, took over after their father Joseph, the founder, died.

"You feel part of something here, and I always wanted to come back here," Louis Silverstein said. "I enjoyed my time in school; I got a good education."

Louis Silverstein, a 1963 graduate of Havre de Grace High School, said Havre de Grace is characterized by families whose members have been born and raised in the city for generations.

Joseph's Department Store is one of three family-operated downtown Havre de Grace businesses that have remained independently owned for decades as the economic mix of downtown has shifted from retail to specialty shops and restaurants.

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Goll's Bakery, established in 1930, is at 234 N Washington St. Lyon's Pharmacy, established in 1894 and the oldest of the trio, is at 328 St. John St.

Louis Silverstein, 69, and his fiance have been overseeing months of renovations of the 8,000 square-foot department store, including fresh paint and new wooden floors.

The store was scheduled to reopen this week , and the new owners talked about the store last Friday while plastic sheets covered much of the merchandise, and the smell of paint permeated the building.

Potter said 15 of the store's signature oak tables, where clothing had been displayed, have been taken out, and the clothes placed on racks. A number of wooden display tables remain, however, and brands of clothing, including shirts and jeans, were piled on top of them.

In addition to clothing, the product lines that were sold at Wonder Toys of Havre de Grace were acquired by Joseph's and they will be sold at the department store. The Wonder Toys store has closed.

Potter, a nurse, learned everything she could about retail from Eli Silverstein and veteran assistant manager, Beverly Gordon, who has worked there for about 25 years.

"We just could not see the town not having the department store," she said. "We felt like we would take it and breathe some new life into it."

Potter said she tries to obtain clothes made in the U.S. and Canada, and even clothes made in Maryland.

She said any item a customer wants that is not in stock can be special ordered.

"It's the old mom-and-pop store," Gordon said.

Gordon has not only been a long-time employee of Joseph's, but she was also a customer when her children were young.

"This was the place to come for Buster Brown clothing," she said.

Gordon said Joseph's was the place to shop for clothes, varsity jackets for Havre de Grace High School athletes, even Halloween costumes.

She said downtown Havre de Grace was filled with retail establishments such as 5-and-10-cent stores and shoe stores.

"When you came downtown, you actually had a lot more choices back then," she said.

Gordon said Joseph Silverstein would tease her about being her daughter's baby sitter, since she looked too young to be her mother.

Joseph's was also popular with children and their parents, because of its mechanical boat children could ride for 10 cents.

"If you had a child with you, Joseph automatically gave you 30 cents to ride that little toy," Gordon recalled.

Louis Silverstein said he worked in the store as a child, sweeping the floor, in sales and running the cash register.

He said he thinks there is still a future for a clothing store in Havre de Grace's "very vibrant downtown."

"We have a wonderful foundation to build on, lots of years of service and reputation," he said.

'My first love'

Bobby Goll Sr., 78, owner of Goll's Bakery, is less optimistic about downtown Havre de Grace, noting businesses that have recently closed, and that hardly anyone was downtown on a recent Monday morning, even though his bakery opens at 7 a.m.

"One thing about it is, we have people wondering how come we're still in business," he said.

Smells of fresh bread and pastries hung in the air as Goll wrapped up a shift that began at 2 a.m., a schedule he keeps five days a week. He is also a longtime member of the Susquehanna Hose Company.

"I'm an early riser, and I go to bed early," he said.

Goll, who has spent his whole life on Washington Street, said he typically leaves the bakery around 10 a.m., and hardly sees anyone on the downtown streets. He noted there is a larger crowd in the evening when the restaurants are open, but the foot traffic is nothing like it was downtown when he was growing up.

Goll began working at the bakery, which was founded by his parents Elsa and Eugene Goll, when he was 15. The original Goll's Bakery site on Washington Street is now a health products store. The bakery has been at its current location since 1941.

"I can't quit," he said. "My wife knows that this was my first love, so what can I do, nothing else I know."

For several generations the bakery has been locally renowned for its cakes, pies, eclairs and cookies; Goll noted the bakery has sold cakes to couples celebrating their 50th anniversary, and those same couples bought their first cakes from Goll's Bakery.

Goll and his family, including his son Bobby Jr. and daughter Susie, as well as his grandson, work in the bakery.

Susie Goll, who has worked in the bakery for about 30 years, said she posted a sign in the window advertising the bakery's eclairs, which are made from a family recipe and are on sale during the fall and winter months.

"As soon as the first burst of cold air blows through, people ask about it," she said of the eclairs.

They use equipment that dates back decades, including an oven manufactured during the 1950s, and a bread slicer from the 1930s.

The bakery faces stiff competition from grocery stores with their own bakeries and convenience stores that sell baked goods, Goll Sr. said.

"We own the place, and maybe just because of the product we put out, is all," he said of the bakery's staying power.

Grayce Faries, who lives in the Aldino community near Aberdeen, has been a Goll's customer since 1948, when she was a new mother. One of her favorite products is the coffee buns, which her children and grandchildren love, especially the iced buns.

"Their cookies are good," she said. "Their Vienna bread is delicious, and their French apple pie is outstanding."

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Her grandsons live in Carroll County, and she said she brings coffee buns when she visits their families.

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"I've always gone to Goll's, and over the years I just stayed with them because I've always been happy," Faries said.

New blood

Lyon's Pharmacy has been independently owned since it was founded in 1894, and new owner Kunal "Kenny" Shah, 36, plans to continue that tradition.

Shah, who his customers know as Kenny, purchased the pharmacy about six to seven months ago. The Bel Air resident has been a pharmacist for nine years. He worked for chain pharmacies before he acquired Lyon's.

"I wanted to do something helping customers on my own," he said. "This opportunity came my way, and I just grabbed it."

Shah has quickly endeared himself to the customers, including newer patrons and those who have been coming to Lyon's since they were children.

Multiple customers who were in the pharmacy last Friday praised his personal touch and his willingness to order goods that are not in stock.

"If it turned into a franchise, this place would be closed in three months," Dan Lee, who owns MacGregor's Restaurant across St. John Street from the pharmacy, said.

Lee, 61, said he remembers visiting Lyon's as a child.

Bobbi Andrews, who lives outside Havre de Grace, has been a customer since 1987.

"That's why I haven't left," she said. "They know you; it's like family."

Sandee Mason of Havre de Grace, who has been a customer for 12 years, raved about the service Shah has provided, even though he is "new to us."

"He really knows his stuff, and if he doesn't know, he'll find out," Mason said.

Wynona Stanley, who has lived in Havre de Grace for 20 years, was shopping for gifts at Lyon's on a recent Friday with her 16-year-old son Justin. The gifts were for relatives from out of town.

"I will always find something that is representative of Havre de Grace in here, plus I end up buying jewelry for myself," she said. "They don't have the usual store items that you find in the chain drug stores; it has a down-home feel that the stores in Havre de Grace have."

Bill McIntyre, of Havre de Grace, visited Goll's on a recent Monday, and he raved to Susie Goll about how fortunate Lyon's is to have Shah as the owner.

"You come in and they talk to you," he said of independently-owned businesses. "You're talking to people, and they know you, and they know your children, and you grew up together; it's roots."

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