When Fred Romer, a longtime resident of Edgewater, decided to retire from New Jersey-based Lockheed Electronics, he had not the slightest intention of retiring in the usual sense.
In 1973, at age 55, Romer was not yet ready to roll down his sleeves and bid goodbye to the world of business. Instead, like so many other older Americans, he embarked on a second career.
While Romer, 72, admits to enjoying golf and boating, and is an active Elk and a key member of the Annapolis Council of the Navy League, he was not prepared to spend the rest of his mornings knocking a ball around a golf course and napping away his afternoons. That simply is not his nature, say those who know him.
Today, Romer's refusal to accept a traditional retirement has led him to own and operate Romer Space Center, a mini-storage and postal service company in Gambrills.
A former employee of Crown Petroleum, Romer joined Lockheed some years ago and rose to the position of vice-president of marketing for electronic liquid measuring services, with responsibility for territory in the eastern United States and Europe. That job required considerable travel and long periods away from his Edgewater home, where he has resided since 1960.
Well before retirement, Romer began looking at possible investment opportunities around Anne Arundel County, eventually establishing the Romer Equipment Co., at a site adjacent to the northbound lane of Route 3 in Gambrills, which he says "looked like something out of Tobacco Road" -- an abandoned truck repair building that "would have qualified as a mini-landfill."
The three-acre lot was overgrown with weeds and covered with all kinds of trash. The clean-up job alone required considerable time and expense.
In 1985, Romer Equipment, a rental service, underwent a name change to Romer Space Center. By then, Romer had acquired a Ryder truck rental franchise and had further diversification in mind. He had plans to expand into a business providing a variety of inter-related services.
Romer Space Center is not, of course, an outer-space laboratory; nor is it a producer of rockets. It is simply a state-of-the-art mini-storage facility that provides the public with a convenient place to store all kinds of personal possessions, such as furniture, household furnishings, trunks and other items.
It even has open-air space for the storage of autos, boats and construction equipment, under very secure conditions.
Six newly constructed buildings are divided into compartments, ranging in size from 5 feet by 10 feet to 10' x 30', with metal overhead doors secured with heavy, tamper-proof locks and individual burglar alarms. The entire area, with electronically controlled access, is surrounded by a 7-foot fence topped with barbed wire. The area is monitored 24 hours a day and illuminated by mercury vapor lights from dusk to dawn.
An underground drainage system and well-ventilated units assure freedom from dampness, mildew and odors. Renters have access to their units from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Not content with renting trucks and serving as guardian of other people's possessions, Romer saw a growing need for a private post box service in the Gambrills area and decided to fill that need, with customer access seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
To supplement this, Romer added a mail- and package-forwarding service. He noted that many senior citizens who spend long periods away from home use Romer Space Center to forward their mail to their temporary address. Some business firms use the center as their return address.
Romer had considerable experience in computer technology and has, as a consequence, computerized his operation, using both Apple and IBM equipment. This enables the center to determine, at the touch of a key, precisely how many storage units are occupied, who is on-site and how many rental units are available. Billing is likewise computerized.
Romer Space Center acts as a representative for United Parcel Service, handling package shipments and providing necessary packaging material. It also offers copying services and represents Western Union, providing 15-minute money transfers. One of the latest related offerings is Fax copying.
Romer, together with his assistant and former Lockheed co-worker, Jim Post, and helped by two secretaries, keeps Romer Space Center open seven days a week. In between his business tasks, he manages to participate in activities at the Elks Lodge and the Annapolis Yacht Club, where he is a life member, and does volunteer chores for the Navy League.
One of Romer's few complaints is Anne Arundel County's property tax system, which fails to provide credit to business firms for expenses taken to improve real estate, he said.
"The tax assessor," he complains, "seem determined to double and triple assessments to the extent that he will eventually make my operation unprofitable."
However, senior citizen Fred Romer is making a significant contribution to the economic advancement of this county, providing a long menu of consumer services that local residents and businesses need.
*Editor's note: Mr. Crandall is the owner and operator of Gil Crandall & Associates, a public relations, tourism development and editorial service in Annapolis.