Customers fill Epstein's on last day Department store chain closes shop


If business had been as brisk in recent months as it was yesterday as the last Epstein's department store closed its doors for the final time, there would have been little need for the large red-and-white signs in the window advertising "everything must go."

The store, in the 6500 block of Baltimore National Pike, was the last of a chain founded by two Russian immigrant brothers who had offered discount clothing and furniture for the last 65 years.

The company -- L. Epstein and Sons Inc. -- filed for bankruptcy protection last month and began liquidating its seven remaining stores.

For the final time yesterday, Donald See, the company's vice president of operations, stood with his arms folded negotiating with entrepreneurs seeking to cash in on items left in the half-empty store. More than 20 minutes were spent with one customer who wanted to know the prices of three tables of ladies' belts, while others wanted to know whether the four ringing cash registers were for sale.

"It was the economic conditions -- sales were soft," Mr. See said about closing the store and losing his job. "There's no possibility of [Epstein's] ever coming back. It's an end of an era."

For years, Lillie Walden of Baltimore traveled to the store with a laundry list of items to pick up for her family, friends and needy youngsters for whom she regularly bought things.

"I shopped here because the merchandise was good and the price was right," Ms. Walden said yesterday. "I'm so sorry to see Epstein's close down. It is a people store because anyone, regardless of how much or how little they had, would always be able to dress themselves. It was good clothing at reasonable prices."

After nine years as manager, Carol Jones quietly watched crowds pile dresses, lingerie, day beds and tables into cars lined in front of the store during a buying frenzy that included purchases by people hoping their own businesses will fare better.

Ms. Jones is among the eight remaining employees who while snatching a quiet moment for themselves worried about what they will do next.

"I'll stay home and relax for two weeks, then I'll try to find a job," she said.

"I enjoyed it here. It's like a family. We always got along so well. Some of us were upset, and so were the customers."

Herb Scott, the assistant store manager, appeared choked up as he looked down at the long line of customers with arms full of pants, coats, fabric and anything that wasn't bolted down.

He smiled sadly as he looked around the store he said was the place where he got his first break.

"They gave me a chance," Mr. Scott said. "I came here, and I didn't know nothing. I started selling furniture and became assistant manager a year ago."

As for the future, Mr. Scott is among the lucky ones who has a job lined up.

"When I first found out, I didn't feel as bad as I did today," he said. "Today there were a couple of tears. Some of the customers and I became like a family."

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