Ellicott City is about to lose a landmark at the top of Main Street. Talbott Lumber Co., a small business accurately described as a Howard County institution, will be closing early next month. This family-owned business traces its roots back 146 years -- to a blacksmith shop that opened in 1845, when Ellicott City's economy depended on mills and railroading and the word "suburbanite" wasn't part of the language.
From its current 1905-vintage storefront and lumberyard wedged tightly against a sheer, rocky cliff out back, Talbott Lumber looks nondescript -- a 1990s anachronism up against the garish mass-merchandisers that typify today's hardware and lumber enterprises. But compete is what Talbott Lumber has done in the heart of Ellicott City; retirement, not economics, is behind the store's closing, the family says.
For their mid- to late-20th century patrons, the retiring Milton Mazer and Ben Rosen, his late partner and brother-in-law, have run an unforgettable business their family bought from the original Talbott family in 1945. Not only have they and their employees, some who have worked there many years, built a reputation on having or being able to find sometimes-unusual lumber and hardware, they learned long ago that the public rewards businesses that care.
From front counter to yardman, service at Talbott Lumber could vary from pleasant to gruff or pointed ("colorful" might be the right word), but only rarely was it anything else but knowledgeable; often, it was surprisingly helpful and cooperative. Hundreds if not thousands of Howard countians -- ranging from lumber-smart homebuilders to the most innocent of suburbanites and first-time homeowners -- no doubt will find themselves missing Talbott Lumber's personal approach to business. It's an approach more retailers today should emulate.