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Haven of castoffs forced to become a castoff itself


Thrown away in Baltimore's alleys, they found new life at Chisholm's Odds & Ends, a shop in the 900 block of S. Hanover St. that resurrects used industrial wares.

There are baskets of brass doorknobs, trays of drawer pulls, cartons of gas light parts, boxes of horseshoes, tubs of furnace doors, crates of coal shovels and shelves of Western Maryland Dairy milk bottles.

Need a straight razor? A blacksmith's anvil? A cast-iron bathtub? A fur coat?

They're all yours at an unusual going-out-of-business sale.

"I hate to do it, to sell everything off. It's in my heart. It's in my blood," says Octeavious Chisholm, the 32-year-old proprietor of the South Baltimore store that seems to have more inventory than all the Wal-Marts.

Chisholm's father, Octeavious Sr., who founded the shop in the early 1950s, died this past April. Now the business is being liquidated to satisfy the estate.

"The elder Mr. Chisholm was the most organized man I've ever met," says Sam Cannan, who's been dropping by the old shop with the voluminous inventory since his days as a Southern High School student 20 years ago. "If you mentioned something you wanted, he could take you right to it. In all that chaos, he could lead you there quickly."

Chisholm's is as remarkable for its endless supply of wares as it is for the neatness in which they are arranged, though tightly packed on shelves and in bins.

"I vacuum and sweep in here all the time. People call us when they are ready to clean out a house," Chisholm says.

The decision to sell off the past 30 years' worth of inventory was not an easy one for him, whom old customers call "Otis" or "Sirvern." He began helping his father collect, sort and sell the shop's wares when he was 5 years old. Today his mother, Mamie, often works alongside him.

"I know it's breaking his heart to sell out the place," says Cannan.

On a warm day, Chisholm -- as did his father -- piles old tables and light fixtures on the sidewalk. Neighbors drop by and chat. Occasionally, a driver headed out of town stops the car. A half-hour later, the car's trunk is groaning under the weight of a 400-pound pedestal sink.

"Take an old copper and brass fire extinguisher, you clean 'em up and set 'em in the kitchen for sentimental reasons. You can even put a nice fern on the top," says Chisholm, as he displays one of his quicker selling items. "It has a plate saying it was made in Baltimore. That makes it more authentic."

The shop has an old-fashioned storefront and a well-swept wood floor. Chisholm's has a supply of shutter hardware, fireplace mantels and locks.

Some customers say they just like to get lost within the store's shelves and cubbyholes. "It takes an hour just to look at one section," said one bewildered woman the other day. She and her daughter were looking at iron bedsteads.

The Chisholm family owns a stretch of contiguous Hanover Street rowhouses on the western fringes of the South Baltimore shopping district. Not far away are the Cross Street Market and increasingly fashionable shops and restaurants.

Chisholm's is worlds away. It looks the way it did when Hanover Street was Baltimore's main route to Anne Arundel County, when the Inner Harbor was all commission merchants' warehouses and old wharves. Chisholm's looks like Baltimore did when the tourists stopped here only because they got flat tires on U.S. 40.

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