His office has for years been in his boyhood bedroom, a legacy of early years spent growing up above one of Towson's best-known clothing shops. But for Jack Finkelstein, that's going to change at the end of the year.
Finkelstein's of Towson will start its going-out-of-business sale today at stores in Towson and Bel Air, prompted by growing specialization in retailing, competition from the Towson Town Center mall and the desire of the 65-year old Mr. Finkelstein, his older brother Arnold and nephew Roy to leave the business and let the brothers retire.
"It's not a bankruptcy situation, but enough is enough," Mr. Finkelstein said. "The business was surviving, but we weren't really making it. We were spinning our wheels. It wasn't pleasurable any more."
Finkelstein's, at 408 York Road, was the sort of neighborhood clothing and shoe store that rode the early wave of migration to the suburbs after World War II. Founded in 1922 by Mr. Finkelstein's parents, it catered to the tradespeople and factory workers who once made up Towson, then adjusted to the more upscale character the place began to assume by the 1950s. But by the 1980s, the malls were taking over.
"We thrived in the 1960s and 1970s. . . . This was before the era of the shopping center and malls and chains. You didn't have the powerful merchandising operations to compete with that you have today," Mr. Finkelstein said. "We're increasingly in an era of specialists, and in any given area I couldn't give [customers] the kind of selection they could get at a specialty store."
Mr. Finkelstein tried the malls himself for a while, opening stores in Owings Mills and White Marsh that closed in 1991 and 1992. The Bel Air store, in a strip center, opened in 1980.
Followers of Towson's downtown retail district say Finkelstein's passing doesn't mean that Main Street retailing is obsolete in the Baltimore County seat.
"We're not getting rich, but you make a living in these small stores," said Dick Rudolph, former owner of Dick Rudolph's Towson Bootery, a shoe store a few doors up from Finkelstein's that is approaching its 50th anniversary with his son, Alex, in control.
Mr. Finkelstein is negotiating with a tenant to take over his 7,000-square-foot Towson shop, but he declined to identify the prospect.
Mr. Finkelstein insists there are no lessons to be drawn from his store's closing. When he was a child, he could walk two blocks north of the store, near where the mall is now, and reach farmland. "There are people in Towson who resist change," he said. "It can't revert to the way it was."