Arthur D. Littlepage, retired president of Littlepage's, the landmark West Baltimore furniture store, died Wednesday of prostate cancer at Charlestown Retirement Community. He was 85.
In 1934, Mr. Littlepage joined the business that had been founded in 1893 by his grandfather and father, both named William T. Littlepage.
The business that called itself the "big uptown store" moved to Baltimore and Calhoun streets in 1907 and by 1910 was boasting, "Our location means a savings to you."
The store moved to its current building, in the 1300 block of W. Baltimore St., in the 1970s.
Distinguished by its yellow brick trim, large glass display windows and old-fashioned sign with "Littlepage's" in script, the store has been the destination of newlyweds and others setting up their first houses or looking to update or replace furniture.
Because of the store's proximity to the now-closed B&O; Railroad shops at Mount Clare, which once employed hundreds, railroaders once accounted for many of its customers.
They came shopping for living room and bedroom suites, dining room sets, glass curio cabinets, grandfather clocks, lamps, mirrors, baby cribs, television sets and kitchen appliances.
For years at Christmastime, the store's basement was filled with Lionel electric trains, Schwinn bicycles and red express wagons that tempted neighborhood children.
The flourishing family business, now owned by the fourth generation, earned its reputation making clothes trees and hall seats.
The hall seats, which became indispensable in Baltimore rowhouses with few closets, offered homeowners a place to store rubber boots and overshoes, and hooks for coats and hats.
"Not only did the Littlepage Co. get into volume selling, but shortly they were making two models and beating the competition," wrote Mr. Littlepage on the store's 88th anniversary in 1981. "Saturation of empty halls in a few years ended the one item produced by the company," he wrote.
An easygoing man of medium build, Mr. Littlepage was a familiar figure to customers. He preferred being with his customers to sitting at a desk.
"He enjoyed explaining to customers the quality of a chair or how a piece was made and seemed to always have a chair upside-down," said his son, David Littlepage of Severna Park, who became the business' president after his father retired in 1978. "He was very familiar with the manufacturing techniques and was willing to explain them."
Working long hours, the elder Mr. Littlepage would go to the store Sundays when it was closed to catch up on paperwork.
"I think he was very proud of the business, and I think he had a lot of respect for his father. He genuinely enjoyed serving people," the son said.
Vincent H. Stafford, former president of Stafford Brothers Furniture, which was founded in the 1700 block of W. Pratt St. in 1900 and closed last year, said, "He was a very fine person in my book, and we were friendly competitors."
Mr. Littlepage's professional memberships included the West Baltimore Street Merchants Association and the Maryland Home Furnishing Association.
The former Ellicott City resident, who was born in West Baltimore and raised in Ten Hills, was a 1932 graduate of Augusta Military Academy in Virginia. He attended the Johns Hopkins University before joining the family business during the Great Depression.
He was a highly decorated infantry officer with the 329th Infantry during World War II in Europe.
Mr. Littlepage was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry when he repulsed a German attack in Belgium and the Bronze Star for helping hold the town of Barby, Germany, which gave engineers time to construct a bridge across the Elbe River.
He also received a Purple Heart and was discharged with the rank of captain in 1946. He was recalled during the Korean War and served for a year until he was discharged because of "undue hardship" after the death of his brother, who was president of the business.
He was a member of the Grachur Club and enjoyed canoeing, sailing and swimming at the club on the Magothy River. He also liked to read and play bridge.
He was a member of Catonsville United Methodist Church, 6 Melvin Ave., where services will be held at 10 a.m. today.
In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife of 50 years, the former Betty A. Kirby; five daughters, Jenny L. Wilkinson of Columbia, Amy L. Dinan of Washington, Sarah Littlepage of Baltimore, Beth L. Coolahan of Severna Park and Nancy Littlepage of Baltimore; and 10 grandchildren.