DOROTHY Brannan shakes my hand. I feel soft skin and a plastic shoehorn. The shoehorn feels as if it's been hooked over Dorothy Brannan's thumb and pressed against her palm for maybe half a century.

Turns out, my guess is a little short.

Dorothy Brannan has been selling shoes for 56 years. She started at the Hess Shoes on Howard Street in 1943, and she'll close out her career this holiday season when the company goes out of business after 127 years.

"Sales lady" is what she calls herself.

"I always sold ladies' shoes," Mrs. Brannan tells me during a midday break at the Hess store in Towson Town Center. The going-out-of-business sale started yesterday. "It was very busy this morning," Mrs. Brannan says, the shoehorn clicking against her polished fingernails. "My customers -- they all come early -- they said to me, 'Dorothy, what am I going to do? What am I going to do without you?' They kissed me and hugged me."

Some of her customers go back to Howard Street. A lot of them followed Mrs. Brannan from her long stint at the Hess store on Belvedere Avenue in North Baltimore to Towson Town Center. They remember a time when the sales staff of a shoe store remembered your name -- and maybe your shoe size. "Hess had the name in shoes around here," she says. "When you bought shoes at Hess, it was a big deal. People went to Howard Street to shop, and they wore gloves and hats. It was special."

Mrs. Brannan has worked with Ron Germack, the Towson store manager, for 30 years. She goes back to the Belvedere store with Garry Oster, one of three barbers who still trim hair at Hess. Oster and his brother, Wayne, gave scissor cuts at the Belvedere store until it closed several years ago. They've been in Towson since, snipping locks in The Snippery, a shop that adjoins the kids' shoe department. Yesterday, Garry Oster put the finishing touches on the fine hair of 3-year-old David Gately, then handed him a lollipop.

Mrs. Brannan poked me in the side and handed me a lollipop, too.

"I had a customer I was helping out -- a doctor," she says. "I said, 'Let me put your shoes in a bag for you.' He says, 'I'd like to put you in a bag and take you home with me.' Imagine that. Nice-looking fella, too."

Mrs. Brannan thinks she'll retire once the Towson Hess store closes. But I gotta tellya: She didn't sound too convincing.


We've had a couple of Melanie Griffith sightings, darlings. TJI reader John Rogers saw her on a big shopping spree at the Old Navy store in The Avenue at White Marsh last week. And Sunday, MG went trick-or-treating with her daughter in Federal Hill. The actress looked like any other Balti-mom, and wasn't drawing any particular attention to herself. Her daughter, Stella del Carmen Banderas Griffith, was dressed as Peter Pan and her friend as Cinderella. (No sign of Zorro, however.) Griffith is in Baltimore for a John Waters film. ... Director Ron Howard, whose daughter attends St. Timothy's School in Baltimore County, attended a recent family night there. ... Spotted at the Joppa Road Home Depot, buying shelving for his new nest here: the rising jazz star pianist, and Baltimore native, Cyrus Chestnut.

Oddities and ends

License tag on a sporty blue car, spotted in the Timonium area: 75GRAND. That's why they call 'em vanity tags, baby. ... TJI reader Nick Greaves noted a handmade warning on the rear of a car southbound on the JFX: "New stick shift driver. Keep your distance." ... Apologies to my guide through the woodlands of the Jones Falls Valley (TJI, Oct. 29). His name is Michael Beer. Not Beers. I have trouble thinking of beer in the singular. ... Congratulations to all involved in the haunted house at the spooky old Northern District police station. It rocked ... and knocked and howled.

View from the top

Ray Alcaraz, director of alumni relations for Mount St. Joe's, says one of the city's secret delights is the tower on the high school campus. "Except for those involved in Mount St. Joe and the surrounding Irvington community, the tower is little known," he says. "I climbed to the top the other day and the view was breathtaking -- the Key Bridge, downtown Baltimore. Wonderful." ... Before he took the job at Mount St. Joe's, Alcaraz tried to make a go of Kelly & Poggi, the old pharmacy and soda fountain in Little Italy. Alas, the store closed two years ago and Alcaraz moved on. Brett Rogers, an investor, bought the place and plans to rent it to a small retail business, office or gallery. That means he'll be selling the antique display cases and soda fountain. Rogers says the overhead Kelly & Poggi sign will have to go, too.

'He was a giver'

When I last saw Ron Kropkowski, it was summer, and he was waving an orange-and-black flag that had been wrested from the upper deck of Memorial Stadium in 1966, the year the Orioles won the World Series, four-straight, over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Krop, a super fan of the Birds and all Baltimore sports teams, donated the ornamental flag for a charity auction. It was a beautiful thing -- the flag, and the deed.

When I heard, a couple of months later, that Krop had been diagnosed with cancer, I wondered if he'd given up the flag because he knew he didn't have long to live.

But Krop was a generous guy, his friends will tell you. He didn't know of the cancer when he donated the flag.

"He did a lot for people," says Dale Watts, who used to raise a beer with Krop at Howard's Pub in Dundalk. "He was a giver. There's a guy who works at the bar -- he's handicapped from birth, can't get around. Krop used to drive him anywhere, to Padonia Station to watch a Monday night football game, or to midnight Mass. ... Krop always cheered you up when you were down. He was a card. He had a strange sense of humor. He had an Andy Kaufman quality to him."

Krop was what we call a character -- one of those eccentric people who make life fun, happy, goofy, interesting. He made signs for Orioles and Ravens games. He won the Birds' super-fan contest several years ago. Sometimes it appeared his entire wardrobe was made of Orioles giveaway items. He had an astonishing sports cap and jersey collection. "He had a hat or jersey for whichever football team he was rooting for that week," says Watts. "Didn't matter if it was Notre Dame or Slippery Rock, he had it."

Krop died last week. He was 41. Rest in peace.

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