Bernard Herbert Fink, the gregarious and colorful owner of Fink's Discount Liquors and "Unofficial Mayor of Mount Washington," died Saturday of a stroke at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 76 and lived in the Meadowood section of Baltimore County.
A man of medium build, his black-framed glasses usually were pushed to the top of his tousled gray hair. His crinkly smile and jocular banter were as characteristic as his bottle-jammed Falls Road liquor store.
Known as Bernie to customers, he had been dispensing spirits and cheer for 30 years from a white clapboard turn-of-the-century store near Falls Road and Lake Avenue in North Baltimore.
In earlier years, it was a general store, owned by Max Schoenbaum, that sold cold cuts, groceries, clothes pins, diapers, candy and liquor miniatures.
Mr. Fink's inability to buy a six-pack of National Premium Beer at the store led him to buy it.
"Bernie used to drop into the store on the way home. All Mr. Schoenbaum had was a bottle of Smirnoff vodka, some miniatures and never any National Premium Beer," said his wife of 48 years, the former Doris Dickman.
"He kept asking him to order it, but he never would. So Bernie told him he guessed the only way he'd be able buy National was to buy the store, and that's what he did," she said.
"He really found his true calling when he bought the store," said his daughter, Marcia P. Scherr of Baltimore.
He was an innovative merchandiser who sold inexpensive lobsters on weekends to draw customers -- who often were met by Mr. Fink wearing one of the jaunty or wacky hats from his collection.
"Bernie was one of a kind, and he had a heart as big as a house," said store manager Mark N. Goldstein.
"He took what was a rinky-dink grocery store and built it into one of the area's premier liquor stores," he said. "Regulars and former customers have been calling and dropping by the store to share their condolences and talk about Bernie."
Mr. Fink was dubbed the "Unofficial Mayor of Mount Washington" in the 1970s by Johnny Walker, former WFBR radio personality.
He met his wife in Dickman's Restaurant, the well-known Baltimore establishment adjacent to the Lyric Theater, when his future father-in-law introduced them.
After his father-in-law's death, Mr. Fink helped manage the restaurant from 1960 until 1967. The restaurant was torn down in 1978 as part of the Lyric's expansion.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Mr. Fink was a nephew of Abraham J. Fink, the Baltimore industrialist who built and owned the recently demolished Southern Hotel.
A 1942 graduate of Forest Park High School, Mr. Fink served in the Army with the ski troops until his discharge in 1945.
In the 1950s, Mr. Fink worked with his brother, traveling through rural Pennsylvania and Virginia selling furniture and appliances.
Mr. Fink was a member of Beth Tfiloh Congregation. After visiting Israel in 1990, his interest in his Jewish faith was rekindled and he studied Hebrew, said relatives.
Besides being an inveterate collector of hats, he enjoyed collecting American coins and stamps.
Services were held Sunday.
Mr. Fink also is survived by a son, Charles A. Fink of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.