When Hutzler's left Baltimore it was like losing my mother," Shirley Cooper said in a phone call the other day.
"I spent 99 percent of my shopping dollars at Hutzler's and when I gave a gift, folks always knew where it came from," said the longtime Pikesville resident.
Evidently, a lot of readers had memories of the fabled and now vanished Howard Street merchant.
Since writing a column several weeks ago about Michael J. Lisicky's valentine to the great department store, "Hutzler's: Where Baltimore Shops," I've been flooded with letters, phone calls and e-mails from readers.
"I am 87 years young and your article brought back a lot of memories. I was so sad when it closed," wrote Marie Mezewski, who lives in Northeast Baltimore and will celebrate her 88th birthday this month.
"A friend of my mother got me dressed up with hat and gloves and a purse. I was only about 12 years old," Mezewski wrote in her letter.
"She said we were going downtown, and when we got to Hutzler's, we went up to the sixth floor and had lunch. I had a sandwich, a salad and a glass of cola," she recalled. "The trip downtown made me feel so grown up, and years later, I had a charge card that I used often."
In her note, Mezewski included the recipe for Hutzler's famous cheese bread in her letter.
Rebecca Sterling Daugherty was a veteran of Hutzler's Salisbury store.
"I was employed by Hutzler's in the Salisbury store and was working opening day. It was awesome because the Eastern Shore was going to have a store here, and we no longer had to go to Baltimore," Daugherty wrote in an e-mail.
"I remember Tinsel and Bow. They were precious and the kids just adored them," she wrote. "I remember my mother taking me to the [Hutzler's] Tea Room in Baltimore. My mother and her mother always stopped there. My mother always told me it was the place to shop," Daugherty wrote. "Your article brought back a lot of memories, and I am glad that I was able to enjoy them as an employee."
Donna Beth Joy Shapiro wrote to say that her grandfather was a buyer for Hutzler's for more than 50 years.
"There's no doubt where we shopped, and I am particularly grateful for the many years of extraordinary downtown store memories," she wrote in an e-mail. "I apply the Hutzler standard to every other department store, and of course, not even Nordstrom cuts it."
James A. Genthner, who grew up in Northwood and is now retired from the State Highway Administration, wrote to say that "your column will bring a tear to the eye of many who shopped there or had a mother or aunt who loved to shop at Hutzler's. It was a wonderful place of civilized shopping that we will never see the likes of again."
He said that Hutzler's was his mother's favorite store, with "Hochschild's and Stewart's as runners-up for her shopping dollar. The May Co. and Hecht's were very low on her list of favorite shopping venues."
He recalled how special Hutzler's was at Christmastime during the 1940s and 1950s.
"Christmas at Hutzler's has never been replicated. I loved going to Hutzler's Toy Town as a child. Today, the Grinch has stolen Christmas and decorations in [stores] are sparse and unimaginative," he wrote.
"After I went out into the world to earn a living, I got a Charge-a-Plate for Hutzler's," Genthner wrote. "So much of my life was bound up with Hutzler's."
Genthner preferred the Howard Street store to the one in Towson, which he described as "overrated."
"It never had the kind of service that a shopper received downtown. I always thought that the help liked to talk to each other and were inattentive," he wrote. "There is a sort of Towson attitude that 'This place is so exclusive that I don't need to work to get your sales dollar since the number of people is inexhaustible.' "
Dorothy E. Williams worked as a messenger in the Howard Street store from 1942 until 1947, when she left to have her first baby.
"What a classy, wonderful place in which to work," wrote Williams.
In her letter, Williams said that her duties as messenger required her to sort and deliver mail to department heads and supervisors who were spread between the main store, annex and toy store.
"It was quite a challenge learning names, recognizing faces and finding their offices, but in time I got the job down to a science. After a while, they began looking forward to our brief encounters, and I had a knack for leaving them smiling," she wrote.
Williams recalled that her fellow Hutzler employees helped her deal with wartime rationing and shortages.
"These dear people would tell me on the Q.T. where I could get sugar, butter, nylons etc. When I married, the fabric department clerks kept a lookout for the perfect fabric for my wedding gown. They sent me home before the wedding with so many gifts that I had to call for help," she wrote.
But, Williams wrote, Hutzler's had another, less laudable side to it in those years.
"My girl pals and I used to stand outside of Hutzler's wishing we could go in, but African-Americans, Negroes we were called during the 1940s, were not allowed," she wrote. "But patience paid off. They needed people to fill in for those off to war, and diligence paid off."
Ella D. Edemy was rebuffed when she applied for a job at Hutzler's in the mid-1930s.
"I had gone to college and was interested in selling, but when I applied, they told me they had nothing for me to do," said Edemy, 92, a retired Baltimore public school teacher, in a telephone interview the other day.
"In those years, they were not very welcoming to blacks as customers and also in their employment practices - and certainly not when it came to blacks working in sales. They did have blacks doing jobs such as elevator operators and that kind of thing, but I wasn't interested in that," she said.
In the mid-1960s, Edemy was hired as a section supervisor in the Howard Street store.
"By then, they had changed their attitude and hiring practices," she said.
Frank Wrabel's first job after graduating from Towson University in 1977 was in Hutzler's display department in the old Toy Town building on Saratoga Street. Wrabel, now a bank purchasing agent and a railroad historian and author, recalled once using the store copier for a nonwork-related project to "preserve my own minimal paycheck."
"One young lady in billing noticed my presence, and I was not certain if she planned to report the abuse of Hutzler resources or what. Later, we struck up a conversation, and we soon started dating," Wrabel wrote.
The couple became friendly with another Hutzler associate, Harriet Kuhn, and her husband Marc.
"That young lady was Lynne and we were married in 1980. Harriet was the maid of honor and Marc the best man," Wrabel wrote.