Francis ‘Frank’ Joseph Falkenhan, the owner of an old-fashioned hardware store in Hampden who was also a master plumber, died of dementia complications Nov. 24 at Symphony Manor. He was 89.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Fells Point on Durham and on Bond streets, he was the son of Casper Falkenhan, the Hanover Street Bridge tender who shoveled coal on steam powered harbor tugs, and his wife, Katie May. He was the youngest of 11 children.
Mr. Falkenhan was a 1951 graduate of Baltimore City College and was a student wrestler.
He served as a pipe fitter in the Navy during the Korean War aboard the USS Dixie. Family members said he used this training after his discharge to work at the Bethlehem Steel shipyard at Sparrows Point.
In 1964, after becoming a registered master plumber, he established his plumbing business, F.J. Falkenhan.
He once had four trucks working under his name — and added a second business, Falkenhan’s Hardware at 3401 Chestnut Avenue in 1968.
He married Rose Carr in 1956. She ran the paperwork associated with his plumbing and hardware operations.
“He bought the old Benson rug cleaning and hardware business,” said his daughter, Deborah “Debbie” Falkenhan. “People asked my father, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ because Hampden already had three other similar stores, another store owned by a different Benson family, Sirkus and Hoover.”
She also said that her family business has now outlived all its the competition.
“My father was a workaholic,” said his daughter. “I never went on a family vacation with him until I was in my 30s. I watched him go out on calls on Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. When there were Saturday night dances, my parents never went out of the house on time.”
She also said, “My father did not drink or smoke and he was always the designated driver. He was a family man who adored his parents and his brothers and sisters and his nieces and nephews.”
The store he bought was constructed as the Mount Vernon Hall in the 19th Century. Neighborhood boxing matches were once held on its second floor. For many years it was operated as a hardware business by the Towson family.
Mr. Falkenhan broke through walls and enlarged the business. He made an office for himself. He also added a full line of plumbing parts and kept an inventory of items that would be useful in repairing old Baltimore homes.
“My father used the basement to cut and thread pipe,” said his daughter. He fixed windows and screens. He did everything in the shop except run the cash register.”
Mr. Falkenhan maintained the store with wooden bins and shelving and sold nails by the pound. He extended credit to neighborhood customers.
“He was not big on going after people to pay bills and I would say 95 per cent of the people paid their bills,” said his daughter.
He was also an antique collector who used old china cabinets and other pieces to outfit his office.
“He was also fascinated by stained glass,” said his daughter. “He liked glass lamps, plates and bird figures. Sometimes people thought he was running an antiques business.”
Mr. Falkenhan also rented a portion of his operation to his brother, Casper Falkenhan, who had worked for Stark Films in downtown Baltimore. His brother set up an audio-visual service at the eastern end of the property and repaired and sold film projectors and phonograph equipment.
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A 2015 Sun story described the store as a “an old-fashioned bastion in a gentrifying neighborhood, filled with 5,000 to 6,000 items, including faucet stems, WD-40, snow shovels and chain-saw bar lubricant. The only obvious signs of modernity are a video surveillance monitor...”
Mr. Falkenhan withdrew from the business for nine years, but retained the real estate and asked his daughter to begin operating it in 1998.
Mr. Falkenhan welcomed persons who came to view the Christmas decorations along the block of 34th Street rowhouses just to the east of his property. He left his office door open, played old records and asked them to visit.
“When they asked if his personal treasures were for sale, he’s say, ‘No, I just like to collect stuff,’” his daughter said.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include a grandson, Tyler Falkenhan, who works at the store and stands in line to be the third generation of Falkenhans to run the business.. His wife Katie May died in 1986.