Herbert M. Shofer, the second-generation owner of South Baltimore's venerable Shofer Furniture Co. which has been a landmark there for more than a century, died Oct. 9 of complications from dementia at Brightview assisted living in Towson.
The former longtime Pikesville resident was 91.
The son of Harry Shofer, a Lithuanian immigrant and furniture company founder, and Florence Shofer, a homemaker, Herbert Morton Shofer was born in Baltimore and raised on Quantico Avenue near Pimlico Race Course. He later moved with his family to Fallstaff Road in Northwest Baltimore.
Mr. Shofer was a 1944 graduate of City College and enlisted in the Army where he served in Europe with the engineering corps where they installed Bailey bridges — portable, pre-fabricated truss bridges used to establish river crossings for tanks, trucks and troops.
"He said every time he saw a truck go over one of the bridges he was afraid they'd fall into the river," said his son, Henry "Hank" Shofer of Owings Mills, who is now president of Shofer Furniture Co.
After being discharged from the Army at war's end, Mr. Shofer enrolled at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania from which he graduated in 1948.
He then went to work after graduating from Penn for Shofer's Furniture Co. that had been established first as a bicycle shop by his immigrant father, Harry W. Shofer, in 1914.
The elder Mr. Shofer told The Baltimore Sun in a 1983 interview that he was "17 when he walked off the boat in Locust Point and went right over to South Baltimore," where he opened up a shop in the 900 block of S. Charles St., that rented, sold and repaired bicycles.
The Federal Hill store later evolved into a neighborhood radio, appliance and auto supply store, until 1936 when the elder Mr. Shofer established its specialty line of fine home furnishings that has been a mainstay of the store ever since.
"As a business which made a point of delivering personal service while staying abreast of the industry, Shofer's rapidly attracted a large and loyal clientele," reported The Sun in the 1983 interview.
"For this reason, according to family members, Shofer's has been able to weather conditions beyond its control. The depression and later urban decline of the Sixties caused one business after another to fold or flee to the suburbs," reported the newspaper. "Against the trend, Shofer's continued to operate near as yet undiscovered Federal Hill area."
And unlike other stores that opened branches in the suburbs, Shofer's made a conscious decision to operate one store with its staff and merchandise under one roof.
"Herb had a vision for expanding and modernizing the business, taking it in new directions and setting the stage for Hank to carry on and add his own expertise, thus making Shofer's the largest family-owned furniture business started over a 100 years ago by our father," said his brother, Dr. Robert Shofer, a neurologist, of Palm Desert, Calif., in his eulogy.
By 1983, Herbert M. Shofer had assumed the presidency of the family-owned business. His father had died in 1993.
"Moderately priced to designer-inspired merchandise includes a wide range of furniture, carpeting, draperies, wallpapers, televisions and home appliances," he told the newspaper in the interview.
Mr. Shofer said that the store's customers came not only from Baltimore and Maryland but also Washington, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
"More than likely, they come for the personal touch in particular," he explained. "There has always been a Shofer on hand at Shofer's Furniture Center for guidance, to handle complaints, to provide continuity of service."
Mr. Shofer worked six days and two evenings a week at the store, and on Sunday mornings he played golf and later tennis, rather than taking it easy.
Family members recalled that Mr. Shofer had such a terrific sense of humor that he could have been a stand up comedian rather than a furniture salesman.
One day when he was walking around Federal Hill with several family members, a panhandler asked him for some money.
"Dad replied, 'I'm working this side of the park today,'" said a daughter, Jane Shofer, of Vancouver, British Columbia, in her eulogy. "When, at the store, Dad asked a customer if he could help him and the customer replied, 'I'm just looking,' Dad said, 'I'm the just-looking salesman.'"
Even after suffering a stroke, his humor remained intact, family members said. After falling out of his chair one day, a neighbor, Alan Roogaw, came to his assistance in getting him back into it.
"Dad thanked Alan, and then said, 'Do you take Medicare?'" said Ms. Shofer.
Mr. Shofer and his wife of 61 years, the former Dorothy Herondorf, of Pikesville, were world travelers.
"But business was his theater. On its stage, he was at his very best," said Gilbert A. Sandler, who had attended Penn with Mr. Shofer, and later became a Baltimore advertising executive, writer and WYPR radio personality.
"He had instinctive and finely honed management skills and a strong and quick sense for trends, and he seemed unerring in his decisions," recalled Mr. Sandler in his eulogy. "He guided his business to success through challenging times. He was both a pioneer and visionary."
In addition to tennis, Mr. Shofer enjoyed photography and recording his travels on film.
He had been a member of Oheb Shalom Congregation.
Funeral services for Mr. Shofer were held Oct. 11 at Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc. in Pikesville.
In addition to his wife, son, daughter and brother, Mr. Shofer is survived by two other daughters, Frances Shofer of Philadelphia and Marjorie Shofer of Washington; a sister, Myra Coleman of Washington; and three grandchildren.