Howard C. Heiss Jr., former owner of a popular Hampden jewelry store and a World War II veteran, died of complications from dementia Sept. 14 at the Blakehurst Retirement Community in Towson. He was 96.
Howard Conrad Heiss Jr., son of Howard C. Heiss Sr., a jeweler, and his wife, Edna Heiss, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Hampden.
After graduating from City College, he began his college studies at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, and dropped out to join the Marine Corps during World War II, serving in the Pacific theater as a tail gunner aboard warplanes.
Discharged at war’s end with the rank of corporal, Mr. Heiss entered Duke University, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree, and in 1950 joined his father’s business, Howard C. Heiss Jewelers, which had been established in 1936, at the corner of 36th Street and Roland Avenue, next door to Cafe Hon.
The jewelry store drew customers from all over the Baltimore metropolitan area.
“At one time, it [36th Street] was a dynamic shopping center. There wasn’t anything you needed that you couldn’t get on 36th Street,” Mr. Heiss told The Sun in 1994, at the time he was closing his business. “The advent of the shopping malls and all, all that went down the drain. … If you have customers who move away, it’s very rare that you see them again.”
Known for being well-dressed, Mr. Heiss always wore a coat, tie, vest and a silk pocket square.
He explained in the news article that the early 1990s recession and the flight of customers to the surrounding suburbs affected his business.
“It didn’t kill us — we weren’t dead — but we did notice that things were much slower,” he said. “We noticed it more after the last three years. After the real estate crash, it just seemed to affect everything, and I’ve never seen corporate downsizing like that — not two or three people but 200 or 300. People were fearful.”
Said his son, Howard C. Heiss III of Bel Air, a retired city police officer: “It was a complete jewelry store, and when he ran the business, he was known for giving anyone in Hampden credit without a credit check, never charged any interest, and sealed the deal with a handshake. He collected his bills on foot and would walk miles and miles on Saturday and one day during the week all over Hampden.”
The former Stevenson Lane resident, who had lived at Blakehurst for the past decade, had an extensive collection of antique cast-iron mechanical banks. He had also been a gardener and enjoyed traveling.
Mr. Heiss was a member of Central Presbyterian Church in Towson.
Reflecting on his decadeslong career, he told The Sun: “I liked dealing with people, and a lot of this business is dealing with people. So I stayed home.”
His wife of more than 50 years, the former Geraldine M. Benson, a retired Govans Elementary School teacher, died in 2009.
Due to the pandemic, private services were held Sept. 17 at Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville.
His son is his only survivor.