Joseph William Watson, the co-owner of a Lutherville garden shop who also sold thousands of Christmas trees and patio sets during his six decades in the business, died of an infection Sept. 22 at Gilchrist Hospice Towson. He was 88 and lived in Towson.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Courtland Avenue in Towson, he was the son of Maurice Watson, a Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone worker, and his wife, Elizabeth Cross. He attended Immaculate Conception School and was a 1949 Towson Catholic High School graduate. He played basketball at the school.
He was also a youthful entrepreneur and salesman. For four years he won a watch as he sold the most subscriptions to The Catholic Review. He also sold Christmas trees from the corner of Susquehanna Avenue and York Road in Towson as a 12-year-old.
While in high school, he took over a Fuller Brush Co. sales route and called on homes door-to-door in neighborhoods around the old Memorial Stadium.
“He made $90 in one day when his father was making $60 a week,” said his brother, James S. “Jimmy” Watson, who lives in the Hampton section of Towson.
He served in the Air Force and was stationed in Europe, leaving the military as a sergeant.
“He bought a used car while over there, and he drove to the Alps and went skiing,” said his brother.
In February 1955 Mr. Watson and his father bought a 1953 Ford pickup truck from Charles Dettmer, who owned a garden shop at 6 W. Chesapeake Ave., a property that had been a two-car garage converted from an old livery stable. Their rent was $100 a month.
Mr. Watson was soon joined by his brother, who was returning from Korea having served in the Marine Corps.
“At first we didn’t have much business,” said his brother. “Out total volume was $43,000 the first year and the sale of Christmas trees saved us. Joe had plenty of sales experience and was never afraid to take on a challenge. He’d take on landscaping projects and do the labor involved. He also learned the value of knowing a customer’s name and then not forgetting it.”
When not selling Christmas trees, the Watson brothers — who were later joined by another sibling, Robert “Bobby” Watson" — sold grass seed, fertilizer and lawn mowers.
“The lawn care industry was just beginning to bloom,” James Watson said. “We were a Scott’s lawn care dealer, and we became the largest independent dealer in the state of Maryland. We later devoted ourselves to the barbecue field. For us it was a big-ticket item. We sold Weber charcoal grills, and when the gas grills came out, we started offering them and installing them.
“My brother Joe had great foresight into what people moving to the suburbs needed in their homes.”
In 1961 he approached Robert “Deuce” Shock. a builder who owned land on York Road in Lutherville. He rented the Watsons land at 1614-1620 York Road for their business and initially charged Mr. Watson $150 a month per parcel.
The Watson brothers moved their business to the new location and raised $17,000 to construct a building. The Watson brothers did much of the finish work themselves. They also bought local broadcast advertising after befriending ad executive Harold “Hal” Donofrio Jr.
But moving to Lutherville carried stipulations. Their lights had to be turned off at 9 p.m.
“My brother Joe had great foresight in sales,” his brother James said. “Our timing was great — the home suburban lawn business was just being born. And soon, 51 percent of total business was at Christmas. We made sure we had all the inventory we could get our hands on in the late fall. Joe had an idea to darken an area of the store and decorate trees with miniature lighting. Our customers loved it.”
He also said Mr. Watson saw two trends coming — fireplace accessories and high-end porch and patio furniture.
“One of our customers asked about patio furniture made by the Salterini family. He told them, ‘I’ve got it coming in.’ Of course he didn’t, but he ordered a set quickly and displayed it at the shop. A stockbroker from Alex. Brown who lived in Ruxton came by and bought it on the spot. We had to order more quickly,” said his brother James. “The Salterini brand sold and sold. So did did Weber grills.”
Joseph Watson operated Watson’s Fireplace and Patio Shop until he retired 10 years ago. The garden center center closed three years ago. The patio shop remains open and in family hands.
Joseph Watson was given a lifetime achievement award from the Casual Furniture Industry in 2018.
A funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Monday at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, 200 Ware Ave. in Towson.
In addition to his brother, survivors include his wife of nearly 63 years, Mary Louise Cate, a homemaker; two sons, Richard Joseph Watson of Glen Arm and Stephen Joseph Watson of Monkton; two daughters, Colleen Lynn Furches of Columbia and Mary Jo Watson of Towson; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His brother Robert died in 2000.