The tuna fish. The French fries. The snowballs. The hot fudge sundaes. The selection of greeting cards. The people — most of all, the people.
That’s what Janet Blum will miss when Fields of Pikesville, a 120-year-old neighborhood gathering place and institution, closes by Labor Day.
“It’s very sad. It’s the end of my childhood. I would take my parents here to eat. It’s the end of a legend,” said Blum, 58, who has been coming to the Reisterstown Road café and cosmetics store all of her life. She comes several times a week, she said, including Friday for lunch.
Jeffrey Levin, 67, co-owner and general manager of Fields, said the news broke to the staff on July 31 and to customers the next day.
“It’s a shame you have to go out of business to get business,” Levin said Friday afternoon. “The sales figures — and we’ve only been open since 10 a.m. — are outstanding.”
But before the influx of condolences and well-wishers started, business had dropped off, especially over the last 10 to 12 weeks, he said.
Levin’s parents, Norman and Ruth, bought the business in 1946 from the Fields family.
Levin started working for Fields full time in 1976, shortly after his father, a pharmacist, died of a heart attack at age 57.
“We borrowed every penny to buy this business,” said Ruth Hollander, 93, Levin’s mother.
“The country as a whole is in bad shape, and small business is particularly in trouble,” she said, citing over-regulation and tax-free Internet purchases as two impediments to small business survival.
“You have to do what you have to do. I hate to see it,” said Helen Bell, who has worked in the café since 1992. Though saddened, she said the news wasn’t a shock to her because business had been decreasing.
In 1998, the family sold the pharmacy operation to Giant Food.
“I’ve known Jeff Levin for decades and, like me, he is also the son of a pharmacist, and he took over his dad’s store and continued what was then a successful business model for many, many years,” said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, whose father’s store was Kayes Pharmacy in Overlea
“In the old days, we all remember the Read’s pharmacy model where a drug store had anything and everything in it for you to purchase as well as a soda fountain and a friendly neighborhood pharmacist,” Kamenetz said. “Like all things, times change and people’s patterns change. It’s just a tremendous tradition that Pikesville will miss, but always remember.”
Though the pharmacy closed, the lunch counter continued and was “the life of the store,” Levin said.
It was also the hardest part of the store to operate, which is why Levin had contemplated closing it. Then, in the early 1980s, the café closed for about three weeks for remodeling. Though the pharmacy was still operating at the time, “the store was hushed,” he said.
“When I saw what it was like without the restaurant, I knew I had” made the right decision to keep it open, he said.
Fields is “a variety store in an era of specialists,” and that’s a factor that’s made it hard to compete, Levin said.
Once the store closes — all merchandise is discounted and all sales final — Levin said he isn’t sure what he and his wife, Daniela, will do. While he’d like to stay in Pikesville, that depends on being able to find a way to earn a living.
“All my employees need jobs, too,” he said.
Over the years, all three of his daughters have worked at the family business, and when people left the area, they’d come back to visit.
“They still knew it was there, and they assumed it always would be,” he said.
Daily Record business reporter Melody Simmons contributed to this article.