County store in the city: An amazing enterprise called Three Brothers

THIS SISTER'S A BROTHER

February 17, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

There's a perfectly good explanation why one southwest Baltimore business has a basket of potatoes sitting next to a stack of Gordon's gin bottles.

"We're a country liquor store that happens to be in the city," explains John Rothenhoefer, the 54-year-old owner of an amazing enterprise called Three Brothers.

Three Brothers is a complex of businesses operated by two brothers and one sister, all members of the ever-industrious Rothenhoefer family.

They sell puppy chow and Old Grand Dad. They fix car transmissions and notarize legal papers. They'll wire your cousin money and sell you a Maryland lottery ticket. They have a coin laundry, car wash and gas station. They have FAX machines and prepare income tax returns.

Some would say it's free enterprise pushed to its limit.

It all began in 1959 when the Rothenhoefer brothers -- John, Tom and George -- bought a bar and package-goods store in the 3100 block of Frederick Ave. in southwest Baltimore,

which also sold groceries. They had a mortgage and "$100 worth stock." The business took on a new name, Three Brothers, and became well known in the area of Frederick and Caton avenues. They found the bar business not to their liking, dropped it, but kept the package-goods license.

In time, Brother George died. But a sister, Gemma Corns, joined her brothers. Today, she runs the auto repair side of the business.

There are also wives, sons, daughters and in-laws working hard to make it all hang together.

Those who work in the various enterprises wear electric blue aprons that bear the words "THREE BROTHERS," the name it's so well known by all over this end of Baltimore.

And if word of mouth isn't good enough, the place has more exterior signs than a stretch of Ritchie Highway.

"I like signs," says John Rothenhoefer. "We like to let people know we're here. . . . I'm a hustler. I like business. And I like people. Our customers are great, very jovial. They aren't uptight. They are very easy people to deal with."

John Rothenhoefer, who now lives in Howard County, grew up a few blocks west in Irvington, on Morley Street. His father held but one job, a milkman for the old Wilton Farm Dairy.

"My first job was a soda jerk at the Rossberg Pharmacy. John Meeth gave me work after school," John Rothenhoefer says of one of the best known drugstores in Southwest Baltimore.

The Rothenhoefers' business philosophy is to pack as many uses into a spot as possible. They sell nails by the pound a few feet away from the shelves full of liquor. Inches away from the liquor is a large collection of martial arts video tapes for rent and sale.

Should you want the Three Brothers' specially priced double-yolk eggs, you have to walk outside the main store, cross Wellesley Street and inquire at Three Brothers Gas & Go, a filling station.

And if all this isn't enough, there's a separate check cashing business (it also sells sacks of dog food and TastyKakes) in the 3900 block of Frederick Ave. It's called Three Brothers as well.

When it all gets too confusing, the Rothenhoefers hand out green fliers with the telephone numbers and addresses of the various enterprises. Three Brothers has seven separate phone numbers listed in the Yellow Pages.

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