There were no limousines idling outside Miller Brothers
clothing store yesterday. With all the briskness of the 1990s, the traffic sped by the signs in the window announcing the end of a North Charles Street era.
But Phyllis Aguilar, who came to sell clothing to Baltimore's finest ladies when Harry Truman was president, recalls another era -- a more gracious time when elegant women's clothing stores lined Charles Street from Lexington to Biddle and "it was like a big party all the time."
"We had as many as 10 chauffeurs waiting for their madames," she recalled yesterday. "They were lined on both sides of the street."
Miller Brothers, the last vestige of a faded era in Baltimore's history, is leaving Charles Street. The company lives on in the glittering confines of Towson Town Center, but the store that provided gowns for 75 years of cotillions is selling off its last spangly dresses and preparing to close its doors in late May or early June.
What it all comes down to, said Miller Brothers President Michael Miller, is that "women don't like to parallel-park." When the street-level parking lot at North Charles and Chase streets closed in December for construction of a new Mercantile bank branch, business fell off by about 50 percent, Mr. Miller said.
The store's passing will end the careers of a group of saleswomen, aged 62 to 92, whose cumulative retail experience can be measured in centuries.
Mrs. Aguilar, the "baby" of the group at 62, has sold clothes at Miller Brothers for 43 years. Elsie Burden has been there 48 or 49 years -- Mrs. Aguilar wasn't sure.
Marie Thomas, who didn't want her age published but allowed that she could have begun drawing Social Security checks decades ago, has been at the store "only" 20 years, but that was after almost 30 years of selling women's clothing at Maison-Annette, which faded into Charles Street's history two decades ago.
Margaret Wonson, 76, came to Miller Brothers after 20 years at Maison-Annette and has been fitting customers there ever since.
Yesterday, with few customers in the store, these women reflected on the changes they have seen and the customers they have pampered.
Baltimore was a different world in the 1940s and the 1950s. Miller Brothers' customers weren't juggling children and careers.
"They came in here and went to the Belvedere [Hotel] for lunch and their little sherry and then came back here for a fitting," Mrs. Aguilar recalled.
But the customers stopped coming, and Mr. Miller made his decision. After 96 years in Baltimore, Miller Brothers would consolidate its retail business at Towson Town Center. Only the offices, the cleaning plant and workshop would remain on Charles Street.
Mr. Miller is still holding out the possibility that he might reopen a different kind of Miller Brothers store -- more of a specialty shop -- at the North Charles Street location, which his family owns.