For at least 30 years, Dorothea E. "Ditty" Yates' endearing smile greeted customers and friends as they entered S. Bladen Yates Hardware on Main Street in historic Ellicott City.
"She was always smiling and waved to everybody as they went down the street," said Enalee Bounds, a 30-year friend and owner of nearby Ellicott's Country Store. "We all loved her."
On Saturday, Mrs. Yates, 73, died after a stroke.
Friends and family described Mrs. Yates, who managed the hardware store, as a grandmotherly woman who was kind, friendly and a good listener.
"I feel like a little piece of Ellicott City is gone with her passing," said Ed Lilley, a friend and owner of The Christmas Co. on Main Street.
Her work there extended a tradition begun by her husband's family.
More than 100 years ago, the S. J. Yates & Son Grocery Store opened for business. Customers are still attracted to its old-fashioned ambience, which is punctuated with Mason jars and keen-scented fresh sage sausage.
The store, which survived Hurricane Agnes' temper in 1972 and fires in 1941 and 1984, was established by the grandfather of Mrs. Yates' husband, S. Bladen Yates.
After the death of his father and grandfather, Mr. and Mrs. Yates took over management of the two stores -- he oversaw the grocery, and she the hardware store next door, at 8247 Main St.
Besides supplying customers with nails and paints, Mrs. Yates also caned chairs and refurnished furniture.
"I was really proud of her," said her daughter, Pauline E. "Betty" Jacobs. "She taught herself how to do caning."
Monday, customers found white signs on both doors: "Closed due to the death of Mrs. Yates."
"I was a little shocked [after reading the sign]," said Susan Platt, 25, of Forget-Me-Not-Factory on Main Street. "I saw her last week in the store and she seemed to be her usual self -- very cheery."
Ms. Platt recalled how she refused to go to a bigger company to get a chair caned. "It was such a joy to watch Mrs. Yates do it. . . . It was well worth the wait."
Larry Bolet, owner of the Original Brass Shop on Main Street, said it "was like going in to a hardware store in the 1920s or 1940s.
"I would buy weird stuff, wicks for oil lamps and obscure gloves that you couldn't buy from the manufacturers," he said.
This week, friends said goodbye.
Hundreds attended her wake at Slack Funeral Home and funeral yesterday morning at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church on Chatham Road.
"She was a very loving and giving type of person," said Pastor Sara Bechtel, of First Evangelical Lutheran Church, where Mrs. Yates was a longtime member and a former Sunday school teacher.
"She's going to be missed by the street [Main Street] a lot," said friend, Mary Ann Marino.
Mrs. Yates (formerly Dorothea Schaub) was born July 25, 1918, in Catonsville. She attended Catonsville High School and later moved to Ellicott City.
She was nicknamed "Ditty" "because her sister couldn't pronounce Dorothea," said Ms. Jacobs.
In 1941, the Yateses married.
She helped establish and belonged to the Independent Order of Oddfellows Lodge No. 40. She also enjoyed traveling and the Baltimore Orioles.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Yates is survived by her sister, Adele M. Fritzges; daughters, Pauline E. "Betty" Jacobs and Cheryl L. Libertini; and granddaughters, Carmen and Cynthia Gladding and Melissa E. Jacobs. A son, Clifton I. Yates, is deceased.