Fields feeds and pampers from heart of Pikesville

Jacques Kelly

September 11, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

People say there isn't a piece of news in all the 21208 ZIP code that doesn't first pass over the Fields of Pikesville lunch counter.

This remarkable Baltimore County institution, also known as Fields' Pharmacy, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Most of its customers, however, have been too busy chattering with old friends to mark the event.

Fields has a mission: It heals, feeds and beautifies the Reisterstown Road corridor.

It is a combination drugstore, restaurant and perfumery extraordinaire.

You treat your grandchild to a root beer float here, buy a bottle of shampoo and pick up a paperback book of mah-jongg rules.

It's the rare female orchestra season ticket subscriber at the Mechanic Theatre who hasn't once powdered her nose with Fields products. It's a legend among beauty product and fragrance sales representatives that Fields sells so much perfume it could be measured by the gallon.

The store must be doing something right. Owner Jeffrey Levin feels that the business succeeds because it's been so finely tailored

to generations of loyal customers.

His pharmacist father, Norman Levin, bought the old Fields business from the sons of the founder in 1946. Soon, Dr. Levin expanded the business and put his personal touch on what had been the old soda fountain area.

Over the years, the spot has expanded into a social center for the neighborhood.

Dr. Levin died in 1976, but his widow, Ruth Hollander, still works part time in the beauty department she cultivated.

Today, Jeffrey Levin's wife, Dani, runs this chamber of French soaps, cleansing creams and nail polish. She can't stock enough of Chanel's patented Coral Shock,

See KELLY, 12C, Col. 2 KELLY, from 1C

12-alarm pink-orange nail polish that's the color of choice in these parts.

Jeffrey Levin, an undergraduate philosophy major who went on to get degrees in law and business, does run a slightly unusual operation. He points to his small hardback book department stocked with works of Jewish history and culture as well as best sellers.

"The secret of the store is that my mother and father created a place that had the kind of things in it that they wanted to buy themselves," he says. "They tailored it to themselves and to many of the people in the region.

"It has a comfortable atmosphere. Many customers look on it as an extension of their home."

"The restaurant is the life of the store," says Jeffrey Levin. "Once it was shut down for three weeks for a renovation. The store just lacked the buzz it usually had."

You can feel that excitement start humming each morning about 11:45. The regulars are in their places. Each has a table or spot at the counter.

On Thursdays, a group of women who have had lunch together for years meet after a game of bowling. Old classmates, great-grandmothers, business men and women and mothers with children.

"We get a chocolate milkshake and use two straws," says Nancy Gruber, whose family has lived in Pikesville since the 1920s. The other day, she had lunch with her husband, the Rev. Lavely Gruber, a retired United Methodist minister.

"I've been coming to Fields all my life and it's just as good as it always was," Mrs. Gruber said.

7+ At the next table sat Sidney Epstein, a

retired gentleman who is driven to Fields every day for his midday meal.

He sits with his chauffeur and enjoys a bowl of cream of broccoli soup.

"The food, the service, it's all wonderful," said this satisfied customer.

Culinary continuity keeps the customers coming back. The owners have updated the menu with daily specials, but the french fries, chocolate ice cream sodas and real milkshakes and malts do not change.

"It's like home," says Linda Fedock, a lunchtime regular. "We know all the waitresses. They know our children. We know their children.

"We came here pregnant. Now our children come here. It's like the bar in 'Cheers.' Everybody knows you."

She shares her table with Jacqui Bernstein, who notes that Fields' lunch bunch is so regular and unchanging that outsiders are immediately detected.

"It's a little cliquey," Bernstein says. "It's obvious when someone new comes in."

Jerry Gordon, a Charles Village grocery store owner, had lunch with his bride-to-be the afternoon before their evening marriage.

"And on our 20th anniversary we went back and had lunch there again," Gordon says.

This summer, the Levins had a T-shirt made up. It is white with black letters, a postmark saying "Pikesville 21208," an allusion to the popular television show about Beverly Hills.

Regulars at this store might have preferred shirts that said "Fields 21208."

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