Whitey's Market keeps reeling in business NORTH COUNTY

September 28, 1992|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff Writer

The fish stuffed and mounted on the wall behind the meat section at Whitey's Market represent more than good fish stories. They map the lives of the Zieglers, who have owned the market on Hammonds Ferry Road for three generations.

Whitey Ziegler, now deceased, caught the sailfish and the white marlin. Aunt Pam Brown caught the 171-pound blue marlin the very first time Whitey's son, Craig, took out his new boat.

The 300-pound mako shark stretching above the cheese and eggs?

Craig's son Bob Ziegler, store manager, laughs. "Oh, Dad caught that one," he says.

Craig Ziegler inherited the business from his parents, along with a love of deep-sea fishing. Now he is passing both on to his own children. At age 48, in semi-retirement, the family patriarch fishes from May through September in Ocean City and off the coast of Hatteras Island in North Carolina.

"It's what I enjoy," he says. "Every day is different."

The boat and the business entwined themselves into Craig Ziegler's life early on. "I used to fish in the Chesapeake Bay when I was really young," he says.

As a boy, he also started working in the store.

"I remember when I was about 10, helping make all the box lunches for all the troops who were shipped out of Friendship Airport during the Korean conflict," he says.

In fact, that's where he got the name for his most recent boat, a 42-foot ocean yacht named Box Lunch.

"When my Dad started the business, it was a corner mom-and-pop store," he says. The market, larger than a convenience store but smaller than a chain grocery store, has been in the neighborhood since 1954.

For years a small neighborhood grocer, the market has changed rapidly in the last year or so, Mr. Ziegler says.

"For one thing, the neighborhood's changed a lot, commercial property and larger grocery stores opening up in near proximity." That forces small businesses like Whitey's to change, too, trying to stay competitive, trying to stay solvent.

"It's getting harder and harder for small businesses to hang in there," the owner says.

The store has also been hurt by the effects of recession, such as the layoffs at Westinghouse Corp. "We did a lot of business with people from there, and we lost customers," says Mr. Ziegler.

Still, many regulars keep coming back to the familiar market and to members of the Ziegler family in their yellow shirts -- three of Craig Ziegler's sons and one daughter -- who work the business.

Says Joseph C. Murphy, 68, of Lansdowne: "I've been coming down here for years." Does he know who caught the fish all over the store? "Not me," he says. "But I like looking at 'em."

The store prides itself on meats and produce, as well as the deli, says Bob Ziegler. It is mainly on his shoulders that the market's future rests,since his father took a long vacation to fish three years ago "and never came back," he says.

Working 60-hour weeks at the store, Bob Ziegler doesn't have much time to fish now, he says. He shrugs. "Someone's got to work."

Craig's youngest son, Mike, served as his father's mate on the boat for seven summers, but now he, too, is married and busier.

"If they had the time and money, they would [fish more]," says Mr. Ziegler.

But he acknowledges that the younger Zieglers have more important things to worry about, like making the business work in an increasingly competitive market.

"It's up to my children," he says. "Changing things to keep up. They're the ones who have to deal with it."

Meanwhile, he'll continue to fish, and Whitey's will continue to reverberate with fish stories. Explains Mr. Ziegler: "The house isn't big enough to hang the fish, so the store's as good a place as any."

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