Older businesses tell history of Ritchie Highway Main drag wasn't always cluttered

January 29, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

Inside the fence of Cedar Hill Cemetery, red poinsettia petals from the graves blow across the ground, and the rumble of Ritchie Highway subsides into peace.

Today the road, Anne Arundel County's central nervous system, the path nearly everyone travels, is noisy with fast food restaurants and seemingly endless discount carpet stores. But it is the old businesses -- the cemeteries dating to the early 1800s, the taverns that opened on the heels of Prohibition, the car dealerships that grew along with the highway -- that carry the county's history.

Here at Cedar Hill, a weathered stone marks the loss of two one-year-old infants, a brother and sister who died in 1884 and 1885, "beloved children of Louis and Alice Glantz."

Cedar Hill's 80-acres have been providing final resting places for 119 years, said sales manager Jimmy Rogers.

PTC "It's been a community cemetery from the beginning. We call it heritage, so many generations of families using our property -- four generations in some cases," he said.

In the south corner, the oldest part of the cemetery, fragments of history exist among the acres of granite headstones. White marble marks the grave of Augustus Herman, who drowned off Sandy Point in 1879.

But there are happier memories along Route 2, also. One quaint Glen Burnie relic, the Honey Bee Restaurant, harks to the days when waitresses on roller skates served dinner at the cars. The area was a ghost town, little but farms, when a first-generation Greek family opened up shop.

Today, a liquor store run by a daughter of the man who opened the restaurant 30 years ago stands on the site, but the Gasparis family still boasts an old black and white photo of a sign reminding customers: "For car service, please flash your light."

South on Ritchie Highway, Ann's Dari-Creme's unchanging fare brings out the regulars -- families with children, fellows on their lunch break -- for the the famous foot-long hot dogs. They come, too, for the cozy '50s feeling of red vinyl stools and the mellow voice of Percy Sledge crooning "When a Man Loves a Woman" on the oldies station.

While harried waitresses make thick milkshakes from scratch, customers down double dogs with relish and exchange local gossip. Or they talk about how little the place has changed since an ex-GI opened it in the '50s. Between the never-ending stream of customers, waitresses tell you that some folks have been coming for 20 years.

Route 2, of course, opened even before that: the Baltimore-to-Glen-Burnie stretch in the early 1930s, the extension Annapolis near the end of the decade.

"It was virgin territory," recalls lifelong county resident and former State Sen. Al Lipin. "There was hardly anything of a business nature on that road at all."

One business pre-dating World War II is Fishpaw's, an Arnold liquor store marking the corner since the days of the flappers.

The place opened just after the first World War as a service station, says owner Kim Edwards. After Prohibition, the gas station closed and a tavern was built. Later, the bar was removed for a grocery, and in 1953 the county granted a liquor license.

Known as Fishpaw's, after former owner Bill Fishpaw, the liquor store remains a neighborhood hangout of sorts, a place where you can walk into the cozy interior and find men in their 80s picking up a beer and shooting the breeze.

"Mostly we have customers who've lived here all their lives," says Ms. Edwards.

The same is true for Leo Siemienski, who has been selling Chevys since 1955 from the same building on Ritchie Highway.

JBA Chevrolet was the first car dealership along the road, purveyors of square-nosed family cars and the American dream.

Mr. Siemienski remembers selling his first Chevy in 1955, a top-of-the-line blue Belair sedan. He remembers eager customers bursting into tears when handed the keys to a brand-new Delray coupe.

He's sold cars to five generations of families, starting in years when nobody wanted air conditioning in their autos, insisting they wanted "fresh air."

During Mr. Siemienski's first year at what was Glenning's Chevrolet (renamed JBA a few years ago), people could choose from four models of cars. Now the options number 38.

Mr. Siemienski's isn't the only career made along Ritchie Highway. Sam Kemp got his start selling flowers after school on the streets of Baltimore, but he ended up owning his own shop in Brooklyn Park.

Cedar Hill Florists has lasted 47 years, says Mr. Kemp, a 71-year-old who takes leftover flowers to North Arundel Hospital and nursing homes. He'll also press an armload on visitors who just stop in to talk.

"I'm not an educated man," he muses. "There was a broken home, and I had to go out and work to support my family in the eighth grade."

Mr. Kemp served in the army during World War II; after the war, he didn't want to work for anybody. So he and his brother went into business together.

The brother left the business after about 20 years, but the shop has continued with the help of four of Kemp's five children. His oldest son is a major in the U.S. Air Force.

"All of us work together, and my wife, Gladys, too," says Mr. Kemp. "She's the linchpin!"

"We try to do for the community when needed, no matter how little," he adds. "We never turn down anyone, locally, who needs help."

Long-term businesses like his are what county residents can really depend on, Mr. Kemp says.

"We're the backbone of the community because we've been here for so long. This is our county, our neighborhood, our life."

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