Littlepage's, a landmark for generations in the city


August 13, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Someone once said every kitchen in West Baltimore had its floor covered with linoleum from Littlepage's.

That was an exaggeration about the old-fashioned furniture and household goods store that this year reached the century mark in business.

Littlepage's, in the 1300 block of W. Baltimore St., is an institution. It is still owned and staffed by the direct descendants of its founder.

"We never even thought about moving," said David Littlepage, who works alongside his father, Arthur, and sister, Sarah.

Theirs is a clean and orderly furniture store that could be on the Main Street of any small town in the United States. The living room suites are in the front, followed by dining room sets, glass curio cabinets and grandfather's clocks. Kitchen appliances are in a separate room and the bedroom suites are upstairs.

Generations of West Baltimore brides have gone to Littlepage's to select -- and wish for -- the furniture to fill their happy homes. Mothers carrying toddlers shop for cribs and bunk beds and maybe new televisions.

There are some computers in the accounting department along with the mammoth York-brand safes and ledger books. Bronze plaques noting employees' years of faithful service almost fill a wall.

"We have a lot of customers who tell us their parents and grandparents shopped here," said Sarah Littlepage, who lives around the corner on West Lombard Street, facing Union Square park.

The Littlepage story began after the Civil War when the family left a farm on the York River in Virginia to seek a better fortune in Baltimore. The father and son, both named William T. Littlepage, set up a partnership in 1893.

By 1907, the son had built a large store at the southeast corner of Baltimore and Calhoun streets. At the same time, his father, who'd had enough of Baltimore, returned to the family farm.

The name Littlepage quickly became synonymous with wooden bureaus, lamps, side chairs and kitchen floor coverings. Littlepage called his the "Big uptown store" on letterheads and in advertising copy.

At Christmas, the basement opened for the seasonal sale of electric trains, bicycles and the toy wagons often used to haul groceries and produce home from the Hollins Market.

The firm's specialty was making furnishings that were indispensable in Baltimore rowhouses where closets were in very short supply.

"We built two pieces of furniture," said Arthur Littlepage, 79. "One was a hall piece, made to go in the narrow front hall of a rowhouse. It had a large mirror attached to a bench seat that lifted up to store your overshoes and rubbers. You could also hang your coat on the sides of the hall piece.

"We had horses and wagons then that went through the neighborhood. People gave orders for them on the spot and we delivered a few days later. It was a big seller.

"Another version was simpler -- a clothes tree. A plain wooden pole, well built, with four brass brackets at the top. In a typical rowhouse, you walked through to the kitchen and took off your coat and hung it on one of our clothes trees."

Even though Littlepage's cabinetmakers made the clothes trees and hall pieces by the hundreds, the family never bothered to save an example of either one.

"I guess they were just too commonplace," said Arthur Littlepage.

As far back as 1910, Littlepage's capitalized on its address. "Our location means a savings to you," said a bill from 80 years ago.

"We weren't in the high-rent district downtown," Arthur Littlepage explained. "It wasn't a fancy location. It still isn't."


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