Country Store Has Food, 'Camaraderie'

September 22, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

In a time when supermarkets are getting larger and more impersonal, at least one store appears to be surviving despite bucking a trend.

It probably doesn't hurt that Boarman's Old Fashioned Meat Market, selling everything from hard liquor to hog brains, is in Highland, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the Baltimore-Washington area.

"Mr. Boarman is the nicest man you'll ever meet," said Darlene Schott, 36, as a fresh ham and several bags of groceries were being loaded into her BMW 325i convertible. "I don't want to hassle with a Giant or a Safeway, because this is convenient and its fully stocked and everyone's so nice."

For nearly 40 years, Florentine "Larry" Boarman has been making his family recipe sausage, buying and selling produce and helping stranded motorists at Routes 108 and 216. To many Highland residents, the store is synonymous with the community. When Highlanders give directions to their homes, the route invariably includes a reference to the store.

But despite his long history as a shopkeeper, Mr. Boarman, 72, did not start the business.

His father, the late George L. Boarman, began an A&P Tea Co. franchise in Northwest Washington during World War I, then launched the first Boarman's Market just over the Maryland line in Mount Rainier about 1933.

"I've been involved in it all my life," Mr. Boarman said, recalling his duties as his father's right-hand employee.

Mr. Boarman drove the delivery truck, picked up used milk bottles, collected eggs from the store's chicken coop and ran the store.

"We used to kill our own hogs, sell live chickens," he said, adding that at various times his father would try other lines such as live squabs or rabbits.

Today, Mr. Boarman gets much of his produce from Westminster, where Hahn's Meat Co. supplies the fresh and smoked pork the store is known for. Eggs and other produce come from other suppliers, including the Maryland Wholesale Food Market in Jessup.

MA Brian Cunningham, a 58-year-old entrepreneur who lived for 23

years in Highland and continues to stop by the store after moving to Potomac, said Boarman's is more than a place to get groceries.

"It's a wonderful store to come to. Not only do you get food here, but you get camaraderie," he said.

Despite its country-store charm, Ms. Schott's visit convinced her that the little country store can compete with huge supermarkets.

Preparing a party for her father's 65th birthday, she had prepared a list of 25 items for her family feast, including a fresh ham.

"Everything was here, right down to the marshmallows," she said.

But that wasn't enough, she discovered when she spoke to the proprietor. "I told him what I was doing and he said, 'Are you going to have sweet potatoes with that?' "

Ms. Schott said it sounded like a good idea, so Mr. Boarman pointed her in the right direction.

The cinder block market has 23 people on the payroll, including seven family members -- grandchildren, a son, daughters and Mr. Boarman's wife and their daughter-in-law, Theresa Boarman.

"She didn't know when she said 'I do,' what she was saying 'I do' to," said Mr. Boarman's daughter, Elizabeth Connolly, who keeps the store's books along with her sister-in-law.

Mr. Boarman said his wife, high school sweetheart Rosette Licausi, has kept the business going even when the ledger didn't balance.

Something Mr. Boarman will have to put up with in the near future is the development of the River Hill Village Center, with a large supermarket, just up Route 108.

But that doesn't worry him, he said, because his customers already have a choice.

"We really feel confident that we'll always have a niche," he said ++ during an interview in his attic office. "Most people feel comfortable driving six or seven miles to a supermarket, such as the one at the Hickory Ridge Village Center or others in Olney and Burtonsville.

Although Boarman's original customers, the local farming community, have gradually given way to an affluent professional clientele, that hasn't hurt business, Mr. Boarman said.

After moving out to the country, he said, "they like the idea of finding this type of store here."

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