Catonsville store found its niche near the pool

April 18, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

Veterans of the Catonsville shopping district persist in calling it Cy's Toggery.

The store's customers don't go near the water unless they've purchased their bathing suits at 719 Frederick Road.

Swimming teams from Dundalk to Columbia recognize the place as Cy's of Catonsville, outfitters to water babies, novice dog-paddlers and high divers.

The term bathing suit is not the preferred usage here. The word preferred in this establishment is "swimwear."

And within this classification, there are three subdivisions. There's the walking-around suit, designed to make you look good while at the edge of the country club pool. The lap suit is for serious swimmers who do laps. The team suit is for super-serious aquatic athletes.

There are swim diapers for toddlers. There are maternity suits. There are suits for women who have had a mastectomy. There are men's suits with 22-inch waists. There are trunks for 46-inch waists and "even larger."

Marvin and Bella Meyer are the owners of the 55-year-old institution, founded in 1940 by his late father, Simon Meyer (hence the name Cy's), and his wife De Vera. The couple had a full-line men's and women's shop with a side line in babies' clothes. It was called Cy's Toggery, a word based on the Latin "toga."

They like to think of themselves as a small operation that has taken on the larger competitors, found a niche and survived nicely.

"The shopping centers started to surround us not too long after my father opened," Mr. Meyer said. "First was Edmondson Village. It did hurt us much. Then came Westview, Ingleside and Security. We were still OK. What hurt us was Columbia. That began drawing our real customers away.

"It was my wife Bella who suggested to me, 'Let's concentrate on what we do best, formal wear and swim wear.' We did and each year we've grown," said Mr. Meyer, who bought the business from his father more than 30 years ago.

Along with suburban shopping mall came the institution that helped save his business -- the suburban community swimming pool.

Dozens of communities built their own pools and established competitive teams. These teams, men and women, boys, girls and teens, all need special suits designed for speed.

And in recent years another institution arrived to helped sales -- the retirement community with a swimming pool.

It is not unusual for the Meyers to sell more than 7,000 suits during a summer season. Many will be of one style and pattern for an individual team. That team, of course, may have dozens of members.

The day of the plain navy blue team suit is over. Teams select nylon and Lycra patterns with names such as "Richter Scale," "Galactica," "Lava," "Sunburst," "Cosmic Current" and "Shattered Glass." The last name is especially hard to figure out, given the universal law that no glass objects be around the pool.

The couple often make special measuring trips to local schools and community pools all over the Baltimore map. They outfit the L'Hirondelle Club in Ruxton, the Otterbein neighborhood pool, the team at the Institute of Notre Dame on Aisquith Street in East Baltimore and the Westview Sailfish in Baltimore County.

For the highly competitive teams, where fractions of a second count, there is a demand for a skin-tight fit.

Mr. Meyer said, "We don't like to let a customer leave until he or she had tried on a suit."

"You learn a lot of lessons about vanity in this business. There are people who want to exhibit every inch of their bodies and there are those who hide as much as possible," Mr. Meyer said.

Some customers want to appear like an angel in a swim suit. Others prefer the naughty look.

"And it has nothing to do what what they really are in life. It is the image they want to convey. We don't mind. We like it that they return to us over and over again," he said.

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