John F. Griber, 84, owner of Curtis Bay grocery store

June 03, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John F. Griber, whose landmark Curtis Bay corner grocery store kept neighborhood tables and pantries supplied with fresh meats and vegetables, died Thursday of stroke complications at Meridian Nursing Center-Hammonds Lane. He was 84.

For more than 60 years, "Mr. John" -- as he was called -- operated Griber's Grocery at Pennington Avenue and Church Street. In 1990, he retired and closed the business.

Mr. Griber, who was born on Church Street and lived his entire life there, was the son of Lithuanian parents, who immigrated to Baltimore from Vilna at the turn of the century.

In 1907, his parents, Mathew and Eva Griber, opened a bakery in rented space at Cherry Street and Curtis Avenue and baked doughnuts and breads from Lithuania that quickly found favor with area residents.

They were delivered by the couple's sons John and Joseph to the doors of their customers by horse and wagon and by sleigh in winter. In 1923, the elder Mr. Griber died, leaving his wife with four sons to raise. In 1926, they built a two-story brick building with deep green trim around the windows at Church and Pennington. Opened as a dry goods store, the business was converted to a grocery in 1929. The building had a wide green awning that spanned the store front. The awning warded off summer heat and cooled shoppers, who paused in its shade to trade gossip while enjoying a chilled soda.

Customers lined up at lunchtime for Mr. Griber's famous sandwiches, which were known for their freshness and abundance of meat. Another specialty was Mr. Griber's Lithuanian kielbasa, which he made at Christmas and Easter.

Mr. Griber, whose working attire included of a butcher's apron and stub of pencil behind an ear, was described by Joanna Sullivan, wife of one of his grandsons, as "a jovial and very charming man."

Joan D. Sullivan, a daughter who lives in Brooklyn Park, called him "the local loan company and counseling service."

"From the Southern boy with no shoes who came looking for a job in the 1940s to the young man who worked there until he was finished with college, Mr. John gladly gave them jobs," his daughter said.

Mr. Griber never took a day off, and the store never closed, his daughter said. If it snowed, he'd open the store, because he knew his customers would be waiting, she said.

He was a member of the YMCA, where he played badminton. In his retirement years, he was a member of the Maryland Yacht Club and enjoyed sailing on the Chesapeake Bay.

He traveled to Israel and Greece, and at the end of his life offered this observation to his family and friends: "I've lived, I've loved, I've traveled, and now I'm ready to go."

A Mass of Christian burial was to be offered at 10 a.m. today at St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church, Prudence and Church streets, where Mr. Griber was a communicant.

Surviving in addition to his daughter are his wife of 61 years, the former Ann Malinauskas; a son, John C. Griber of Bay Head, N.J.; another daughter, Ann M. LaPorte of Fairfax, Va.; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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