Harry C. Espey, 74, owner of landmark Hebbville shop

September 13, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Harry C. Espey, owner of a farm and gardening shop that has tended to the needs of Hebbville residents for 127 years, died of a heart attack Monday at his residence there. He was 74.

The business, now known as Harry C. Espey Inc., has been operating out of the same yellow clapboard building at the intersection of Windsor Mill and Rolling roads since 1869.

Though its customers no longer arrive in horse-drawn drays or buggies and times have changed, "Espey's Store," as it is called by locals, remains largely unchanged and prides itself on old-fashioned service.

Mr. Espey began working in 1942 as a deliveryman and driver for Milton E. Piel, who owned the business then, and bought it when he retired in 1963.

In his early days with the business, Mr. Espey would drive to a nearby Western Maryland Railway siding to unload grain and feed by hand from boxcars and handle the delivery of customers' orders.

"Oh, it was nothing for him to carry on his back feed bags up three and four floors," said Carroll L. Greninger, 66, a friend since the age of 9. "He was one heck of a nice fellow and a hard worker."

Gifted with a gregarious personality, Mr. Espey was well over 6 feet tall and had a deep voice that could be heard through the walls of the store by clerks busy putting up orders in the back room.

After he retired in 1971, Mr. Espey continued to visit the store almost every day.

"He'd still come in and sit on a feed bag with a cup of coffee and a Camel cigarette and talk to all of his customers," said his son, Harry T. "Tom" Espey Sr., who has operated the business since 1971 with his wife, Donna.

The store was a daily destination for idlers and retirees who also dropped by for a cup of coffee, or some "expert" advice from the elder Mr. Espey. "Oh yes, he was considered an 'expert' on nearly everything," Tom Espey said.

"He was a workaholic, and when he left here he'd go home at night to his 27-acre farm to work that. It wasn't uncommon for him to be out there plowing with headlights," the son said.

He raised more than 4,000 chickens, whose eggs he sold in the store, and turkeys, which he sold at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Mr. Espey, not one to make changes quickly, liked the old store with its random-width wooden floors, hand-crank cash register and exposed ceiling beams attached with pegs rather than nails. He eschewed any attempt at modernity.

"Hey, the most modern thing we have here is a fax machine, and we just got it," the son said.

"He was the same way in business. He was old-fashioned," said the son. "He did things with a handshake, and he was from a time when a handshake meant something. If someone fell on hard times, he'd take care of them. If someone needed feed and couldn't pay, he'd deliver the feed and tell them not to worry.

"He really believed that people were honest and in all of his years of running and owning this business, only a few folks disappointed him," the son said.

Mr. Espey would also take care of his customers' animals if they were away.

Mr. Espey was born in Dickeyville and attended school through the seventh grade.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Loring Byers Funeral Home, 8728 Liberty Road, Randallstown.

Mr. Espey also is survived by his wife of 56 years, the former Grace B. Marvel; a daughter, Harriet E. Miranio of South Windham, Conn.; his mother, Minnie G. Espey of Randallstown; a brother, Walter Espey of Harford County; a sister, Rosalie Chevorant of Woodlawn; two grandsons; and a great-grandson.

Pub Date: 9/13/96

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