Gerald Jeffein, 71, champion of Old Town Mall

March 28, 1997|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Gerald Jeffein, described as "the Don Quixote of Old Town" because of his advocacy of the inner-city mall, died of cancer Tuesday at his Pikesville home. He was 71.

He was the second-generation owner of Kaufman's department store in East Baltimore's Old Town Mall and considered it his baby although he had other stores in the metropolitan area.

"He never went a day without thinking about Old Town as his baby, the special place that he held dear," said Wallace Means, a mall employee. "He only owned that one store here, but he took pride in the entire mall."

Gilbert Sandler, a longtime friend, said Mr. Jeffein flirted with the idea of moving the store to the suburbs but felt comfortable in Old Town and was loyal to the city.

"He was sort of the Don Quixote of Old Town," Mr. Sandler said. "He had strong social sense.

"He was quiet but he wasn't passive. What he said was loud and clear. He was always trying to figure out how to make Baltimore work, how to make Old Town work."

Mr. Jeffein's father was a co-founder of Kaufman's in 1923. His son took over in 1966, often working six days a week.

The store has anchored the mall and has weathered urban blight, the 1968 riots and the looting that followed the blizzard of 1979.

For years, Mr. Jeffein fought for renovation of the shopping strip near Gay and Ensor streets and of the mall. The mall renovation project is expected to be completed next year.

"I'm sure he would have liked to see the mall in all of its glory," said Richard Wynas, a mall employee. "But any way it was would be special to him."

Called "Mr. Gerald" by employees and customers, Mr. Jeffein offered jobs to area residents and gave special deals to customers who couldn't afford the full price of an item.

"People came in all of the time and said 'My family has been dealing with you for years, can you help us?' " said a daughter, Nancy Jeffein Olin of Owings Mills. "He never said no -- that wasn't in his vocabulary. He knew he could provide a service to the people of this area. He truly liked helping people."

In addition to the Old Town location, there are Kaufman's stores on Baltimore National Pike in Catonsville and at Reisterstown Road Plaza. A store on Eastern Avenue failed, as did a Howard Street furniture store Mr. Jeffein opened in 1977.

A Baltimore native, Mr. Jeffein graduated from city public schools and from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1940s.

He was president of the Old Town Mall Merchants Association from 1967 to 1972 and from 1978 to 1985, and president of the Maryland Home Furnishings Association from 1981 to 1983.

In 1993, he was appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to the Standard Benefit Plan Task Force of the state Health Care Access and Cost Commission. He was also a regular writer of letters to the editor of The Sun.

Services were held yesterday.

Other survivors include his wife, the former Janet Epstein, whom he married in 1956; another daughter, Joan Jeffein Miller of Harrisburg, Pa.; a sister, Anne Greenblatt of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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