Samuel Chester, 72, 'gentleman' operator of small variety store in West Baltimore

October 07, 1997|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Samuel Chester never thought much of security at his small variety store in West Baltimore. He never liked the idea of Plexiglas between customers and his merchandise or stone-faced guards at the door.

Instead, he welcomed everyone and encouraged them to browse -- unwatched -- as long as they chose.

"He probably knew that some people at some times stole from him, but he felt they were the ones who really needed it," said his son, Clement Chester of Miami. "I think he was more about making friends than money."

Mr. Chester, 72, who died Friday from injuries he suffered in a car accident while living in Miami, owned C&C Variety on Windsor Avenue in the Walbrook community from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s.

Although the store closed in the 1970s, he kept his home nearby. Mr. Chester continued a tradition he began when he owned the store: yearly Easter and Halloween parties.

"He never lost his involvement or concern for people here," said a friend, Ben Morgan of Baltimore. "The neighborhood changed over the years, but he still was part of it."

The store was open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Sunday, and Mr. Chester was there nearly every hour. He lived near the store, but often spent nights at the business.

"He basically put everything he had into that store to make a go of it," said Brian Walker, who worked there in 1970. "If there was stock or something that he didn't want to leave lying around, he'd do it after he closed and fall asleep in the back afterwards."

He once fell asleep in the back after a long night of cleaning and stock work and was late opening the next day. About 7: 30 a.m., he was awakened by customers pounding on the door.

"His customers didn't know if he was OK or not, not so much that they wanted to buy anything," Clement Chester said. "I think he was embarrassed by it all. But they were people who cared about him."

Being a friend of many people in the community might have saved the store during the riots after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Several black friends of Mr. Chester, who was white, remained in front of the store during several days of violence and prevented looters from damaging the business.

"He treated people the right way, no matter who you were," said Carroll Westing, who has lived in the community for many years. "He was always fair, always a gentleman."

A native of New York, Mr. Chester served in the Army from 1943 to 1946 and attended the University of Maryland, College Park after his discharge. He married Yvette Proctor in 1946. She died in 1967.

Mr. Chester worked for several years as a truck driver, and worked as a driver and ice cream vendor for Good Humor from 1958 until he opened his store.

Each year at Halloween and Easter, Mr. Chester had treats for area youngsters. On Halloween, he would dress as a monster and hand out candy. At Easter, he would dole out jelly beans from a giant barrel all week.

His store was never empty as children -- often the same ones over and over -- got handfuls of candy.

"He had a weak spot in his heart for kids," Mr. Morgan said. "He hated it when a child looked as though he wanted -- not really needed -- but wanted something like a soda and couldn't afford it."

Mr. Chester moved to Miami in 1991 to be close to relatives.

Services are scheduled for tomorrow in Miami.

He is also survived by a brother, Charles Chester of New York.

Pub Date: 10/07/97

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