Family store anchors Loch Raven Greetings & Readings is hope for listing area

October 12, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Six days a week, Steve Spund directs customers, rings up purchases, weighs candy, lifts heavy boxes and wraps merchandise in decorative paper.

He even clears dirty dishes from cafe tables.

As general manager of Greetings & Readings, one of the area's most unusual family-owned stores, Spund is like a friendly traffic cop as he oversees 170 employees and a shop bursting with everything from books to bagels, T-shirts to toiletries.

But the store is much more than an economic phenomenon -- its aggressive expansion and strong community ties have made it an anchor in the Loch Raven area, a growing force in an older, struggling Baltimore County community.

"Greetings & Readings is our hope for the area," said community activist Donna Spicer, past president of the Towson-Loch Raven Community Council.

Loch Raven Village resident Wayne Skinner, a member of the county planning board, said: "They're our anchor store. If Greetings & Readings were to leave, we're in serious trouble."

Over the years, the Greater Hillendale community faltered. The number of renters increased. Students at the former Hillendale Elementary School performed poorly on state tests. And crime rose.

But now county officials are pressing to revive Greater Hillendale and other older suburbs. New energy is coming to the area from the changes, including a new principal and staff at the school -- now a magnet school called Halstead Academy -- a planned police substation, a minilibrary and home-buying programs.

As president of the Loch Raven Business Association, Spund, 38, is a force in the community's plan to beautify Loch Raven Boulevard from the Beltway to the retail area. At a recent meeting on the project -- an effort by business and community groups and Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. -- more than 100 residents and merchants applauded him.

Spund, an Owings Mills resident and father of three, explains his involvement in the area, which includes the 50-year-old townhouse communities of Loch Raven Village and Knettishall.

"I've seen what the community has gone through and done for Greetings & Readings," he said. "We're all striving for one thing -- an area where businesses will do well and where families will feel safe and secure."

The store, founded in 1969 by Spund's in-laws, has become a dominant presence in the neighborhood. The original 2,000-square-foot store has grown 20 times over, taking over a corner of Loch Raven Plaza on Taylor Avenue.

The store -- which will mark its 28th year tomorrow -- again is undergoing change as part of a $1.5 million renovation of the shopping center. A new facade, signs, lighting and sidewalks, expected to be complete by mid-November, should enhance the area, Spund said.

The exterior makeover comes amid renewed interest in sprucing up the "four corners," the name residents give to the commercial intersection with four shopping centers at Loch Raven Boulevard.

In addition to Spund, the family business includes his brother-in-law Steven Baum, who is president; sister-in-law Fran Baum; mother-in-law Phyllis Baum; and his wife of 15 years, Amy Spund -- all of whom work at the store.

Spund, who was a hotel management major at Montgomery College in Rockville, reached a career crossroads after he became engaged to Amy in 1981. The Baums wanted him to become part of the family operation -- which he thought was just a card store.

"I remember being in awe," he said of his first visit. "You walk in and say, 'Wow.' "

Sixteen years later, he's as much a part of the business as the blood relatives.

"You hear nightmare stories about family businesses," he said. "It's worked out great here."

Over the years, Greetings & Readings has grown from a book and card shop to a retail repository for the tried-and-true as well as trends.

Lava lamps are in, Giga Pets are out and Beanie Babies are hanging on, Spund said. But the season's hottest kid collectibles are key chains -- colorful clasps with miniature Mr. Potato Heads, Magic 8 balls, Etch-A-Sketches and ant farms.

hTC Spund should know. He has watched the meteoric rise and crash of such fads as Cabbage Patch Kids and Texas Instruments computers at the store.

The store also offers such pricey keepsakes as Waterford crystal, Lenox china and, for the holiday season, a life-size Kris Kringle figure for $1,500.

"We always say we're much more than a bookstore," he said. "We're a specialty department store."

Customers say they are drawn to the variety.

"They have unique items here," said Ginny Garrett, 42, of Perry Hall, who was shopping recently with friend Kathy Mitchell, 41. "It's fun to come here. I always see something I like," she said.

"I come here to get all my cards," said Iain Margand, 32, of Perry Hall. "The fringe benefit is they have all these books."

Spund said that while Greetings & Readings is committed to the Loch Raven location and often donates merchandise to local schools and organizations, the family is considering a second store. But, he added, "We haven't found the right location yet."

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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