Anthony Robinson, a West Baltimore deli and grocery store owner whose business survived the riots of 1968 and several arsons, died Tuesday of heart failure while living with friends in Havre de Grace. He was 76.
From the mid-1950s until the late 1970s, Mr. Robinson operated the A.O.K. Grocery Store on Bentalou Street.
The store was small and could accommodate only about five people at a time, but was known for thick sandwiches, all varieties of sodas, scores of faithful customers and a bench outside where people gathered until well into the evening.
"A lot of lies were told on that bench, and Tony told most of them," said Jerome Willey, an area resident for more than six decades. "His was a good business and the people around here appreciated him."
When the riots broke out 30 years ago this month, after the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Robinson's store sustained minor damage. His front window was smashed, but the business was not looted.
Mr. Robinson and several friends stood watch outside the business for several days and nights to show rioters that he owned the business.
He later put a sign that read "Soul Brother" in the window to let rioters know the store was black-owned.
"It was scary because not everyone was mad about what happened [Dr. King's death], but just wanted to do no good," Mr. Willey said. "The people in the neighborhood wouldn't do anything to his business, but people came from all over."
A native of Baltimore, Mr. Robinson attended Douglass High School and served in the Army from 1941 to 1945 during World War II. He was a truck driver and worked for a dry-cleaning company after his discharge while living in West Baltimore.
In the 1970s, several arsons occurred in his West Baltimore neighborhood and his store was struck at least three times. But the fires never forced the business to close, not even for an hour.
"He truly loved that business," said Derrick "Ricky" Spellman, a longtime friend and former employee. "That place meant everything to him. That was his life."
Mr. Robinson also enjoyed building model cars -- not only the small plastic ones bought in toy and hobby shops, but large creations he'd make with scraps of materials he found.
One of his favorites was a silver Corvette about 3 feet long and weighing close to 50 pounds.
"He tried to mount it in the store from the ceiling, but when he put it up there, pieces of plaster started falling so he thought better of that idea," Mr. Spellman said.
A memorial service is being planned for this month.
Mr. Robinson is survived by a brother, Wyler Robinson of New Jersey; and a sister, Wanda Turpin of North Carolina.
Pub Date: 4/12/98