After 103 years, family closes up shop for good

Hardware: Patrons lament the loss of J. H. Toomey and Sons, an Elkridge institution passed down through four generations.

August 01, 1999|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

For Walter Fadrowski, the whole experience seemed a bit nostalgic.

About 35 years ago, the longtime Elkridge resident first wandered into a quaint-looking hardware store off U.S. 1 in search of tools and supplies to support his love for construction.

On Friday, he was back again. Only this time, it would be his last visit.

The 103-year-old Elkridge hardware store, J. H. Toomey and Sons, closed its doors yesterday, bringing an end to one of the oldest operating family-owned businesses in Howard County.

"It's very sad," said Fadrowski, 70. "This was a great place. I guess I'll have to go to Home Depot now, but Toomey's will be missed."

For Elkridge residents, Toomey's has been an institution. It has symbolized the success story of entrepreneur J. H. Toomey, who passed on a thriving business to his son, grandson and great-grandsons.

Established in 1896, the business rented land that is now known as the Railroad Avenue parking lot; the first office was a woodshed next to Melville Methodist Church. One year later, the family began to sell firewood and cement imported from England. In the 1900s, the family expanded its operations when it began to sell coal and fuel oil.

In the 1970s and '80s, the company abandoned the oil and and coal portions of its business and invested more resources into building and maintaining the hardware store's inventory.

"The hardware store has really been a cog in the community for years," said Sam Merson, 70, a patron and friend of the Toomey family. "This was the only hardware store that we had in Elkridge."

Until yesterday, Bill and Richard Toomey, great-grandsons of J. H. Toomey, had nourished the family's vision. But after a decline in profits, they recently decided the time had come to close shop.

"I wish we could continue on, but the books say otherwise," said Bill Toomey, 57. "We've had some good memories here, but what I'll miss most is the interactions with the people.

"My family has been blessed. Our success all of these years is due to the fact that people in this community have supported us and have been faithful."

Clearing out

The shelves inside the store were still stacked high with cans of paints and plaster last week. Lots of hammers, nails and hooks remained, too. Richard Toomey, 45, said the items left behind would either be auctioned or liquidated, and a decision will be made soon on whether to sell or lease the building.

But residents who stopped by to wish the brothers well didn't waste any time stocking up on memorabilia.

"They always had just the thing that I was looking for," said Gilbert Nassear, 72, of Hanover. "You can't find some of the smaller items in the larger stores anymore."

Others recall spending time at the store on Saturday mornings and talking for hours about local issues.

The closing of Toomey's is the latest in a series of mom-and-pop shops along U.S. 1 that have been forced to close because of competition from larger stores.

`Times and people change'

"Our society has become a bedroom society," said Bill Toomey, who plans to look for a new job. "I don't get the feeling of community togetherness like the way it once was. But times and people change."

What remains constant, residents say, is a fond memory of the hardware store and the family owners.

"This is the passing of an institution," said Helen Voris, a member of the Elkridge Historical Society. "The community is going to miss the store."

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