Carroll store closing after 40 years

May 14, 2000|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

For the regular customers of Bob's Variety Store in Hampstead, Mother's Day is not complete without a hanging basket of nonstop begonias or showy fuchsias that hang from the store's greenhouse ceiling like a rain-forest canopy.

Bob's Variety Store is many things to its customers, but in the spring, it is Mother's Day Central, with potted miniature roses, geraniums, lupines and daisies waiting to honor mothers."I enjoy watching the people pick out flowers for their mothers or bring them in and let them choose," said co-owner Sue Klingenberg, who opened the store 40 years ago with her husband, Bob.

She's especially cherishing the flower season this year. Bob's will close its doors by early next month.

When word spread that Wal-Mart would open in Hampstead, customers of Bob's began worrying that the newcomer would force the Main Street mainstay out of business. They were wrong.

Retirement is putting Bob's Variety out of business before the Wal-Mart opens.

The Klingenbergs have been slowly selling their stock of plastic flowers, flowering plants, greeting cards, balloons, jump ropes, dish-washing soaps, extension cords, index cards, dolls, doll heads and hands, garden gnomes, lawn Santas, volleyballs, spot lifters and embroidery hoops.

Their store has just about everything, except a computer. The Klingenbergs ordered and reordered their exhaustive stock each week from memory.

But the ordering has stopped. The doors will close after 40 years of staying open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week, in a community that used to have few other places to shop.

Bob's was there when Hampstead was a Black & Decker company town of 1,500 people, and Bob's has stayed much the same while the town has tripled in size.

The stream of customers begging them to stay and the stream of tears on both sides of the counter have made the Klingenbergs reconsider."We've thought twice ever since we first said [we would retire]," Bob Klingenberg said. "But we're at the age where we just know that we can't go on forever."

Both in their early 60s, the Klingenbergs have enough retail experience and foresight to know they likely would have to work harder for less money when Wal-Mart opens north of town.

Bob's Variety makes a footprint of 4,200 square feet, compared with the 135,000 square feet planned for Wal-Mart. But Bob's departure will leave a void no business can fill.

A red-on-white sign bearing the store's name catches the eyes of passers-by. Plants and flowers for sale line the sidewalk. Inside, shelves spill over with merchandise, despite the clearance effort.

The aisles are so narrow that two people can pass each other only by turning sideways. It's a situation that almost always begs for conversation, one of many reasons customers have rarely walked out of Bob's without talking to someone.

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