Suppliers of fine gifts, keepsakes to three generations closing up shop

Sidney and Sonya Cohen's customers bid farewell

May 22, 2000|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

When longtime customers heard that Gallery 1330, their favorite Pikesville shop for fine china, crystal and silver, was going out of business after 36 years, many wept.

Some had gone to the store with their mothers to buy their wedding china and returned years later with their daughters to do it again.

In recent weeks, they've been showing up out of loyalty to owners Sonya and Sidney Cohen -- and at least a little bit for the 30 percent- and 50 percent-off going-out-of-business prices on Orrefors crystal from Sweden and Christofle china from France.

The Cohens have been mobbed with longtime customers since they placed an advertisement in the Jewish Times this month announcing their retirement. They'll stay in business for the next three to four weeks until their inventory runs out.

"Customers are coming in crying. Some of them are third generation," said Sonya Cohen, 65. "We have shared weddings, anniversaries, new babies and new houses with them and made a living at it."

The idea for the store began in the 1960s when Sidney Cohen had just gotten out of the children's clothing business and was looking for a new venture.

One day Sonya Cohen told her husband they needed to drive to Washington to buy a wedding gift.

"We were at the Owl Bar at the Belvedere Hotel and he said, `There must be other crazy people like you in Baltimore who think there's nowhere to buy a gift.' "

On a napkin, he began to draw "U"-shaped patterns for little galleries inside a store where they could display crystal, china and flatware.

At the same time they were talking about opening a store, Sonya Cohen's mother was flooding the couple with antique Victorian and Georgian silverware that she bought cheaply in Scotland and mailed to Baltimore.

Sidney Cohen opened a basement shop at 1330 Reisterstown Road and began to sell the silverware to customers in the community, many of whom he knew from his high school days at City College.

The store was an instant success.

It turned out to be a business that suited the couple. Cohen was a good businessman and his wife is a charming Englishwoman with exquisite taste.

"I don't think you acquire taste. You are born with it," she said.

"I instinctively knew Lalique crystal was the best."

Thirty-two years later, the Cohens moved a few doors away to a former post office.

The shop windows are filled with signs that read, "After 36 years, retiring from business. Everything reduced. Thank You."

"The store is a love story," said Sonya Cohen. "I found these wonderful things and people responded," she said, sweeping an arm toward her favorite display of Herend china from Hungary -- little animal figures, painstakingly hand-painted.

For Louise Weinberg, shopping there for the past 25 years "was such a warm personal feeling. They knew me as a young bride. Every piece of merchandise was hand-picked."

She said she particularly liked doing business with a married couple.

"I'm going to buy something that will remind me of them," she said.

Cathy Shapiro went to the shop one recent day for a bargain on modern stainless steel flatware, and seemed upset that the Cohens were going out of business.

"This is very Baltimore," she said of doing business with people she has known for decades. "No matter how you dress they treat you nicely. They go out of their way to help you."

Despite their customers' sadness, the Cohens say they look forward to retirement.

"I'd like to sleep late once," said Sonya Cohen. "I'm going to go for lunch. You know how women go for lunch? I've never done that."

Sidney Cohen, 81, quietly walked through the store on crutches. A hip problem prompted his decision to retire, but he said the warm "accolades from friends" have been rewarding.

After all these years of selling the finest china, crystal and silver, he says he doesn't want to take any particular item home from the store.

"I'm not an acquisitive man. I have simple taste," he said.

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