Minnie Asch, 88, owned and ran neighborhood grocery in Waverly

August 17, 2002|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

Minnie Asch, who ran a neighborhood grocery in Waverly near Memorial Stadium for more than 40 years, died Tuesday of respiratory failure at Northwest Hospital Center. She was 88.

One of seven children born to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Minnie Yuspa worked for Irvings Department Store after her graduation from Western High School.

In 1933, she married Harry Asch and the couple bought a grocery with an attached rowhouse in the 3200 block of Barclay St. Years later, she would regale friends and family with an account of the day the couple crossed the threshold.

"You're the boss on this side," she told her husband, pointing at the grocery store, before turning to the door of the house and adding: "I'm the boss on this side."

And so it would be for decades to come, as the couple raised three sons and built Harry's Grocery into a respected institution specializing in prime meats and fresh fruits and vegetables.

As their sons grew, they added home deliveries, catering to a broad clientele - from the black, working-class communities along The Alameda to the white manor neighborhoods of Cold Spring Lane, University Parkway and Roland Avenue.

"Those were the days when the whole city was segregated and Jews couldn't even live in Roland Park," said son Stanley Asch of Owings Mills. "But Mom and Dad had keys to everyone's home up there. They would just let themselves in, deliver the groceries and leave."

At the house on Barclay, no such restrictions applied.

Mrs. Asch acted as den mother to a large group of neighborhood kids who had joined her sons' unofficial "Flaming Arrows Boys Club," making lunch for hordes of youngsters, black and white, and overseeing wading-pool parties in the back yard.

On Friday nights, she emptied the store's meat cases for the weekend and prepared discount boxes of food for her husband to deliver to needy families in the neighborhood.

"She taught us we were no better than anyone else," Stanley Asch said, "just maybe better off."

When riots erupted in Baltimore in 1968 after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., black neighbors armed with shotguns ran to protect the grocery and evacuate the Asch family, said granddaughter Kimberly Asch.

"They had deep roots in the neighborhood," she said, "and friends everywhere."

Pete Kousouris, who delivered produce to the store and knew the Asches well, recalls that Minnie was the quiet force behind the family business.

"Harry was very outspoken, hated to lose any kind of debate, a good businessman, good guy to talk to, always out and about," said Kousouris. "She was very different, a nice quiet lady, always in the background, see? It was really her who kept the store together - spotless, it was. A beautiful store. They were a great team."

Known as "Minnie Ha-Ha" to her grandchildren, Mrs. Asch indulged them with penny candy at the grocery and platters of porterhouse steaks at her home next door.

When her husband of 41 years died in 1974, Mrs. Asch sold the store that bore his name and moved to the Reisterstown Square Apartments, where she continued to preside at family gatherings and celebrations over steaming platters of stuffed veal and matzo balls.

Services were held Thursday.

In addition to her son and granddaughter, Mrs. Asch is survived by another son, Jerry Asch of Herndon, Va.; a sister, Dora Asch of Columbia; three other grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A third son, Bernard Asch, died in 1998.

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