C. Paul Maenner, 86, owned Govans grocery for 42 years

January 09, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

C. Paul Maenner, former owner of Maenner's Market, an old-fashioned Govans grocery store that was known for fresh produce and attentive service, died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Sunday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 86.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Glenwood Avenue in Govans, Mr. Maenner started in the grocery business when he was 9, stocking shelves at Daub's Market after school.

The eldest of 11 children, he later worked for Wagner Foods, an independent chain of local markets, during the day while attending City College at night. During World War II, he served with the 138th Ordnance Battalion in Europe.

After being discharged in 1946, he briefly returned to his old job before renting a feed store in the 5700 block of York Road for $30 a month. He bought the store in 1951, continuing to sell feed but expanding the market's inventory to include fresh Maryland produce and fruit, canned goods and dairy products.

He sold trees during the Christmas season and freshly cut flowers from his garden in the spring. Mr. Maenner often delivered groceries to his North Baltimore clientele in a green Chevrolet station wagon.

The store, housed in a white clapboard building with green shutters and front door, seemed to defy the passage of time. In the winter, heat was provided by a coal stove that sat on a checkered tile floor. Sales were rung up on a 60-year-old cash register.

His store had the advantage of being adjacent to the old Govans streetcar loop.

"A lot of people, when they got off the streetcar, they'd come off the Govans car to transfer to the Towson car right there in front of my store," Mr. Maenner told The Sun in an interview last year. "There were times when I couldn't even wait on customers because it was so crowded with streetcar riders."

Fastidious when it came to selecting produce, Mr. Maenner carefully arranged his wares on shelves inside and outside the store that he had had built.

His son, Paul R. Maenner Sr., a Timonium accountant, went to work in the store as a 6-year-old and continued working there until going to college.

"His motto was `Only the best is good enough.' He had his own farmers in Carroll County and southern Pennsylvania from which he purchased vegetables. Sometime we'd even go and pick the corn, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash. Our eggs and apples came from Maple Hill farm in Glen Arm," the son said.

Mr. Maenner was just as exacting when choosing a customer's melon.

"The worst thing you can do is squeeze 'em," Mr. Maenner told The Sun in 1986. "It makes a melon soft, and you don't want the flesh to be crushed. The most vulnerable, most tender spot on a melon is the blossom end, and that's what most people squeeze. What you want to do is squeeze an area around the end."

A friendly and outgoing man who wore a white grocer's apron, white shirt and dark tie, Mr. Maenner operated his store from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., six days a week and expected his employees to work as hard as he did.

His business philosophy was taped to a mirror on a wall in the backroom of the store: "The reflection you see is what the customer will see - Is your apron clean? - Is your hair combed? - Are your hands clean? Above all, are you pleasant?"

Mary Ellen Maenner, his daughter, who lives in Parkville, recalled one of her father's conditions of employment.

"They had to be able to quickly add up a column of figures written on a brown paper bag. That was a job requirement he made of all his workers," she said.

In a 1987 interview with the Baltimore Messenger, Mr. Maenner explained his success.

"Learn about your customers," he said. "Make damn sure when a customer comes through the door that you let him know that you know he's here. If you know his name, call him by his name. When you know your people, it's the greatest asset in the world."

In 1993, Mr. Maenner sold the store to one of his longtime employees, Tom Resch, who closed it last year.

Mr. Maenner enjoyed woodworking and making lamps, puzzles and dollhouse furniture in the basement of his Northeast Baltimore home.

In 1948, he married Angela D. Carr, who died in 1996.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today at St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, 5500 York Road in Govans.

In addition to his children, Mr. Maenner is survived by three brothers, Robert E. Maenner and Charles J. Maenner Jr., both of White Hall, and Richard C. Maenner of Rosedale; four sisters, Ellen M. Monaghan of Goleta, Calif., Charlotte E. Maenner of Baltimore, Pearl M. Preller of Brooklandville and Catherine M. Cromwell of Timonium; and six grandchildren.

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