Nathan Baum, 91, shoe salesman in Baltimore for half a century

March 22, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Nathan Baum, a retired shoe salesman whose attentiveness to style and fit earned him legions of customers during his more than 50-year career, died of heart failure Monday at Northwest Hospital Center. He was 91 and lived in Pikesville.

Mr. Baum was born in Baltimore and raised on Madison Avenue. After graduating from City College in 1930, he went to work as a shoe salesman for Roy Logan Shoes in the 400 block of E. Baltimore St., eventually becoming the store's manager.

"Natty was a very amiable and personable young man who made lots of friends and many of his customers became close friends," said Lee C. Livon, who was hired by Mr. Baum in 1937. "He was very thoughtful and caring. He was also a good fitter and made sure that shoes always fit properly.

In the 1940s, Mr. Baum left Roy Logan Shoes and went to work for Hess Shoes in its Baltimore Street store as a salesman. He also trimmed the store's show windows with the latest styles in seasonal displays that he carefully fashioned.

"He was tall, handsome and had a beautifully trimmed mustache," said Mr. Livon, who later was assistant manager and buyer in the children's department at Hess until opening Lee's Bootery in the Fallstaff Shopping Center. "He was also a good dresser and sartorially correct all the time. He wore single-breasted suits with a vest. He really looked like a banker."

Because Mr. Baum managed to combine his natural loquaciousness with expert salesmanship, his customer base ranged from Redwood Street stockbrokers, bankers, judges and lawyers to the ordinary man on the street who was looking for a good pair of shoes.

"They called him `The Shoe Man from Hess,'" said his wife of 59 years, the former Sylvia Kleger. "He was so honest that he wouldn't sell a shoe that didn't fit properly."

Mrs. Baum said her husband was held in high regard by his regular customers.

"They'd call up and order shoes by phone," she said. "That's how much they trusted him."

"He was a great fellow who was deeply loved by his customers," said George B. Hess Jr., retired chairman of Hess Shoes, which was founded in Baltimore in 1872 and closed in 1999. "What made him successful was that he loved what he was doing, and that always came through in his relationships with the customer."

"They'd come in the store and yell for him because they loved him so much. They'd say, `Hey, got anything for me today? Anything on sale?' He enjoyed the banter and would shoot back, `Lemme take a look in the back,'" Mr. Hess said, laughing.

When Hess Shoes opened a branch store in Reisterstown Plaza, it sent Mr. Baum to manage the new store.

"He was a little worried at first and asked Mr. Hess if he could come back downtown if it didn't work out," Mrs. Baum said. "He was afraid he'd miss all of his downtown friends."

Before long, Mr. Baum was a roaring success in the new store, fitting shoes and turning customers into trusted old friends.

"He had a few customers out that way, and it wasn't far from his home in Pikesville," Mr. Hess said. "He did well there."

Mr. Baum, who retired in 1995, was a longtime member and treasurer of the Baltimore Shoe Associates.

He briefly served in the Army during World War II until given a medical discharge.

He enjoyed traveling to California in the winter and playing golf.

Mr. Baum was a member of Beth Jacob Congregation.

Services were held Thursday.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Baum is survived by a son, Barry J. Baum of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; a daughter, Arlene Wiener of San Dimas, Calif.; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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