Harold Graul Sr., 83, grocery chain founder

November 11, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Harold F. Graul Sr., founder of Graul's Markets Inc., a chain of gourmet grocery stores, died of cancer Sunday at his Annapolis home. He was 83.

Mr. Graul was born in Baltimore and raised in Highlandtown. His father, a grocer, established a market in 1920 on East Monument Street.

"He learned the grocery business working in his father Frederick Graul's grocery store. He did everything from custom-cutting meats to making deliveries," said a son, Harold F. Graul Jr., president of the family business.

Mr. Graul was a 1938 graduate of Patterson Park High School and enlisted in the Army Air Forces during World War II. He served as a gunner aboard B-24 bombers in the Pacific.

After the war, he returned to Baltimore and rejoined his father in the grocery business. He took over its operation after his father died in 1951.

In 1958, he opened a second Graul's Market in Cape St. Claire, outside Annapolis. He closed the Highlandtown store the next year, and didn't expand again until 1973 when he acquired Harrington's on Bellona Avenue in Ruxton.

Three years later, he established a store on Mount Carmel Road in northern Baltimore County, and opened a fourth one on Rowe Boulevard in Annapolis in 1982.

The business is now operated by fourth-generation family members.

"The fact that he was able to get his three sons and daughter to stay and work in the business was an accomplishment. He treated us well and made it look like a business we'd want to work in," said Harold Graul Jr., who lives in Baltimore.

Mr. Graul was able to combine an outgoing personality with a business philosophy that always put the customer's needs first.

"I first got to know Pappy Graul - that's what we affectionately called him - in the early 1960s because we bought from the same wholesale company. He was an extremely knowledgeable and innovative grocer," said John W. Hurt, former owner of Doc's Quick Shop, a chain of 10 Eastern Shore convenience stores. "When he opened the Cape St. Claire store, the metropolitan area was dominated by the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., Acme, Food Fair and Safeway chain stores. And here he was opening a 6,000-square-foot independently owned market."

"All of his stores had bakeries, delis and seafood departments. Today, that's fairly common in grocery stores, but it wasn't 40 years ago. And people were always willing to drive to Graul's because of the quality of their products. And that can be laid at Pappy's feet," he said.

It wasn't uncommon for Mr. Graul's day to begin at 6 a.m. and end at midnight.

"He had a wonderful work ethic and his kids learned that from their father. They all knew what it takes to be successful," Mr. Hurt said.

"He never took more than a day or two of vacation and only had his first real vacation after retiring in 1983," the son said.

Even though he was retired, he still visited his Cape St. Claire store.

"He was a man who enjoyed being around people and he loved talking to his customers," the son said.

Last week, the elder Mr. Graul was inducted into the Maryland Food Industry Hall of Fame.

"Harold Graul Sr. had no college education, but he had a good business sense and learned the business from the bottom up. Most of all, he was a great people person and knew how to treat employees and customers," read the citation. "He set a standard for independent operators with quality products and well-maintained stores."

His professional memberships included the Independent Grocers and Mid-Atlantic Food Dealers associations.

Mr. Graul enjoyed fishing and boating and was a member of the Annapolis Yacht Club. He was also a Mason and member of Boumi Temple.

In 1942, Mr. Graul married Mary C. Landis, who died in 1988. He is survived by his wife of 14 years, the former Nancy T. Neuland.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at John M. Taylor Funeral Home, 147 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis.

In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by two other sons, Thomas A. Graul of Hunt Valley and Frederick A. Graul of Annapolis; a daughter, Mary S. Evans of Centreville; and seven grandchildren.

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