Thomas F. Thompson, 58, operated Coffee Mill in Hampden for decades

December 20, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Thomas F. Thompson, who operated a Hampden coffee and tea store for more than a quarter-century, died Tuesday of lung cancer at his Homeland-area home. He was 58.

Mr. Thompson opened the Coffee Mill on Chestnut Avenue in 1974. Observers said it was one of the first such businesses to open in a working-class neighborhood that has since drawn restaurants, galleries and other shops.

"He had the first boutique store in Hampden, and it was really quite charming," said David Key, owner of Key Coffee and the Daily Grind. "My first good coffee experience in Baltimore was at that store. His customers were very loyal to him. They liked him. He had a calming, professorial air about him, with a salt-and-pepper beard, a tweed jacket and sweater."

Born in Baltimore and raised on Halwyn Avenue in Govans, Mr. Thompson was a 1963 graduate of Towson Catholic High School. He earned a degree in psychology from the University of Baltimore and master's degree in education from Morgan State University. From 1971 to 1978, he taught math in the Baltimore City public schools' Classrooms Without Walls program, a nontraditional learning experience for at-risk children.

While teaching in Southwest Baltimore, he visited the old J. Edward Custy Coffee Co., a South Carrollton Avenue wholesale business begun in the 19th century that he later bought.

"They [the Custys] taught me the delivery routes, the loose-tea business and how to blend coffees, mixing Colombian beans with Brazilian to get house blends. They showed me the path to good coffee," he said this year in a Sun interview.

Mr. Thompson ran the Coffee Mill until this year. His wholesale coffee business remains open.

"He was a real maverick in the caffeine wars," said his brother, Gerald C. Thompson, who lives in Ruxton. "Tom took the enjoyment of coffee and tea to a very personal level. He'd work with you until you were satisfied. When the Starbucks came in, it never changed his style. His customers knew exactly what they were going to get when they came through the door."

He had other locations, including Main Street in Ellicott City from 1974 to 1976, Brown's Arcade on Charles Street from 1981 to 1986 and Belvedere Square in Govans from 1986 to 2000.

"He educated his customers about different coffees, which reflected his roots as a teacher," said Patti Pfefferkorn Griffin, an owner of the Pfefferkorn Coffee Co. "He was very much an old-fashioned shopkeeper too, who never stopped trying to please his customers. He was also very much at the forefront when the coffee industry went into new facets. It was in his nature to be creative."

Friends recalled his shop was filled with old coffee and tea bins, and its air was redolent with his wares.

"When you entered his business, you entered his life," said a childhood friend, Mike Tewey, who lives in Westport, Conn. "When you walked in his store, it was like you entered his living room. He was an incredibly loyal friend."

"He cared about the people around him and the people he met every day," said Ed Bloom, who owns Ethel and Ramone's Restaurant in Mount Washington. "He could always find the good in somebody. He loved the Hampden people. He always wanted the hardware stores and the mom-and-pop grocery stores to remain and not be displaced by the craft shops."

Mr. Thompson was active in Democratic politics. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus and was a board member of Florence Crittenton Services of Baltimore.

A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Mary's of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, 5500 York Road, where he was a member.

In addition to his brother, survivors include his wife of 18 years, Rosemary Maguire; a daughter, Allisun Thompson of Baltimore; his mother, Mary Elizabeth Thompson of Timonium; and a sister, Mary Barbara Schmidt of New Freedom, Pa.

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