The guy from Merrill Lynch wants a pack of cigarettes but no matches. The man from the car shop down the street likes to play fives on his lottery tickets. Peggy Kimbo from over by the State House will buy the ticket with a picture of a turkey on it.
These are things Jack Gritz knows without asking after 28 years behind the counter at his family's downtown Annapolis liquor store. It's a legacy of personal knowledge handed down from his father, Abraham, and his mother, Bessie, who first sold spirits on West Street during the Depression.
But it's a legacy that will end on New Year's Eve, when Gritz Liquors, the last in a generation of West Street storefronts, closes for the final time. Bessie Gritz died in March at age 95, and her sons, Jack and Herman, don't have time to keep a full schedule behind the counter.
The closing has not come easily. "It really hurts me," said Jack Gritz, 64, a slight man with a white beard and a gentle voice. "It hurts me bad."
Longtime Annapolitans expressed like feelings. "It's the end of an era," said John Hammond, the Anne Arundel County finance director and a former alderman. "Liquor stores have come and liquor stores have gone, but Gritz has stayed."
Easy to miss from the outside, Gritz Liquors unfolds like a family photo album inside. Pictures of Abraham and Bessie stare down from a hand-built wooden shelf behind the cash register. Vintage bottles - Carstairs White Seal whiskey, Imported Lancers Rose Wine, Old Grand-Dad bourbon - occupy a corner. Off to one side is Jack Gritz's model train workshop, where he used to perform repairs for William Donald Schaefer when he was governor.
Much of the stock is tailored to customers' personal requests. Jack Gritz makes sure to have old-time candies such as Necco Wafers, Boston Baked Beans and Bit-O-Honeys, because people like them and can't get them at the convenience store. He has combs and eyeglass repair kits because people have asked over the years.
Customers enter like old chums.
"I'll take you out for a steak dinner if I win," said Ricky Russell, upon purchasing a Lotto ticket from Jack Gritz.
"As long as there's a good bottle of wine," Gritz replied.
"Oh, that's a given," Russell said.
Kimbo said she has been coming to Gritz Liquors for "many decades" and will miss it. Commenting to Jack Gritz on the death of a mutual acquaintance, she said, "It's just sad, Jack, sad."
"We're losing a lot of good people," he replied.
He could have been talking about his mother, whom he described as "more like a partner in recent years." Bessie Gritz was, by all accounts, an equal mix of feisty and kind.
She kept a policeman's club behind the counter and waved it at drunks, shouting, "Get outta my store," in her gravelly voice. Once, a man tried to rob the elderly woman only to have her slam the cash register drawer on his fingers. Police caught the robber at a McDonald's next store, washing blood off his hand.
The softer Bessie Gritz gave out lollipops to neighborhood children and sodas to passing police officers.
In her 70s and 80s, she was known for taking her pet Shih Tzu, Brandy, on long walks through downtown. At age 94, she was still working more than 50 hours a week behind the counter.
"People came in a lot just to ask her questions about the old city," Jack Gritz said,
The family's Annapolis story began in the early 1920s, when Abraham Gritz arrived from Poland at age 18 and served as an apprentice to Main Street tailor Sam Greenfield, who would also become his father-in-law. In 1928, Gritz opened his own tailor shop on West Street - in space that would house the liquor store. Jack Gritz still displays a framed photo from that year of his father surrounded by sewing equipment.
After Prohibition was lifted in 1933, a friend dared Bessie Gritz to open a liquor store. "My father thought it was a ludicrous idea," Jack Gritz said. "But he said if she wanted to do it, she could go ahead. He figured if it fizzed out, we could at least keep the tailor shop."
Instead, liquor sales quickly outstripped those of the Stetson hats and silk ties Abraham Gritz peddled. So beer, wine and spirits became the family business.
The Gritzes lived in a two-bedroom apartment above the store. As a child, Jack Gritz played with the son of a neighboring merchant who ran Antoinette's Restaurant.
Signs for businesses such as Submarine Haven and Kirson's hung over the entire first block of West Street. A diesel train, which dropped off goods to the stores, ran by regularly.
Abraham and Bessie Gritz felt at home behind the counter, their son said.
"My father was like a bartender," Jack Gritz said. "He always cared about other people and wanted to know about everybody's problems. People came in not just to buy stuff but to chitchat."
If a customer couldn't get to the store to pick up a case of Stroh's or Hamm's beer, Abraham Gritz would deliver - free of charge.
Abraham Gritz died in 1976, and his wife initially wanted to close the store. But Jack Gritz said he talked his mother out of it. He and his brother gave up hours at other jobs to help out
"Years ago, I think people jumped at the opportunity to take over Mom and Dad's business," Jack Gritz said. "It was more of a privilege for me, really, trying to make a success on something my parents did."
Jack Gritz said the business still makes money, but he and his brother can't work out the scheduling and can't find sufficient help. Jack Gritz, who lives in Annapolis, works part time at Sears. Herman, who could not be reached, is retired and lives in Silver Spring. They plan to retain ownership of the building and hope someone else will lease the storefront to run a liquor store amid West Street's new class of restaurants and coffee shops.
"A lot of people depend on us," Jack Gritz said. "I wouldn't like to see somebody rip it out to make a bookstore or a record shop. It wouldn't be the same."