Alda Baptiste Castaldi, who ran an Ellicott City dress shop bearing her name for decades, died Tuesday of a stroke at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson. She was 89.
In 1968, Ms. Castaldi opened a fabric store called Alda Baptiste on Old Columbia Pike in Ellicott City's historic district. She relocated in 1970 to Main Street, where the business became a specialty dress shop.
Ms. Castaldi sold the same kinds of dresses as department stores or larger bridal shops, said her daughter, but the chatty, caring owner offered customers a higher level of service.
Customers "loved the shop, and they loved her," said Carol Castaldi Even of Herndon, Va.
The low-lying Ellicott City historic district proved a problem for Ms. Castaldi's business. Twice in the 1970s, the overflowing Patapsco River devastated her shop. But the floods also provided an unexpected opportunity when property owners began to give up on Main Street and she purchased a building there in 1975.
Ms. Castaldi lived above her shop in the four-story early-1800s building, emulating a once common way of life in the scenic former mill town. By the time she retired and the store closed in November 2000, the shop had become one of the oldest businesses in the historic district, and she had become perhaps the last person there to live where she worked.
"I almost feel like I'm melded in here," Ms. Castaldi told a reporter upon her retirement. She continued to live on the top two floors of the property, which she had restored.
Mrs. Even said her mother adored Ellicott City -- perhaps because it reminded her of her hometown, Gloucester, Mass.
"The small town-ness very much appealed to her," Mrs. Even said. "She liked being able to wave out the window at neighbors. She liked walking up the street to Yates grocer."
James Castaldi of Ellicott City described his mother as energetic and health-conscious. She kept a garden and enjoyed walking on trails in Howard County, he said.
Ms. Castaldi also loved to entertain and travel, and her daughter said she was an avid fan of the Baltimore Opera Company and Center Stage.
A marriage to Enrico "Harry" Castaldi ended in divorce in the early 1970s. He died in 1985.
Her son and daughter remembered the beginnings of the dress shop as late-night sewing sessions in the family home in Catonsville. Mr. Castaldi said his mother would listen to the radio and sew after putting him to bed.
Mrs. Even said her mother's clients appreciated that the dresses, though made from patterns, were "beautifully made."
A memorial service was held yesterday.
In addition to her son and daughter, Ms. Castaldi is survived by another son, Barry Castaldi of Sykesville; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.