Market trades on personal touch

March 18, 2007|By Mary Ellen Graybill | Mary Ellen Graybill,Special to The Sun

It's relaxing," said Earl Klemm, 53, about his job at the Yates Market on Main Street in historic Ellicott City. Customers are pleased that the store has remained in business since the late 1880s while the town around it has been changing.

Klemm and owner Pauline Jacobs, the former Betty Yates, run the day-to-day operation of the grocery and hardware store at 8249 Main St., where deliveries are still made in the tradition started by Jacobs' grandfather and her father, S. Bladen Yates, who founded the business under the name SJ Yates & Son.

Regular customer Frances Mason, 89, can call up the store and have the order ready for pickup. "It's amazing," she said. "I'm almost 90 and it makes a difference. ... If I want something, she [Jacobs] can get it."

A retired society page writer for a paper in Richmond, Va., Mason said that when she moved to Ellicott City, "Betty's mother ran the hardware store next door, which is now rented out."

Mason said she misses some of the older stores, now gone. "I can't get used to it. The Pet Shop used to be the shoemaker, and I just loved him. I took all sorts of things in there to fix," she said.

She also remembers Pauline Jacobs as little Betty Yates, sweeping and helping her parents in the store in the years before the trend to big supermarkets took away some of the steady business.

Still, there is enough to keep the store going.

"We're between the river and the rocks, so they can't put anything in here like a Wal-Mart. ... It makes it unique," said Enalee Bounds, local historian and editor of the 1972-1992 memorial newspaper about the town of Ellicott City. She is owner of Ellicott's Country Store, also on Main Street, which is celebrating its 45th year.

"I used to go in every morning [for an order of groceries] and then pick it up on my way out at night," Bounds said. "I remember one time I had a flat tire, and I had a doctor's appointment, so I went in to Mr. Yates, because he's right there by the parking lot. And I said, `May I use your phone?' And he said, `Sure, I don't want you to walk all the way down to your shop.' Later, he offered to have his employee repair her tire, and paid the bill."

"And later on, I had people say to me, `Why don't you go to the big food store [the A&P in Catonsville]?' ... I said, `Would a big food store fix my tire and pay for it? I don't think so.'"

Today at the same small Yates Market there is an array of food choices: country ham, bacon, sage sausage, cheddar cheese, hot dogs, cold cuts, pork chops, pepper turkey, fruits and vegetables. There are fresh breads, sodas, seasonal gift items and an occasional gardening kit, hammers, toys, potpourri dishes, gloves, and signs for filet mignon and lamb chops.

There are sugar-free cakes, Tastykakes and 2-cent candies (up from a half-penny in 1890) or 25-cent packs of M&M's. There's a copy of People for sale. The walls are lined with canned goods and groceries up to the tin ceiling, and Klemm will use an antique-looking "grabber" to fetch an item. The natural light filters in, and the traffic buzzes by outside this old-fashioned grocery store in a tourist town.

"$4.20 altogether," Jacobs said to a customer. Inside the store, an atmosphere of quiet and the friendly greetings hark back to Ellicott City's past.

It's a place out of time, dating back to 1885, when Jacobs' ancestor, a short man, spent all day peering up over the counter to help each customer with a bag of fresh ground coffee, cheese or fresh meats. By the 1920s, when the first building was torn down to make way for the present store, just about every inch of the 20-by-40-foot space was filled to the brim with items that included an antique sled, homemade buttercreams, Pfefferkorn's coffee and a glass case of meats and cheeses.

"It was an existing building here that they tore down in the early 1920s, and my family built this building then. They were next door and then they moved it over here. It was always a market. My father started the hardware business in 1948 and sort of combined them in this building," said Jacobs.

Jason Meyerson, a local chiropractor, said the keys made at Yates are the best. A lot of area residents prefer to shop at this quiet, unassuming shop rather than go to malls or big-box stores.

"We deliver one day a week locally," Jacobs said, noting that they will go wherever "we think is reasonable." There are no maps on the wall indicating delivery limits.

"Hello, how are you doing today? What can I get you?" Jacobs asks politely when the door swings open and a customer enters.

Years ago, there was a regular customer called "the Chicken Man."

"Mr. Crawford lived on one of the farms around here, and once a week, he'd come into town to do his shopping. And, I can remember many times he'd have a [live] chicken under his hat. A real chicken!"

These days, it's the tourists from Canada, Australia, England, Germany and France who provide interest and conversation.

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