Every Song Had Its Place -- At Hochschild Kohn Or The Read's Lunch Counter

October 20, 2007|By JACQUES KELLY

I can see the vinyl disc spinning on the turntable at the old Hochschild Kohn music department. The song was "Chanson d'Amour" as sung by Dotty Todd and her husband, Art, the man whose obituary ran this week (he was 93). His musical career began on Kentucky Avenue in Northeast Baltimore, and he credited his mother - and her piano training - for sending him on to a career in music.

Like so many, I also grew up with a piano, in our case an upright Charles M. Steiff that sat at the bottom of the stairs, between the parlor and the dining room. There were those in our household who gave the old Steiff a try, but we tended to leave it alone.

For music, we relied on places such as Hochschild's, where there were well-run record departments. Most all of downtown Baltimore's department and variety stores sold the music of the day - and on a Saturday, when you had some extra money, you bought. As I recall, 45-rpm records were 99 cents, but in the selling frenzy of the 1960s, some of the Lexington Street five-and-dimes discounted them, especially the super-popular Motown artists.

Just the way I associate "Chanson" with Hochschild's, I link another 1950s pop song, "The Poor People of Paris" with the lunch counter at the Read's drugstore in Waverly. The music industry had its hold on us in that era. If you dropped a coin in the little jukebox and pressed a combination on the keys, your song selection was blasted out all over the store, from Greenmount Avenue clear back to Old York Road, over the grilled nut buns in the luncheonette and across the toothpaste and bandage aisles. No one seemed to object.

The opposite of a very public hearing of a song came in the private listening booths of Fred Walker's music store on Howard Street. This place had knowledgeable clerks and little glass booths with turntables. If you wanted a place to spend the day when you hooked school, you headed to Walker's until the sales associates threw you out.

Downtown Hutzler's had a curious record department. You walked up a stylish curved ramp in the Eutaw Street section of the store. The clerks here did not encourage listening to the music before buying - plastic shrink wrap served as a deterrent - but occasionally the rules would be broken.

My mother often detailed her children to go on shopping errands with her friend, Dorothy Croswell, a next-door neighbor.

Dorothy loved pop music and often turned the tables on music clerks. She was an unstoppable hummer and quasi-singer of tunes. She would hear a snatch of a melody on the radio, then repeat her version to the salespeople, instructing them to "find that tune" among the piles of records for sale. After doo-dah-dahing for several minutes - Dorothy was no Rosa Ponselle - the poor, harassed clerk would start playing stuff. And, maybe a half-hour later - maybe not - a sale would be made.


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