Dallas V. Smith

The Baltimore native who owned and operated several city clothing stores was known as a thrifty but generous man.

November 25, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Dallas Varden Smith, a retired Baltimore businessman who had owned and operated several clothing stores, died Thursday of cancer at his Pikesville home. He was 73.

Mr. Smith was born in Baltimore and raised in Pigtown and on West Lexington Street. He was a 1953 graduate of Carver Vocational-Technical High School, where he studied business administration.

Mr. Smith's entrepreneurial spirit began when he was a youngster, family members said, when he'd sing and dance to "Don't Fence Me In" for money outside a neighborhood firehouse.

He later worked for several retail and wholesale businesses, where he honed his business skills.

When he was 18, he was manager of the Topps' shoe store on Pennsylvania Avenue.

In 1953, he went to work as a salesman at Pop Kelly's, a well-known Pennsylvania Avenue menswear store across the street from Lafayette Market, where he became head salesman and later a manager.

"Those who remember Pop Kelly's knew that Dallas was Pop Kelly. He was a self-made, savvy businessman and a great salesman. He could sell you anything" said brother-in-law Phillip Brown of Baltimore. "Describing him as a character is an understatement. He would sell you the jacket off his back but would also give you the jacket off his back."

Mr. Brown worked at Pop Kelly's on weekends and evenings while attending high school in the early 1960s.

"A lot of African-Americans who later went on to prominence worked there during Dallas' time because there weren't a lot of retail opportunities for African-Americans in those days," he said. "I remember when [Mayor] Sheila Dixon's father and brother worked there."

Mr. Brown recalled his brother-in-law as a demanding teacher and mentor.

"Those who worked for Dallas learned the art of salesmanship and business practices. As a teacher and mentor, he was tough, but he had a heart of gold," Mr. Brown recalled. "He'd give you an opportunity but would quickly pull you up to show you the error of your ways."

He said Mr. Smith was "patient at times and impossibly impatient at other times," but "rarely suffered fools."

"He was a thrifty, generous man, stern with his terms and requirements," Mr. Brown said. "He always gave you a lecture before lending you money."

In 1977, Mr. Smith left Pop Kelly's and opened his own store, Gibson Men's Shop, in the 1700 block of Pennsylvania Ave.

After the store burned later that year, he re- established the business in Old Town Mall and added a new business, Tops & Bottoms, that sold men's, women's and children's apparel.

While Mr. Smith had excellent taste and enjoyed helping others select clothing, he was a very modest dresser.

"Being a snazzy dresser was not his style. That was not his mode," said his wife of 54 years, the former Sadie Brown.

"Dallas' stores were known for the latest fashions and the best combination of clothes and shoes, which urban kids call a 'hook-up,' " said Mr. Brown, now a Baltimore business consultant.

In 1995, he closed the businesses and retired.

"He had a tremendous personality that affected a lot of people," his wife said.

Mr. Smith was a member of the Thirty Flats, a group of prominent African-American businessmen who, in addition to socializing, shared business trends and tips.

Mr. Smith was an avid golfer whose partners at times included Henry G. Parks, founder of Parks Sausage Co., who died in 1989, and Julius Westheimer, the financial writer and investment broker, who died in 2005.

Mr. Smith enjoyed thoroughbred racing and playing blackjack in Atlantic City, N.J., and Las Vegas casinos.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow in the chapel of the Vaughn Greene Funeral Home, 8728 Liberty Road, Randallstown.

Also surviving are a son, Michael V. Smith of Pikesville; four sisters, Evelyn Boykin and Viola Robinson, both of Baltimore, Catherine Green of the Bronx, N.Y., and Merle Boykin of Connecticut; seven grandchildren; and five great-children. He was predeceased by two daughters, Muriel Smith, who died in 1958, and Roslyn King, who died in 2000.

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