Lorraine L. Stutman

Owner Of Popular Roland Park Consignment Shop Helped Clothe Three Generations Of Women In High-end Fashion

November 12, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Lorraine L. Stutman, whose popular Roland Park clothing consignment shop kept women dressed in glamorous designer clothing for 40 years, died of heart failure Nov. 3 at St. Elizabeth Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Southwest Baltimore.

She was 90 and had lived on Park Heights Avenue.

Lorraine Libby Titelman, the daughter of a tailor and homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in the 2300 block of Guilford Ave.

After graduating from Eastern High School in 1937, she went to work as a secretary. In 1940, she married Herman Stutman, who owned and operated a ticket, tag and label company. He died in 1987.

"My mother had a natural flair for color and interior design. She was always decorating our house or a friend's, picking out wallpaper and new fabrics," said her daughter, Myra S. Perel of Baltimore.

While living in Mount Washington and later Roland Park, Mrs. Stutman began selling clothing from her home.

"My father had a new suit, and one day a man came by, he tried it on, it fit and she sold it," Ms. Perel said, laughing.

After she sold her husband's suit, Mr. Stutman suggested that she find a location and open a store.

"He was driving to work one morning and noticed an empty storefront at Roland Avenue and 41st Street. He thought it was the perfect location, and the rent was $15 a month," Ms. Perel recalled.

Mrs. Stutman opened Clothes Closet Unlimited in 1960 on Roland Avenue and immediately began attracting customers with her window displays that showcased the designer clothing brought in on consignment.

Mrs. Stutman changed her display windows once a month.

"Her windows were the talk of the town," her daughter said.

"At first, people who saw the windows were fearful to come in because the window decor and clothing looked too expensive," she said. "And then there was the stigma that people had about buying clothing already worn. Fortunately, those negatives were quickly replaced with great enthusiasm."

Ms. Perel, who worked in the store from 1975 to 1992, attributed the store's popularity to her mother's rigorous and exacting standards.

"The consignees did very well because she would only accept designer clothing that was clean and in excellent condition, and not more than two years old," she said. "Word leaked out, and all these women from Roland Park and Pikesville were bringing in their clothing."

Mrs. Stutman also had demanding standards for her staff of five.

"She set very high standards and criteria, I can tell you. She wanted clothing to be laid out a certain way and with the coat hangers all going in the right direction," Ms. Perel said.

Not everything that Mrs. Stutman sold was high-end. When she opened the store, she reserved an area where clothing sold for little as a dollar.

"We've had our $1 area since we opened," Mrs. Stutman told The Baltimore Sun in a 1991 interview. "You can get dresses, slacks, blouses and skirts. Some of the things might be slightly soiled, but people fix them up and the customers love it."

Linda J. Lloyd, now a sales associate at Macy's in Towson, started working for Mrs. Stutman in 1972 during her senior year of high school, and remained for the next 271/2 years.

"Lorraine was never a boss, and we had more fun when she was there than when she wasn't. She was family and like a mother to me," said Ms. Lloyd, who rose from stock clerk to store manager.

"She reminded me of actress Joan Crawford, sort of exotic-looking and always impeccably dressed. She wore black a lot and charcoal gray. She had such great taste in clothes," Ms. Lloyd said.

During her 40 years in business, Mrs. Stutman served three generations of customers.

"We had weekly customers, and some people wanted to keep it a secret from their friends that they shopped there," Ms. Lloyd said, laughing.

Another tradition instituted by Mrs. Stutman for shoppers was a bowl of Utz salt-free pretzels and a bowl of marshmallows, which customers were urged to munch on while browsing.

Ms. Lloyd recalled when Baltimore magazine named Mrs. Stutman "Matriarch of Consignment Clothing in Baltimore."

After closing the store in 2000, Mrs. Stutman enjoyed spending time with family and friends, her daughter said.

A resident of Har Sinai House on Park Heights Avenue since 2004, Mrs. Stutman played the piano and enjoyed singing.

In the 1940s, she joined Eutaw Place Temple, now Temple Oheb Shalom Congregation.

Graveside services were held Nov. 5 at the Arlington Cemetery of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

Also surviving are a son, Perry A. Stutman of Queenstown; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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