Joseph M. Bolewicki Jr., an appliance dealer who was recalled as the "last of the old-school Highlandtown retail giants," died July 21 of cancer at Stella Maris Hospice. He was 84 and lived in Northeast Baltimore.
"He ran a great neighborhood business," said Patrick Michael McCusker, owner of Nacho Mama's restaurant in Canton. "His store brought me back in time. When you bought an appliance from him, you also bought a piece of his character."
Born in Baltimore, he grew up in Canton and attended St. Brigid's Parochial School and was a 1944 Loyola High School graduate. He attended classes at the school on Calvert Street as well as at Blakefield in Towson.
He attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., and enlisted in the Navy. He served aboard a hospital ship, the USS Consolation, in the Pacific during World War II. Later during the war, he transferred to the Philadelphia Navy Hospital. After the war, he was a founder of a Catholic War Veterans Post on O'Donnell Square.
In 1946, he joined his father to convert the elder Mr. Bolewicki's real estate business at Eastern Avenue and Bouldin Street into Bolewicki's Appliance Center. Located between Haussner's restaurant and the Patterson theater, it soon became one of the larger-volume stores in Baltimore. He worked alongside his father and two sisters.
"Mrs. Haussner would buy her appliances from Joe," said his sister, Agatha Bolewicki of Baltimore, with whom he worked. "Joe sold to customers generation after generation. Younger couples making a purchase would tell him their grandparents bought from him."
Friends said he did not use a hard sell.
"Sales were the last thing on his mind," said Gregory Horner, the store's manager. "He would talk about you or the neighborhood or travel prior to getting into any type of sales conversation. He made you feel comfortable, as if you had been here dozens of times before."
Mr. Bolewicki sold a range of appliances. In the 1940s and 1950s, he offered many television sets, but withdrew from this market when digital models arrived. He said he would not sell what he could not understand.
He was able to work a six-day week at the store until this spring. He sat in a chair, given to him by the Haussner family, in the front window.
He also had another stock phrase: "I won't sell you anything bad because if I do, you'll yell at me on church on Sunday."
A Roman Catholic, Mr. Bolewicki was a member of the Shrine of the Little Flower parish in Belair-Edison, where his funeral was held July 24.
"He was well-respected in the community," said the church's pastor, the Rev. Michael J. Orchik. "He was a very affirming friend, and generous too. If the parish needed an appliance, we never got an invoice. He was friendly and warm, cheerful and upbeat. He had a good effect on me. I enjoyed his company."
Mr. Bolewicki was also a listener and benefactor of the Radio Mass of Baltimore.
"He liked hearing sermons preached by Jesuits," said his sister, Irene Bolewicki of Baltimore, with whom he also worked.
Mr. Bolewicki won numerous General Electric sales incentive promotions. He traveled with other dealers throughout England, France, Italy and Austria. For several years, he was named a GE Merchant of the Year.
Mr. Bolewicki loved birds. He bred and raced pigeons and prized birds with white and yellow plumage. The hymn "On Eagle's Wings," which his sisters said he often hummed, was played at his funeral.
He also liked Maryland crabs and visiting different restaurants on Sunday afternoons with his sisters. He preferred the Greek restaurants of Southeast Baltimore and the Peppermill in Lutherville.
In addition to his sisters, survivors include cousins. His wife of many years, the former Margaret V. Coughlin, died this year. An infant son, Stephen Bolewicki, died many years ago.
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