Carl E. Greeley, a Baltimore-area grocery store entrepreneur, dies – Baltimore Sun

Carl E. Greeley, who began as a meat cutter but went on to own and operate the Geresbeck’s stores where he became the “shrimp king,” died of pneumonia May 17 at his home in Fallston. He was 92.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Valley Street in what was called the Tenth Ward near Green Mount Cemetery, he was the son of Joseph Greeley and Anna Elizabeth “Liz” Trabing, a homemaker. Mr. Greeley attended Baltimore City Schools but at age 16 dropped out to help support his family. He later got his GED.

He learned meat cutting at a neighborhood market then worked in Baltimore Sales Book Co. bindery. He joined his future father-in-law, Agatino “Gus” Capizzi, at a corner neighborhood market, C&G Market, on Lafayette Avenue and Durham Street in East Baltimore.

While at C&G, he trimmed and cut meat. He also met his future wife, Josephine Capizzi, the owner’s daughter. They married in 1951.

Mr. Greeley left the corner business and became a manager for the old Food Fair, a Philadelphia-based business. When the stores changed their names to Pantry Pride, he ran the Joppa Road operation.

Mr. Greeley heard about an opportunity to become a grocery store owner, and in August 1971, he bought his first store on Fort Smallwood Road in Orchard Beach. It was a former Eddie’s Market, the Baltimore-based stores that shared the same name but were owned independently.

Mr. Greeley later named it after himself, Carl’s Bi-Rite. The Bi-Rite stores were also a local chain also with independent owners.

After years of running it, he founded Box N Save stores in 1979. He owned markets under that name in Pasadena, Glen Burnie, Brooklyn Park and on Liberty Road.

He also branched into real estate and bought the Logan Village Shopping Center in Dundalk with a partner. The center was old and showing its age, but it had a Captain Harvey’s sub sandwich and was a gathering spot.

His was a family business. He initially worked alongside his wife, who handled payroll. His daughter joined him and remains active in the operation, as does his grandson Justin.

In 1985, he bought the Geresbeck’s stores in Eastern Baltimore County from owners Charles and Liz Clark. The store had a sideline doughnut business next door, and Mr. Greeley broke through the wall and expanded his in-store bakery, which took off in popularity. His bakers made Baltimore favorites such as peach cake, smearcase, a version of light cheesecake and eclairs.

“Mr. Greeley was one of the old local grocers in the Baltimore. It’s a title that few people can still claim, from a generation that focused on the local neighborhood and knew most customers by name. Even in his 90s, he was tending to his three grocery stores, currently operated by the next generation,” said grocery historian Jeremy Diamond, who wrote “Tastemakers: The Legacy of Jewish Entrepreneurs in the Mid-Atlantic Grocery Industry.”

Mr. Greeley wanted his stores to have special products and directed his bakers to make rye bread in light, seeded and dark varieties.

He also upgraded the delicatessen.

“My father insisted on fresh salads. He was able to hire good workers, and the women came in at 10 p.m. and worked through the night,” said his daughter Joanne Graham, who began working alongside her father when she 12. “We peel our own potatoes, onions and celery for potato salad. We chop the cabbage for the slaw. It is lot of labor. Geresbeck’s foods became well-known for picnics and holidays.”

She said Mr. Greeley was known as the “shrimp king.”

His seafood department filled up on New Year’s Eve, when customers wanted raw or steamed shrimp. He believed in offering shrimp in various sizes and at prices that were competitive.

Years in the Baltimore market informed Mr. Greeley that Baltimore shoppers pinched their pennies.

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“My father believed in selling volume and kept his prices reasonable,” said his daughter. “There were times we’d make a penny on a pound of crab meat, but my father wanted Geresbeck’s to be a destination store.”

Mr. Greeley thought his stores should also have their own individual style of advertising, and he composed circulars that would be distributed throughout Eastern Baltimore County.

“My father loved to make the ads up and personalized them. He drew the manager’s faces in a kind of caricature style,” his daughter said. “He said he learned to make cartoons as a child when he would trace the funny papers. He did the layout and chose the coloring. He had the neatest handwriting.”

Mr. Greeley remained an active merchant. In 2019, he purchased the Pasadena location of another locally-owned store, Lauer’s, and renamed it Geresbeck’s, adding it to two others, in the Hawthorne Shopping Center in Middle River and in Glen Burnie at Sun Valley.

Mr. Greeley is survived by his wife of 71 years, Josephine Capizzi; four daughters, Rose Kenzora of Pikesville; Carol Bateman of Middle River, Gloria Wiessner of Kingsville and Joanne Graham of Baldwin; two brothers, C. Joseph Greeley of Parkville and R. William Greeley of Whiteford; 10 grandchildren; 15 great-grandchildren; and a great-great-granddaughter.

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at Saint Mark’s Catholic Church, 2407 Laurel Brook Road, in Fallston.

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