Carl E. Greeley, who started out as a meat cutter but later owned and operated Geresbeck stores where he became the “shrimp king”, died of pneumonia May 17 at his home in Fallston. He was 92 years old.
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 housewife. Mr. Greeley attended Baltimore city schools, but at age 16 he dropped out to help support his family. He then got his GED.
He learned meat cutting at a neighborhood market, then worked at the Baltimore Sales Book Co. bookbinding. He joined his future father-in-law, Agatino “Gus” Capizzi, at a nearby neighborhood market, C&G Market , on Lafayette Avenue and Durham Street in East Baltimore.
At C&G, he trimmed and cut the meat. He also met his future wife, Joséphine Capizzi, the owner’s daughter. They married in 1951.
Mr. Greeley quit the corner business and became a manager of the former Food Fair, a Philadelphia-based company. When the stores changed their name to Pantry Pride, he led the Joppa Road operation.
Mr. Greeley heard of an opportunity to own a grocery store, 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 independently owned.
Mr. Greeley later named it after himself, Carl’s Bi-Rite. 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 got into real estate and bought the Logan Village shopping center in Dundalk with a partner. The center was old and showing its age, but there was a Captain Harvey sub sandwich and it was a gathering place.
It was a family business. He first worked alongside his wife, who handled the payroll. His daughter joined him and remains active in the operation, as does his grandson Justin.
In 1985, he purchased the Geresbeck stores in eastern Baltimore County from owners Charles and Liz Clark. The store had a side donut business next door, and Mr Greeley broke through the wall and expanded his in-store bakery, which grew in popularity. Its bakers have made Baltimore favorites such as peach cake, smear, a version of light cheesecake and eclairs.
“Mr. Greeley was one of Baltimore’s former local grocers. It’s a title few can still claim, from a generation that focused on the local neighborhood and knew most customers by name. Even in his 90s, he looked after his three grocery stores, now 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 shops to have special products and asked his bakers to make rye bread in light, seeded and dark varieties.
He also modernized 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 all night,” said his daughter Joanne Graham, who started working alongside her father when she was 12. “We peel our own potatoes, onions and celery for potato salad. We chop cabbage for coleslaw. It’s a lot of work. Geresbeck foods have become well known for picnics and holidays.
She said Mr Greeley was known as the ‘prawn king’.
Its seafood department filled up on New Year’s Eve, when customers wanted raw or steamed shrimp. He believed in offering shrimp in different sizes and at competitive prices.
Years in the Baltimore market have informed Mr. Greeley that Baltimore buyers have pinched their pennies.
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“My dad believed in sales volume and kept his prices reasonable,” his daughter said. “There were times when we made a penny on a pound of crabmeat, but my dad wanted Geresbeck to be a destination store.”
Mr. Greeley thought his stores should also have their own style of advertising, and he composed flyers that would be distributed throughout eastern Baltimore County.
“My father loved to invent advertisements and personalize them. He drew the manager’s faces in a sort of cartoonish style,” his daughter said. “He said he learned to do cartoons as a kid when he was tracing the fun papers. He did the layout and picked out the coloring. He had the neatest handwriting.
Mr. Greeley remained an active merchant. In 2019, he bought the Pasadena location of another local store, Lauer’s, and renamed it Geresbeck’s, adding it to two others, in the Hawthorne Mall in Middle River and Glen Burnie in 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 Monday at 10 a.m. at St. Mark’s Catholic Church, 2407 Laurel Brook Road, Fallston.