Another local Jewish family-owned business has bitten the dust. Dorman’s Lighting and Design in Lutherville-Timonium recently closed its doors after a 78-year run.
Jmore recently spoke with the company’s longtime president, Stan Dorman, a Monkton resident, about the decision to close.
Jmore: Why close up shop now?
Dorman: We decided to close now after the decline in sales became too much. We all tried to fight against the online shopping incline for years, but it got to be a lost cause.
How has the lighting business changed since you first got into it?
Things now have gotten more technical, and aesthetics have been added to other stores. I stayed with lighting, which is harder to maintain good sales and stay afloat.
What has online shopping done to businesses like yours?
When I was a kid, I would go with my grandmother to the local square block shopping center, and there would be someone selling shoes, seafood, etc. My grandmother would know all these venders, and people were attached to the stores they would shop in. People would look forward to going to these shops.
We have maintained this type of relationship with our regular customers, but the public prefers the convenience of online shopping like Amazon, and they do not care about the local relationships.
Dorman’s Lighting and Design is one of many Jewish family-owned businesses in the area to close recently. Did that impact your decision?
Hearing about the wave of stores shutting down makes it more frustrating. Not just hardware but every genre of store is closing due to people’s reliance on their technology.Why go into your car and drive to a store when you can sit in bed and add what you need to a virtual cart?
How did Dorman’s Lighting and Design start out?
The store opened as a lighting, design and hardware company in 1941.
Who started the business?
My father did when I was a year old. I began taking inventory and dusting shelves at five years old.
What did you learn from your family elders who were running the business?
I learned everything I know about business from my parents. My parents taught me that maintaining integrity in your relationships is the biggest payoff in the end.
When did you take over?
I was 32 when my father died. That was when I knew I needed to step up and take over his position.
Were you ready?
It didn’t occur to me to not go into the business because I had been raised to believe that was my destiny. I was raised to do this. I went along with it, and ultimately I fell in love with the business.
Did that remain the case?
I simply got to not enjoy it as much. I decided to retire and sold my interest in the business. I was prepared to follow my heart and go to law school, but then the company went bankrupt three years after I left. Instead, I got my MBA and ended up buying back the lighting side of the company.
What was the secret to your business’s longevity?
Creating a relationship with the customers is the reason any business does not close after three months. If a customer feels comfortable entering your shop, it can become a sort of distraction and pastime for them. That one customer can turn into 20 and so on. A couple conversations with a customer can ignite a boom for your company.
Also, we have maintained a base of designers and builders. An average employee has been around 20 years. Almost everybody [stayed] until the end.
What will happen to your employees?
My employees have gotten lucky in where most have been able to find jobs, but of course there are some that do not have anything lined up. That is a hard part of closing. You never want to see people you have known for years struggle, but I have faith that everyone will find a place for them.
It’s a true family between everyone involved within the company. Everyone is used to seeing each other every day, so it will be a strange feeling to not have those daily conversations with my employees that I have gotten so used to.
Besides you employees, what will you miss most about the business?
It’s been a place for me to be four hours a day, four days a week. I’ve done this a lot of years, and I have to find a way to kill that time.
What are you plans now?
I have a lot of things that I am excited to work on. I live on a farm, and I am focused on hiking and taking care of the garden. I am currently in a book club, as well as taking philosophy and literature courses at Roland Park Country School. I am going to get back into writing, and do more volunteer work with my free time.
Any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Nurture your curiosity, [keep] your integrity and be open.
Lauren White is a Jmore editorial staff intern.