First, there was Suburban House. Then, there was Gourmet Again. (And let’s not even get started about the old Fields Cafe.)
Now, you can add another Pikesville landmark to the dustbin of local culinary and noshing history. Edmart Deli closed its doors Dec. 31 after more than 61 years in business.
Edmart’s closing comes in the wake of the high-profile demises of the Suburban House restaurant in late 2017 and the Gourmet Again market last May, as well as other local Jewish-owned businesses in recent years such as Greetings & Readings, Tuxedo Pharmacy, Cohen’s Clothiers, Diversions and Trillium.
The 900-square-foot deli and gourmet and specialty foods store, at 1427 Reisterstown Rd., was featured on the Food Network and known for its corned beef and pastrami, as well as the folksy friendliness of owner Shelley Kelly.
Kelly, 68, said she was closing the deli to spend more time with her grandchildren in New Jersey, and because her rent was increased significantly.
“Business has been OK lately, but my rent was raised,” she said. “It’s frightening. They’re making such high prices. I can’t understand why.”
Kelly said she is currently negotiating with a prospective buyer to take over the deli operation. Still, she said leaving the business created by her parents was quite bittersweet for her.
“I’ve been struggling with this for a while, but I know it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “I really hope this person buys the business. It would be such a wonderful thing for the whole community. We’re playing it down to the wire here.”
Popular Edmart items included salami, brisket, white fish salad, halvah, lox, chopped liver, chopped herring and different varieties of cream cheese. A“kosher-style” establishment with a small dining area, the store sold kosher meats, bagels from Goldberg’s New York Bagels and challah from Rosendorff’s Bakery.
Edmart’s brisket sandwiches were lavishly praised in the media by no less than Duff Goldman, proprietor of Charm City Cakes and a Food Network star.
Kelly grew up working at Edmart alongside her parents, the late Martin F. Lev and Ruth Adler Lev.
Located on “downtown” Pikesville’s main street, Edmart was founded in 1958 by Martin Lev and his partner, Eddie Stern. They named it Edmart, a portmanteau of Eddie and Martin, and Stern eventually sold his share of the business to Lev.
Lev passed away in January of 2008, while his wife died five years later.
Lev’s father, Carl, co-founded the popular and well-remembered Sussman and Lev’s delicatessen, which operated in East Baltimore from 1926 to 1956.
Edmart has long been a favorite among local delicatessen lovers, especially for its unique edible offerings, holiday meals and shiva trays.
In the 1998 documentary “Divine Food: 100 Years in the Kosher Delicatessen Trade,” L. John Harris, a California cookbook author and food writer, said, “In my mind, the style, feel and appearance of Martin Lev’s deli harks back to a time in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. There’s a trend for delicatessens these days to be more like restaurants. Edmart, on the other hand, is a neighborhood store that is not so much a place to sit and eat but to go and get.”
Since taking over the business, Kelly frequently attended food shows and conventions around the country, bringing back samples of new products to share with staff and customers.
“Days go by quickly, the work is exciting, and I never know who will be coming into the store,” Kelly said in a 2017 Jmore profile of Edmart.
A mother of two and grandmother of three, Kelly — who frequently jokingly referred to herself as “Shelley Kelly in the Deli” — said she considers her Edmart employees and customers to be part of her family.
In the 2017 Jmore article, Sheldon Gimbel, who worked at Edmart since 1996, said he thoroughly enjoyed the store’s camaraderie and atmosphere. “Edmart is the ‘Cheers’ of Pikesville, where everyone knows your name,” he said.
Christina Barbour, site supervisor for the St. Clement’s Island Museum in St. Mary’s County, ate at Edmart two years ago after visiting the Fire Museum of Maryland in Lutherville. She said she was saddened to hear of the deli’s closing.
“We really enjoyed it. I’m sure it will be sorely missed,” said Barbour. “It was really nice to go to a local business instead of a corporate place. But after 61 years, you might want a break. It certainly was a good place while it lasted.”
Alan Smith, owner of Lenny’s Deli in Owings Mills, said he was sorry to hear the news about Edmart.
“It’s just another mom-and-pop going by the wayside. Very sad,” he said. “I don’t know the details, but I know [Edmart has] been there for years. It seems like everything these days is run by big conglomerate companies. I’m proud that we’ve been around for so long. It’s not easy these days, it’s a lot of hard work. It’s getting harder and harder, but we’re not planning to go anywhere. We’re happy to be here and feel very lucky.
“I guess all good things come to an end,” Smith said. “But it’s very sad to see them go.”
Baltimore resident Jack Zager agreed. He said he had not stopped by Edmart in a while, but “I”m sorry to see them go. They had delicious deli, and I really liked the personal service/attention by Shelley. She was always so sweet and could never do enough for her customers. She also often threw in a little treat with your order, which was a nice touch and something you just don’t see much anymore.”
Ted Merwin, author of “Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli” (NYU Press), said he felt Edmart’s demise was “emblematic of the mom-and-pop businesses that were such a fixture of the urban and suburban streetscape. The rise of chain stores and franchises have almost completely obliterated these [businesses].
“It’s ironic that, to the modern ear, Edmart brings to mind Walmart and Kmart,” said Merwin, who lives in Pikesville. “As an eatery that serves a wide variety of kosher meat but not under rabbinical supervision (which is common these days in Israel but quite rare in America), Edmart was a throwback to an earlier era in which more non-Orthodox Jews were willing to pay a premium for kosher beef and poultry.”
Beth Rheingold, president of the Pikesvillle-Owings Mills Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Edmart’s closing was a big loss for the community.
“We are deeply saddened to see Edmart close its doors after serving Pikesville loyally for over six decades,” Rheingold said. “The POM Chamber wishes Shelley the very best in her retirement. “