Joseph M. Bolewicki Jr., East Baltimore’s appliance man for more than six decades, died Wednesday, July 21, at Stella Maris Hospice. He was 83 years old. Everyone called him Mr. Joe.
Mr. Joe owned and ran Bolewicki’s Appliance Center in Highlandtown for 64 years, first with his father, and then after his father retired in the early 1960s, on his own.
Bolewicki’s specialized in General Electric Co. appliances from its founding in 1946.
Joe Bolewicki Jr. graduated from Loyola Blakefield High School and attended the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. Before completing his academy training he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served aboard a hospital ship, the USS Consolation, in the Pacific.
Later in the war he transferred to the Philadelphia Navy Hospital, and shipped his laundry home for washing, pleading exhaustion after long nights at the hospital.
Once he got out of the Navy his father tore down a real estate office he owned at Eastern Avenue and Clinton Street and built Bolewicki’s Appliance Center. The grand opening was in November 1946.
From its founding, Bolewicki’s specialized in General Electric Co. appliances, from washers to stoves to dryers to fridges. Mr. Joe won several sales awards from the company over the years.
He was one of the founding members of the St. Casimir Catholic War Veterans Post 1746 shortly after World War II. He suggested that members ante up $1,000 or more apiece to purchase aprominent corner building on O’Donnell Square. For decades that building was the scene of dances, card games, socials and dinners. The group sold the building in 2002 to Canton restaurateur Patrick “Scunny” McCusker, and the building now houses Mama’s on the Half Shell. McCusker memorialized the CWV post with a sign on the second story of the building.
Mr. Joe loved to travel, and took cruises to Europe, the Caribbean, Hawaii and other faraway places, often as a reward for his store’s brisk sales of GE appliances. His sisters said that counting the countries he visited during World War II, he visited “36 or 38 countries…we can’t name them all.”
When his father retired, he incorporated the business in the names of Joe, Agatha and Irene Bolewicki, and for a time all three worked the store. Later on, the sisters visited less and less, but Agatha continued to work on books and payroll and Irene greeted customers whenever they stopped by the store. “Joe said he wanted family around him,” said Irene. “He didn’t want strangers running the store.”
He was married twice.
He loved to race homing pigeons and won many trophies for races. “He would race many weekends,” said Agatha. “He would stand on top of his garage on Sunday evenings timing his birds.”
His mother, Lillian, got him started in stamp collecting. “Ivory Snow had a deal where you would send in so many labels and they would send you back stamps,” said Irene. “On a snow day he would spend hours going through his volumes of foreign stamps.” He added to his collection during the war and on his many travels abroad.
His sisters said that Mr. Joe was very quiet about his last illness. Neighbors worried when he did not come to the Highlandtown Farmers Market, which he enjoyed.
Friends visited him at Stella Maris, and his sisters brought him crabcakes. Mr. Joe was a connoisseur of steamed crabs, and a friend brought him a few at the hospice, which he enjoyed. One of the flower arrangements at his funeral had a steamed crab theme.
Mr. Joe is survived by his sisters, Agatha Bolewicki and Irene Bolewicki; and many cousins. He had a son, Stephen, who died at the age of three months. Mr. Joe is buried in St. Stanislaus Cemetery next to his baby.