Three-year-old Taeden Sidney stopped in his tracks and stood on his tippy-toes for a better look at the Easter bunny in the window of Simon’s Bakery in Cockeysville.
When Eileen Gotcher’s father, George Simon, was running the business, he always put trains in the window for holidays. But after she and her brother took over in 2020, Gotcher swapped in other decor, instead opting for plastic eggs, blow-up ducks and stuffed animals. Simon died last year at 90, though “he planned on retiring at 94,” said Gotcher, who first began working at the bakery herself 45 years ago at the Loch Raven Boulevard and Taylor Avenue location.
Even without trains, the Easter display is adorable, but Gotcher’s exhaustion is palpable. Her day at the bakery starts at 4 or 5 a.m., and sometimes she’s not back at home in Delta, Pennsylvania until 8 p.m. On Good Friday, she planned to work through the evening to fill all the holiday orders. “The slow days are 12 hours,” she said. She and her brother, Matthew Simon, have had trouble finding full-time staff to work at the shop and are “just getting too old and we’re tired.”
So they’re selling the family business, whose sugar cookies, peach cake and holiday displays have delighted generations, and whose roots in Charm City date back to an 1886 storefront in South Baltimore at Hanover and Barney streets. If no one buys the bakery, Simon’s will close at the end of the year, Gotcher said.
Included in the sale price, which Gotcher declined to disclose, are the family recipes for said sugar cookies and peach cake. “I’m really hoping it [the tradition] continues on” with a buyer, she said.
The cookies bear more than a passing resemblance to another Baltimore favorite: Otterbein’s Cookies, sold in red bags at grocery stores and specialty shops. Gotcher said her father used to be in business with Otterbein’s owner before the two bakers went their separate ways. Simon was a second cousin of the Otterbein family and used the same recipe, he told Baltimore Magazine in a 2019 interview. He started his own iteration of Simon’s Bakery in 1963, according to his daughter, and opened the location in Cranbrook Shopping Center in 1977. The Loch Raven branch closed in the 1990s.
But what makes Simon’s version of the cookies unique are the holiday themes. Gotcher uses cookie cutters to create Easter-themed treats in the spring and Mother’s Day ones in May. Customers can even bring in their own shapes and get sweets custom-made. For many patrons, a holiday without them is unthinkable. The store posted Thursday on Facebook that it was already sold out of them.
Simon’s is also one of the few remaining bakeries to sell peach cake, a local favorite for generations. “Everyone goes crazy over it,” Gotcher said. She gets the peaches from an orchard near her home, filling her car with fresh fruit. In the area, only Woodlea and Fenwick bakeries still sell the treat regularly, she said.
The departure of Simon’s would be another painful loss for Baltimore’s generations-old, family-run bakeries, which are already dwindling in number. Hoehn’s Bakery, a Highlandtown institution, shut down in 2021 after nearly a century in business.
“The local bakery is an endangered species,” said Bruce McCubbin of Towson, a longtime Simon’s shopper. He said some of his earliest memories include the bakery’s “thin sugar cookies being on the table for dessert for every major holiday dinner. Easter, Christmas, sometimes just because.”