By Joanna Sullivan – Editor-in-Chief, Baltimore Business Journal
Mar 26, 2021, 7:00am EDT
Bond Distributing Co.
Year founded: 1950
Number of generations: Three
Ronnie Footlick credits her mother, Tillie Borow, as the visionary who created Bond Distributing Co.
Sure, her father, Robert Borow — whom she called "the consummate salesman " — gets much of the credit. But she said her mother was the person who convinced him that he wouldn't go far at the Pabst Brewing Co. in Philadelphia. He had worked there for 14 years without a promotion.
"She told him, 'There's so much anti-Semitism. You're the only Jewish employee. They're never going to promote you. We should be in business for ourselves," Footlick said.
Her mother "scrounged up the money" and convinced her husband it was time to buy his own distribution operation. That step took the family to Baltimore, where Bond Distributing Co. is now one of the largest beverage distributors in the state. The company, which just celebrated its 70th anniversary, distributes beer, wine liquor and soft drinks to more than 3,000 retail customers in Greater Baltimore.
That's not bad for a company that started out with two trucks and four people on Baltimore's Thames Street.
Since then, the company has continued to adapt to a changing alcohol industry, where consolidation and the introduction of craft products have rocked the status quo repeatedly over the years. Bond Distributing Co. created a nonalcoholic division and a craft beer division to try to keep up with the new products pouring into the market.
Footlick and her daughter, Leslie Schaller, said embracing change and being willing to take risks have been the company's hallmarks. She said one of the biggest accomplishments was deciding to carry Coors Brewing Co. products in 1984. At the time, Bond had a deal only with Miller Brewing Co. Distributing for two breweries at the time was unusual.
"We’ve never been afraid. We’ve been willing to make mistakes," Footlick said. "That’s how a business of such longevity not only survives, but thrives."
Bond Distributing Co. also hired Black and women drivers when others wouldn't, Footlick said. She recalled that when they hired their first Black woman driver, "everybody else was appalled."
"She was phenomenal," Footlick said. "She loved the job.’’
She and her two daughters, Schaller and Randi Settleman, are currently running Bond Distributing. They lost Footlick's husband and company president Robert J. Footlick in 2015 to cancer. His partner, Robert "Bob" Pinkner, Footlick's brother-in-law, died last October. The "two Bobs" worked side-by-side with founder Edward Borow until his death in 1980.
The question remains just when the fourth generation will join the business. Schaller said it was a must for family members who wanted to work there to first do something else until they were ready. Schaller joined the company in 1992 and her sister, Randi, came aboard a year later. Her cousins, Stephanie Pinkner Adler and Jeffrey Pinkner, have never worked directly in the business but remain involved on a corporate level, she said. All the cousins have adult children who may or may not join one day.
"We are keeping our fingers crossed that the fourth generation will be back sooner than later," Schaller said.
Meanwhile, Bond remains committed to moving forward and continuing its presence and civic involvement in Baltimore City.
"We are part of Baltimore," Schaller said. "We don’t take that lightly.’"
This article originally appeared in the Baltimore Business Journal