Sharing photographs and artifacts from the collections of the Saint John Jewish Historical Museum sparks memories for those who look at these remnants of the past. These memories are most easily shared through social media (Facebook). Many who comment have connections of family or friendship to the Saint John Jewish community. What most people remember was the wonderful and personalized service not just from the clerks in the stores, but also from the owners. Others shared detailed memories of the merchandise each store carried.
Fond memories of great customer service included these comments about the Princess Dress Shop: “Miss Selby used to visit my great grandmother and bring her samples of things from the store so my grandmother could order from home a wonderful service.” Similar praise was given to Dreskin’s: “My aunt introduced me to Dreskin’s when I was a student in Saint John. She would get a call from one of the ladies who worked there when something came in that might interest her. She bought most of her clothes there and was always dressed well. When I needed a summer coat, as you do in [Saint John], she took me there and I found the perfect one. Personal service was the backbone of that business.”
Others remembered the merchandise. What child wouldn’t have been excited by this description of Duval’s hardware store? “I have fond memories of Mort Paikowsky’s store with its extensive stock of hardware and the toy department on the second level up stairs. There was a fabulous toy selection and an electric train display that was all set up and really fabulous … a whole setup with the trains rolling through the countryside, bridges, train whistles etc. that could keep a young person’s attention for a long time. Those were the days…”
The son of the store’s owner recalled: “Many memories of our store! A coal-burning furnace to heat the building. A catwalk ramp raised and lowered across the back alley to connect the store to the warehouse. Open early weekday mornings for the tradespeople on their way to a job site. We cut and sold glass and “putty and points” to the glaziers. So many items weighed and sold in bulk: nails, screws, nuts and bolts. The toy department was a wonder for any kid, and we sold chemistry sets and model steam engines! And we sold school supplies just before and during the first days of back-to-school. Campfire notebooks and Hilroy scribblers. Geometry sets and Quink Ink for refillable pens.”
Family members of some store owners remembered how hard their parents worked to make their stores successful. Bryna Burtch remembered Berny’s: “That was my Father’s store. I remember it well. He was a hard worker.”
Naomi Dreskin-Anderson remembered watching her aunt and uncle, Belle and Philip Hamburg while “visiting Dreskin‘s as a little girl on our annual visits to my Hamburg family and watching my aunt Belle helping women shoppers with their choices. It was so personalized. Nothing I had experienced before. My mother … would come away with something new and top quality. …. It was always a thrill to see my name up on a storefront.”
Some shops were as much about the taste and the sights and sounds: “The Sun Ray had a lunch counter that had the best steamed hot dogs and smoked meat and salami sandwiches. They also made a great milk shake. The fruit baskets, dulse and available kosher foods and Passover food orders … Moe and Harry [Holtzman] sure new their business.”
For some, working in a Jewish store, was their first job and a family obligation: “I loved helping out my grandparents [Ideal Store]. Also, one time I went in the front window with some store clothes on and pretended to be a mannequin (like my father before me).” Another commented: “Loved this summer job, on payday you got cash in a little brown pay envelope, going to the stock room upstairs was an adventure, downstairs was a bargain basement and shoes! The store was busy and it was a happy time serving customers.” It was a similar story around the corner at Calp’s: “My grandfather’s, and then my father’s, store. … I worked in almost every department and gained valuable experience which I was able to use when I moved to ON. I met and worked with so many amazing people who were like family. ”
The doors to the Jewish businesses in Saint John may no longer be open, but the rich memories endure.
Saint John Jewish Historical Society Inc.