I was working on an activity for the Texas Jewish Immigrant Experience Traveling Trunk when I came across a gem on the internet.
I needed information on early Jewish-owned retail businesses to add real life facts to some cards for a board game called Peddler’s Travels, a journey where players learn the trials and tribulations of a Jewish immigrant peddler at the turn of the 20th century.
“Starting in Millican, Texas, the German-born brothers followed the progress of the Houston & Texas Central Railroad, opening new dry goods stores in each town as the tracks moved northward. In 1872, they opened a branch in Dallas, with Alex Sanger coming to manage it. Brother Philip Sanger soon came to help Alex with the business; the two opened a wholesale operation, which supplied small town stores and peddlers throughout the area. In 1879, traveling journalist Charles Wessolowsky called the Sanger Brothers store “an establishment of grandeur, taste, and elegance equal to any in the South,” and likened it to the leading stores in New York City. By 1890, the business employed 250 people and later moved into an 8-story building at Main & Lamar streets.”
Perfect! The Sanger store would serve as a helpful hand for a fictitious peddler trying to earn enough money to open their own store, the end goal to win Peddler’s Travels. But is the name something that Texas students would recognize? Is it still around?
I turned to Google only to find a wonderful treasure trove of data on not just the Sanger stores, but department stores, many Jewish, all over the country. The Department Store Museum is a fantastic site dedicated to the history of these retail stores. On the Sanger/Harris page it lists each of the stores, what was sold in its departments and even provides images of each location.
Ok, it’s a cool site. But why blog post worthy? What amazed me the most were the comments. As a new blogger myself, I was envious of the dozens of responses to these post. People happy to recount childhood memories of the large Christmas display, shopping with their parents or being trusted with their first charge card at Sanger’s. Recollections of when they used to work at the shops as a teenager, or younger people who have been gifted fur coats with Sanger/Harris in the labels curious about it’s history and worth. People bragging about the couch they bought 30 years ago that’s still in great shape! They really don’t make them like they used to.
People have an amazing nostalgic connection to these massive stores and the services they provided. I encourage you to hop on over to the site to look for your favorite store and connect with other former shoppers.
It’s that time of year again. Just when Southerners are celebrating football and the waning summer heat, the holiday shopping season descends upon us. Since I’m sure all of you have been under a barrage of flashy ads for early bird deals and cyber discounts, I thought I’d give your consumerist minds a break and share a few images from a simpler shopping era.
Before big box stores or online shopping, a customer would walk into a local store and be taken care of by a member of the family that owned the business. And if you were doing your shopping in the South, you would very likely visit a shop owned by Jews. Shopping is a Southern Jewish tradition. Most immigrants started as peddlers and later built retail stores, establishing network of merchants across the region. While Jewish shop keepers did not observe the religious aspects of Christmas, the season of gift-giving was something to celebrate.
I envy the clients of the Alligator Store in Alligator, MS and Schwartz Store in Bay City, TX. You can tell by the looks on the owners faces their customers got great service.
Like today, the holidays were a big money maker, so stores were quick to cater to their clientele. Below is a shop in Laredo, Texas, decked out for Christmas.
Before you get too nostalgic, fear not! Not all of these shops are memories of the past. La Perla in Laredo is still run by members of the Norton Family today. So take a break from Amazon once in a while and venture out, after Black Friday of course, into the world for a personal experience and encourage these great traditional businesses to stick around.
Where have you been shopping lately? What are some of your favorite local family businesses?