Jewish shops of an old Atlantic City
LINWOOD, N.J. - Back in the day, the Jews rocked Atlantic City. Living mostly up in the inlet section, eventually moving to Margate, they established hundreds of shops, on the Boardwalk and on the Avenues, opened hotels and motels, sold kosher food from deli counters, and even raised chickens on farms just outside town.
LINWOOD, N.J. - Back in the day, the Jews rocked Atlantic City.
Living mostly up in the inlet section, eventually moving to Margate, they established hundreds of shops, on the Boardwalk and on the Avenues, opened hotels and motels, sold kosher food from deli counters, and even raised chickens on farms just outside town.
Leo B. Schoffer, the son of Holocaust survivors, grew up on one such chicken farm, Sam's Poultry Farm, which his father bought in 1950, first in Egg Harbor Township (where else?), then on the Black Horse Pike in Hamilton Township.
As a child, Schoffer recalls driving around with his father - Sam the Egg Man - making deliveries, showing up, as he recalls, "at the back doors of Jewish businesses" all over the island.
Out of those memories, and a desire to capture this particular slice of Atlantic City's distinctively demarcated ethnic history while the people who created it and remember it best are still alive, Schoffer created his new book, A Dream, A Journey, A Community: A Nostalgic Look at Jewish Businesses in and Around Atlantic City.
The book, a $54 coffee-table-size collection of photographs and essays documenting businesses from the turn of the century to the 1970s, when most of them faded into memory - 18 still survive today - is published by ComteQ Publishing of Margate and available online at acjewishbusinessbook.com, with proceeds to benefit Jewish day schools.
"It's a legacy, is what it is," said Allen "Boo" Pergament, a local historian who helped out as a consultant on the book. "When Leo first came to me, he was looking for pictures, and his interest was for the kids to have something, for them to realize their legacy. From a booklet, it became this beautiful book. When you look at it, you see there's so much to it. It's not just history, it's family, religious concepts, neighborhoods. It's all the things that are real and sensitive and warm that help to establish any community."
There was Mayer's Jewel Shop, Lischin Bros. Meat, and Kligerman's Dairy. A 1946 photograph of cousins Alan and Sam Kligerman leaning against a milk truck, milk bottles in hand, goofy smiles on their faces, is maybe the iconic photograph of the book.
There was the unlikely Jewish businesses of Winn's Italian Market, the St. Charles (kosher) Hotel, the Shore Theater, and Club Harlem. There were the still-hanging-in-your-closet goods from Gottlieb's Millinery, Atlantic City Leather Co., Gerber's & Lanes, Schultz Clothing, and Sam Slotoroff Clothing.
There were the now-reincarnated: Teplitzky's, a hotel given new life last year as the name of a coffee shop at the same location that is now the chic Chelsea Hotel, and a little deli at 622 Atlantic Ave. called Casel's (which grew to become the landmark shoobie and Margate-mom supermarket hub).
One night recently at the Linwood Country Club, kashered and given rabbinic approval for the occasion, a couple of hundred people gathered to reminisce.
There were the original store owners in their 80s, second and third generations of families married to one another at an amusing rate, and the current generation, who in many cases wanted nothing to do with the family business, and dutifully became the doctors, lawyers, and teachers that their merchant parents dreamed of.
Schoffer said many came to Atlantic City along with vacationers and saw possibilities. "It had a lot of opportunity for immigrants and minorities, and that's what Jewish people were in that era," he said. But others could not really say what brought their relatives to Atlantic City in the first place, beyond a general sense that there had been opportunity.
The Hon. Steve Perskie, now an Atlantic County Superior Court judge and the author of the 1978 Casino Control Act, which brought casinos to Atlantic City (a development many at the gathering blamed for putting them out of business), pointed out a man in a 1920 photo of Schultz's clothing store on Atlantic Avenue who, he said, was Sam Glassman, his grandfather, who served as the Schultzes' accountant.
He brushed off the notion that the casinos were to blame for the decline of these businesses. "They had a 50-year run. That's not too bad," he said, before accepting the thanks of Evelyn Schultz Golden for helping to get her grandchildren into Yale University. (Some bonds, unlike clothing, never fray.)
For some, the memories of those stores' closing, and the end of a family's way of life, were still painful, the details playing over in their minds.
Bernard "Bunny" Josephson, 85, stood at the cocktail hour last week in Linwood with his wife, Shirley, 82 - the glamour of a courtship that landed their Feb. 19, 1952, wedding on the television show Bride and Groom still in evidence - and tearfully recalled the day the family print shop was finally emptied out, a year or so after casinos, the building's owner wanting to sell.
"A man from the sheriff's office, he knew me, I knew him. He said, 'Sorry, Bunny, I hate to do this, but you have 30 days.' He was dismantling the building while we were still there. I tried to sell it as a going business that could be relocated, but nobody wanted it that way. On a certain Wednesday, we had to make a decision: We had to sell it piecemeal. It was Sept. 29th, 1979, when I closed the door. My father's picture on the wall, as you walk in, I have to cry at that. I had to take it down."