Monday, October 6, 2008

Department Store Building of the Week, Vol. 16

People unfamiliar with New Jersey don't know it to be a state of small-town downtowns, which it largely is. Here is Main Street in Red Bank, the home town of Count Basie and the nearest downtown to Rumson, where Bruce Springsteen lives. The two-story red building to the left center was the location of the Straus Co., which was Red Bank's department store until the oft-remarked-upon-here Steinbach Co. of Asbury Park established a larger store just down the street, back in that era in the 1950s when department stores were establishing branches but no one had gotten malls right yet.

It's merely conjecture on my part that Straus Co. was founded by the same family that had the David Straus Co. store in Newark. Certainly "Straus" with one "s" is a well-known spelling in the department-store world, from the very prominent family, heirs of Lazarus Straus, that owned Macy's and Abraham & Straus. But a cursory look at that family shows no first names in common with those of Newark or Red Bank, while the name Julius Straus appears connected with both stores in two different generations, plus there is a Morris D. Straus in which the D. is likely to be "David." Genealogical researchers will tell you that often the best way to propose a connection is to look for names to be used between generations and then see if those families are connected, as cousins if nothing else.

For example, the Teppers referred to in the previous department store post -- even though there had been a split in the Tepper family, the Plainfield Tepper's scion was Bertram Tepper and in Asbury Park, Sol Brooks, who was Jacob Tepper's partner and brother-in-law, had a son Bertram Brooks. Bertram is not that unusual of a name, but it's not that common, either. It can always just be coincidence, of course, but it often is a clue.

Main Street in a small town in the 1960s had many uses, which is what made shopping more vulnerable to malls -- not only were the buildings small and old, but there was such a mixture of uses. In this block in 1960, from the intersection at left, were a cigar store, a candy store, the Straus Co., a women's shop, a stationer, a liquor store, a group of vacant stores, a bakery, a drug store, an optometrist, and then the temple of the Monmouth County National Bank. Shopping across the street was broken up by the Red Bank Register newspaper office.
The Register was an interesting paper. Once America's largest weekly, it went to daily publication in the late 1950s as the suburbanization of the Shore picked up pace and filled a gap between the Perth Amboy and Asbury Park papers. It was very successful but then was sold repeatedly and, as my former colleague Dave Turner, who worked there and grew up in Rumson, said, lost its way trying to go head to head with bigger papers and forgot about hometown news. It eventually simply disappeared as the Asbury Park Press grew into the only daily in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. More about journalism in Red Bank in the next post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Shumacher's age old book, "Small is Beautiful" is looking like it makes more sense all the time in the department and newspaper businesses. If there is a ray of hope in this current economic downturn it will be less giant corporations and a return to family own Main Street businesses and locally owned newspapers - a back to the future mode of economic thinking.

Danny L. McDaniel
Lafayette, Indiana