Dallas’ Jewish business pioneers — both big and small

Time marches on. I read recently that a number of the major Jewish businesses had, over time, mostly been sold to others.
These high-profile businesses include Neiman-Marcus, E.M.Kahn, Titche and Goettinger, Volk, Sterling Wholesale, Sanger-Harris, and Zales.
These were the “upscale” stores of the day and were generally located on Main, Elm, and Pacific streets in what was referred to as “the courthouse area” of downtown Dallas.
A number of excellent articles about Jewish leadership in Dallas by David Ritz appeared in D Magazine (November and December 1975, and more recently in November 2008). They featured interviews with the Jewish business leaders of Dallas, as well as with the highly respected religious leader, Rabbi Levi Olan, who was the Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El for many years.
While these businessmen may rightfully deserve credit for building a strong Jewish power base in Dallas, there were others, perhaps considered “smaller and less powerful,” who deserve credit for their contributions as small business pioneers both to the Jewish community and to the city in general.
European Jewish immigrants, escaping the pogroms of Czarist Russia, entering from Galveston were settling in Houston and Dallas seeking opportunities for a livelihood.
In the 1870s, Dallas, ex-slaves and recent immigrants were both attracted to the east Elm Street area, where a new railroad depot and the Houston and Central Texas Railroad tracks came through town.
Storefronts were rapidly being built along this industrial area where jobs could be had, deals made and partnerships forged.
Because of the growing pedestrian traffic, Elm Street was one of the first streets to be paved.
Many of the earliest Jewish merchants pioneered a strong bond with the African-American freedmen, many of whom worked for them and who also lived in that early Deep Ellum area.
Among the earliest Jewish shop owners on Elm were Meyer Goldstein (fruit seller), Abraham Cohn (saloon owner), Jacob Susman (shoemaker), Max Friedman (tailor), Abraham Smith (men’s clothing store) Samuel Singer (dry goods), Nathan Yonack (dry goods) and Daniel Rabinowitz (real estate).
By 1873, Jewish merchants owned 12 of the 29 dry goods stores. But by 1900 Jewish merchants owned 10 grocery stores, 25 clothing stores, eight saloons, six tobacco shops, nine tailor shops and 14 dry goods stores.
Perhaps one of the most important types of businesses expanding in the Deep Ellum area and elsewhere as the city grew were the pawnshops.
Jewish immigrants saw the need by low-income people to secure loans without having to establish credit with banks.
One of the most well-known pawnshops of the many found in Deep Ellum was Honest Joe’s, which opened in the early 1930s and did not finally close until 1984.
“Honest Joe” was, in reality, Rubin Goldstein, a New York Jew who started a pawn business, which he ran until his death in 1972. (Editor’s note: The TJP will have a feature on Honest Joe’s in the next few weeks.)
He was so well-known that he was referred to as “the mayor of Elm Street.” When the Ku Klux Klan began to threaten blacks who worked and lived in the Deep Ellum area, the Jewish shopkeepers, who also felt threatened at times, stood up to the Klan.
It is too bad that a permanent Deep Ellum historical display has not yet been established because Deep Ellum was such an important part of our city’s history.
I highly recommend Rose Biderman’s (of blessed memory) outstanding story of Dallas Jews, 1870-1997, They Came to Stay.

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  1. blackbiz

    But Schepps and millions of Jews like him across the nation had a new problem. It began in the ’ with rumblings in Germany. Jews were forced to escape and had nowhere to go; America had not opened its doors. For the first time, the Jewish Welfare Federation had to focus on the problem of displaced persons, brothers and sisters in foreign lands who were homeless. Where were they to go?

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