Saturday, April 4, 2020

Arlene Schnitzer, born in Salem, Died Saturday; Father Simon Operated Stores Here

A titan of the arts died today, and in the obituary for Arlene Schnitzer is a fascinating tidbit.
Arlene was born in Salem and moved to Portland when she was 2. She recalls running around the large furniture business of her parents, Helen and Simon Director, at the corner of Southwest 10th and Washington streets.
Arlene Schnitzer dies at 91 - via Twitter and the Oregonian
Here's an ad for her father's store in Salem in 1926 and an advertorial history (which may not be 100% reliable of course). In a quick way I could not find a birth notice for Arlene, unfortunately. There is an auction notice in 1932 for the furniture in Simon's house on Cottage Street, and that appears to be when they moved to Portland. (In the advertorial, you'll also recognize the Kafoury name, and they too seemed to have a family and business here for a while before moving permanently to Portland.)

She's not really a Salemite, but her father's time and activity here, about a decade it seems, was meaningful. So that's an interesting footnote on a tremendous life in the arts.

November 26th, 1926
March 28th, 1926
From the advertorial:
Simon Director was born in Poland in 1892, where he resided and received his early education until he was 17 years old.

In 1909 Mr. Director came to Portland, Oregon. His brothers were in business there at that time.Work was very scarce, and as he was not able to speak the English language he found it extremely difficult to get work. He was persistent, however, and determined to make good. After sometime he got a job at $6.00 a week. In eight months time he was receiving for his labors $80.00 per month, and when he informed his boss that he was going to quit and enter business for himself he was offered $125.00 per month if he would stay.

During this time Mr. Director had attended night school and had mastered the English language so that he could speak it quite well. He was also preparing himself to become an American citizen during this time.

Early in 1910 Mr. Director opened up a business of his own in Portland. He ran this business for eight years and was very successful. In 1918 he purchased, with his brothers, the Spencer Hardware business then located in the building now occupied by Kafoury Brothers on State street. The following year this business was sold to the Salem Hardware company.
Safeway on corner of Court and Commercial, 1938
The building is the Breyman block of 1874,
also known as the "White Corner" and would have been
 the location of Director's Department Store.
Salem Library Historic Photos
During the next few years Mr. Director engaged in business in Springfield, Dallas and Portland, in partnership with his brothers. In 1923 he opened up a store in the Breyman building, purchased the interests of his brothers, added a complete line of furnishings and dry goods and changed the firm name from Director Brothers to Director's Department store.

Mr. Director is a firm believer in the future of Salem and says he enjoys living in this city and intends to make his home here permanently.

The successful career of Mr. Director shows that the United States is a country of opportunity, and this statement applies especially to Salem, made up largely of people from other countries and states.

Director's Department store, under the ownership and management of Mr Director, lives fully up to its name. It is a department store, where the need of customers in many lines can be and are supplied. It is really a three story building of high class merchandise, because there is a bargain basement, and there are balconies to accommodate ready to wear and other lines.

Mr. Director aims to have his establishment a real house of welcome, for the people of Salem and the Salem district, where customers may feel at home and find such courteous treatment and fair dealing that they wish to come back, and keep coming back. Good understanding and broad sympathy and spirit of cooperation mark the atmosphere of Director's Department store, which is forging steadily ahead in its useful business career.
Addendum, April 6th

The history here of Simon Director and his stores is more interesting than it had first appeared at first glance.

March 24th, 1932
The Breyman block, where Director had his store, was largely destroyed - though not burned down completely - in the beginning of Spring in 1932.

This, you may recall, was the location of the Byrnes store, whose manager was Fred Meyer. That store moved from Commercial Street to a storefront on Liberty Street, just a block away, and was renamed after the manager.

Fred Meyer announcement
for 170 N. Liberty
April 24th, 1932
This fire seems to have been a key domino in several changes to downtown retailing.

The fire also appears to be an ingredient in the timing for Simon Director's move to Portland. The auction at his house follows just a few months later. (The house location is now a cottage cluster of "missing middle" housing, and the earlier residence does not appear to be there still.)

June 26th, 1932
In a piece about the history of the Metropolitan store, the SJ wrote that two of them with the same name opened in 1929. One closed in the 1930s, and then there were two again in 1960. It is very difficult to keep them straight! (See the end of this note on early bike dealers Shipp & Hauser and the Eckerlin Building, now a parking lot.)

It appears that Simon Director was involved in the longer-lasting one. It started in 148 N. Liberty, where Fred Meyer moved in 1938, and then moved to 136 N. Commercial at that time in 1938 when it was displaced by the early Freds.

Here's a tussle over rent.

April 1st, 1932
And evidence that he continued to be involved in Salem business, perhaps clear until Walter Rothenberg's purchase of the Salem Metropolitan store in 1954.

March 10th, 1934
In a 2012 biographical sketch of Arlene Schnitzer, drawing mainly on oral histories, the newsletter for the U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society gives a somewhat different time line:
In 1921 Simon Director opened Metropolitan Variety Store in Salem, the first of a chain of variety stores he opened in Portland, Astoria, Eugene, Vancouver, Oregon City, Longview, and Spokane throughout the ‘20s and early ‘30s. The family moved back to Portland in 1931 to the Laurelhurst neighborhood.
As we continue to fill in bits about the history of downtown Salem, there may be more to say.

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with more on Simon Director's Salem activities and downtown retailing.