THE MERCHANT PRINCES: An Intimate History of the Jewish Families Who Built Great Department Stores by Leon Harris

THE MERCHANT PRINCES: An Intimate History of the Jewish Families Who Built Great Department Stores

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The reason this survey is more readable than other recent shopping tours (Nan Birmingham's Store; Robert Hendrickson's The Grand Emporiums) is its emphasis on people, not buildings. Prolific author Leon Harris, it turns out, ran Dallas' A. Harris & Company--founded by his grandfather--for ten years; and his ""happiest childhood memories,"" he confides, involved buying trips with his father for ""the store."" Here he presents similar merchant families with unabashed enthusiasm. We meet founding fathers--immigrants all--and assorted progeny with such names as: Filene--""prideful, prickly, stubborn"" Edward, who opened Boston's famous Basement; Straus--Macy's owners, and ""the only Jewish merchant family in America that approximates the Rothschilds""; and the Gimbels of Philadelphia, originators of Thanksgiving Day parades. Plus: the families Kaufmann (Pittsburgh); Goldsmith (Memphis); Rich (Atlanta); Meir and Frank (Portland, Oregon); and the famous founders of Neiman-Marcus and Sears Roebuck. In the Southwest, Harris takes stock of Goldwater's; San Francisco brings us Levi Strauss, Solomon Gump, the Magnins (Mary Ann made ""the Victorian wifely gesture"" of naming her store for husband Isaac); and even Jewish mountain men turn up--like peddler Adolph Kohn, who was kidnapped by Apaches and later ""rode the warpath"" with Comanches. Each family is presented in the context of its community, with Harris weaving social history into his story--the growth of anti-Semitism, the importance of brothels. He concludes, significantly, with Fred Lazarus of Federated Department Stores, the multi-billion conglomerate to whom most of the founding families have sold out. An entertaining, nostalgic look at great stories run by people, not computers.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1979
Publisher: Harper & Row