My father, Mr. Laby and Blumstein’s Department Store

31 Jul

When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, my sisters and I were forbidden from buying anything from Mr. Laby’s corner store. Mr. Laby, who was Jewish, ran the store with his wife (who was much nicer than her husband). There was no issue of him not hiring black clerks, because the store was strictly a family run operation.  Mr. Laby treated his neighborhood  customers with disdain  – there were no white people in the neighborhood, so we were the store’s customer base. My sister Ellen-Marie told me that Mr. Laby also was known for shortchanging children! One day, I  ventured into the store with my friend and neighbor  Freda Williams. (I was not buying anything myself, so technically was not disobeying my parents.)  After buying her candy, Freda asked Mr. Laby for a bag for her purchases. He refused, she insisted.  I had a feeling this was a not the first time this ritual had played out. Mr. Laby proved no match for Frieda and, finally, exasperated, he  handed Frieda the bag, which she immediately crumbled into a ball and threw back at him!  We ran from the store as he yelled at us in Yiddish.
Like all the other rules in our house, I thought the Laby’s store prohibition was instituted by my mother. But given my father’s strong feelings about Blumsteins  — did he really call them “Hitlers?” — I think Ebenezer may have initiated our family boycott.

The New York Age, July 14, 2010

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