Jewish Buisnesses in Schenectady

The first Jews who settled in Schenectady came as peddlers, or small dealers in liquor, clothing, and groceries. In fact, in synagogues in communities like Albany or Syracuse one third to one half of the males were initially employed as peddlers. By the 1870s and 1880s, some had opened small businesses, and some prospered. Alexander Susholz, a German immigrant began as a peddler and by the time of his death in 1886 he built a major clothing establishment which he left to his sons. Emanuel King, an immigrant from Austria settled in Schenectady in the early 1860s, and when he died in 1905 he had become a prominent local businessman and civic leader, who started as a tailor and prospered. Julius Davidson came from Prussia and achieved success in the retail clothing business. In the early 1860s he moved to Schenectady, and for forty years ran one the city’s major retail clothing shops on 248-252 State Street. Isaac Levi came from Germany and built a thriving liquor business as did the even more successful wholesale liquor dealer, Henry Heilbronner, another immigrant. Pfeifer Levi came from Germany in 1851 and emerged as a prominent clothing businessman. The most successful of these early German and Austrian immigrants was Jonathan Levi, who settled in Schenectady in the 1860s, began as a peddler, and made a fortune in the wholesale grocery business.
The arrival of Jews from Hungary and Eastern Europe created a new generation of peddlers who struggled to survive economically. Also, it produced small kosher bakeries, butcher shops, and restaurants. One could go to kosher stores, like the New York Deli or Romanoff’s or Hy Sofer’s Kosher Deli to eat, or purchase meat or baked goods that Orthodox Jews knew were prepared according to dietary laws. The passing of the immigrant generation, the higher educational levels of the children, and the movement of the population led most of these Jewish oriented stores to close. Today, the one kosher bakery is Mont Pleasant Bakery, and one can go to the kosher section of the Price Chopper started by Louis Golub, or to the kosher catering of Agudat Achim. For nostalgia of a Jewish style deli there is Gershons.

The number of Jewish businesses that existed are too numerous to mention. Hershel Graubart remembers when two thirds of the stores on State Street would close for the Jewish High Holydays. Some of the Jewish merchants innovated like Max Cohn, an immigrant from Latvia who arrived in Schenectady in 1898, founded the United Fruit Company and later the Original Super Market in 1932. Louis Golub started a grocery in 1908 which his sons William and Bernard turned into Central Markets, now Price Chopper.

Abe Cohen, born in Austria, started a dress shop on State Street in 1912 which became Imperial, a women’s clothing store. Jewish immigrants concentrated in clothing, groceries, and jewelry. Samuel Graubart started a jewelry store in 1897 after he emigrated from Austria. This store remained open until 2002. The photos and objects in this exhibition are only a tiny sampling of the many Jewish owned retail stores that existed in Schenectady over the last one hundred and fifty years. The passing of the immigrant generation, the decline of the downtown business district, changes in fashion, and the emergence of malls led to the decline and closing of many of these stores and businesses.


  1. Sylaen said

    This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.

  2. Joanne DeVoe said

    What a wonderful article and great series. Schenectady is so rich because of its people! Thanks for putting this up.

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