In the 1950s and 1960s downtown Pittsfield had over 100 retail businesses, with the bulk of them apparel stores.
One of these that always puzzled me, at least for its name, was The Paris shop. The store was a small family-run operation that stocked the latest in women’s outfits, dresses, skirts, blouses, sweaters and more.
My mother and sisters were frequent customers for the latest fashions. Many of my classmates got their high school prom gowns there and eventually their wedding dresses as well.
The store was popular and the salespeople were helpful people. One of my friends recently shared when shopping for her wedding gown in the 1970s, she picked out a beautiful dress and the clerk quoted her a very reasonable price.
My friend gave a deposit and when she returned, she learned the wrong price was given. The correct price was nearly four times the amount she was quoted. Despite the error, the store owner made good on the original offer.
This owner was Abraham “Abe” Schwartz, who was not only a nice guy but a hard-working and honest businessman and the uncle of my close friend, Rhoda Pomerantz. Abe was originally from Tarnow, Poland, and came to this country in 1910 at the age of 10.
His mother, Pauline, a young divorcee, wanted to find a better life and place to raise her son. They settled in Chicago where she met and married a skilled tailor named Isadore Koblinsky. He and Pauline had three more children including my friend Rhoda’s mother, Ann.
Pauline, herself, was one of the oldest in a family of 12 children. After coming to U.S., she helped many of her siblings, with the surname Pomerantz, to also come here from Poland.
Several of her brothers began operating women’s apparel stores under the name of the Paris Cloak and Suit Store. Between them, the brothers eventually owned 30 of these stores located up and down the East Coast.
Although there were many stores with the same or similar names from New England to California these were independently owned and loosely connected, if at all. The Paris name apparently came about as the latest and most popular women’s fashions at the time were created in Paris.
Although some of the stores may have had imported items from France, most of them had their wares made in New York in the Parisian styles.
One of Pauline’s brothers, I. Pomerantz, living in Albany, ran 14 of these Paris stores. He helped his sister and family open up a new Paris store in 1921 in Pittsfield. Pauline’s husband, Isadore, and her son would become partners in the Paris Cloak and Suit Store at 163 North St. in what was the Grant Building.
Abe, then in his mid-20s, became the store’s manager and Isadore oversaw the tailor work and fittings for customers. The two men became equal partners in the new enterprise. As the other three Koblinsky children grew up, all had worked in the store.
In 1932 Abe Schwartz married Ruth Messinger, and the couple had two daughters, Sondra and Marilyn. When in high school, the girls both worked in the business afternoons and Saturdays. Often, they would also appear in fashion ads in The Berkshire Eagle modeling the latest styles.
The store also staged many fashion shows for various local organizations and fundraisers. The family business had become one of the city’s most popular stores for women’s fashions. It also survived the Great Depression while all of the Pomerantz brothers’ apparel stores and most of the independent Paris shops throughout the country had gone bankrupt.
In 1942, following a fire in the Grant Building, the store moved to a new location across the street at 156 North St. and shortened its name to “The Paris.” Over the baby boom years, the shop became known as the go-to place for wedding gowns and by the 1960s, and it became known as The Paris Bridal Shop. Although the business was not open on Sundays, Abe would often come in for private bridal fittings on Sunday mornings.
In 1957 Isadore Koblinsky retired from the business, selling his share to Abe. When Abe was ready to retire in 1975, he sold the store to a young couple, Ronald and Gail Kollman.
Unfortunately, the downsizing of the General Electric Co. and the movement of more retail operations to the suburbs adversely impacted most North Street businesses. In December 1979, The Paris shop, Nugents and the Berkshire Hills Shop, all apparel stores, had closed. The Kollmans had retired to Arizona.
Isadore Koblinsky died in 1963 at the age of 77, and Abe Schwartz died in 1986 at the age of 85. Descendants of the Koblinsky and Pomerantz families had been involved in other successful local businesses.
Isadore Koblinsky’s son- in-law, the late Herbert Pomerantz, and his son, Philip, operated the Bonded Collection Agency in Pittsfield for 45 years before merging it with another company.
The late William Pomerantz, son of I. Pomerantz, owned several Pittsfield businesses including what is now BBE Office Interiors, which he founded in 1950. William’s sister Pearl and husband, Nathan Schreck, were involved in the development Pittsfield Rye Bakery.