4. Earning a Living
The Adams Street Shul

Congregation Agudas Achim Anshei Sfard

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Many of the Jewish immigrants became junk peddlers, called "junkies."  It required no startup capital to collect what others threw away.  As one's own boss, one needn't work on the Sabbath, nor be fluent in English.  Nonantum was primarily a working class area, so it was easier to get a license here than in other parts of Newton.

...there were twenty to twenty-five junkies in our neighborhood...

..those folks never knew about fun in those days.  There was work, work, work.


This fellow had a furniture store and this fellow had a hardware store and we, in our little circle, wouldn't do that because it required working on the Sabbath.  So rather than work on Saturday [he] went to work as a junk dealer, peddling and trying to make a living out of it...But you were your own boss, so they were almost an elite in their own minds.

The junkies with long beards were snowballed in the wintertime...

He would come into our kitchen on a rainy day when the junk dealers couldn't go out and they would sit around and talk and have a glass of tea and put a plop of sugar in [his mouth] and sip the tea through it...  

...and there was a block we used to call it Coxeter's Block.  He was a rich WASP dentist and mostly Jews lived on the block...and in the back were three junk dealers...

...we used to call it "Coxeter's Hotel."

It was around 1895 that the first Jewish storekeepers made their appearance.  Eventually, there was a burgeoning commercial strip on Watertown Street.

Fox's Pharmacy,  Newton MA, 1911 advertisement.

Fox 's Pharmacy was a landmark Nonantum business.  This ad appeared in The Newton Times in 1911.

And they used to have tables and the ice cream chairs.  ...My father used to take us there on a Sunday afternoon for a hot fudge.

In 2004, Fox was purchased by Eaton Apothecary, which moved from its Newton Corner building into the Fox Pharmacy building.  In 2010, Eaton was purchased by Walmart, leaving Swartz Hardware as the only name remaining from the original immigrant retailers.

Ads from The  Newton Times, 1911.  Swartz's Hardware Store.

Swartz's Hardware Store is still in business, and still owned and operated by the Swartz Family.  This ad appeared in The Newton Times in 1911.  (And they still have a "Telephone Connection" and "Boston Prices".)

No one in Nonantum ever went without shoes.  That was Morris Fried.

If you went into Fried's and your daughter or son should be getting first communion or confirmation clothes, the Frieds would outfit them.  They wouldn't ask for money.  If you were broke you still got your outfit.

Morris  Fried; Newton's Oldest Department Store; 1911 advetisement.
Now, by a strange coincidence the Hungarians were not so orthodox.  They were the merchants...and they did work on the Sabbath.  

Because my family had a department store we were open on Friday night and we were open on Saturday, but we had a kosher house and my father and I went to shul together...

My mother didn't keep a kosher home.  But she did funny things: she wouldn't eat ham on Passover...