Have you ever noticed how in those old black and white pictures – people dressed up? They dressed up all the time – woman wore dresses and men wore suits. Not just for special occasions but every single day. Dresses, suits,hats, the whole deal. Look around – you can’t go anywhere today without seeing someone out and about in their pajamas! Our great-grandmother’s did housework in dresses! Men sat down to dinner with their families in suit and tie. I’m lucky to get my entire family in the house at the same time for a meal, much less worry about what they have on.
My Great grandfather, Adam was from that fabulous generation of well dressed men. He owned a tailor shop in Brooklyn, Adam Pfundstein and Sons. It opened in 1896 and remained open until the 1950’s. The shop was originally located at 1705 Myrtle Ave in Glendale/Ridgewood. At some point the shop moved to 56-07 Myrtle Ave. Since my Great-grandfather was also a partner in a building firm, he probably owned the building. 56-07 Myrtle is a 3 story brick building, the ground flood is storefront property and the upper floors are apartments. The building still stands today with beautiful brickwork and decorative elements. The picture above shows the shop in 1940 and in 2015. The fire hydrant is still there as is the decorative detail on the brick facade. Many different businesses have been housed here over the years, currently it is a print shop. A year ago my family and I took our first trip to Brooklyn. Among other things we went to seek out the location of our Adam’s business. We were so excited to find it! We went in to take a look around, we had come that far and there was no way we weren’t going to take at least a peek. The people who worked there were lovely and couldn’t have been nicer to us. I’m not sure that they had any idea what we were talking about but they let us have a look throughout the whole ground floor – the workers in the back room weren’t to sure what to make of us poking around!
The shop was long and narrow and I’m sure looked nothing like it did when it belonged to my Great-Grandfather. The wooden floor obviously had been refinished…but it could very well be the same one that my family walked on.
I can just imagine that wooden floor when it was laid down new. My Great-Grandfather and Great-Uncles spending hours walking over the floorboards, creaking and squeaking as they settled. The front of store with its glass display windows, mannequins displaying the newest and finest in men’s fashion. Inside the walls lined with shelves, and display cases under long wooden counters. Displaying handmade shirts, ties, suits all custom made to measure. Drawers to hold tissue, string, and boxes to package customers purchases. Several mirrors and curtained dressing areas. I can picture a shop girl, probably a member of the family greeting customers.The shop heated with a coal or kerosene stove, lit first with gas lights and eventually electric lights. The shop was probably always warm – they would have needed keep the irons warm. It was probably cozy in the wintertime, maybe less so in the summertime. Maybe there were ceiling fans to keep the air moving. I hope there was a grand brass and wooden cash register on a long wooden counter. Orders would be written by hand, payment in cash or terms. In 1910 a new suit could cost anywhere from $10-20 depending on the fabric used. Wool was the standard and cotton was less expensive. Much of the account information was probably stored in Adam’s head. The shop would have smelled of the heating irons and starch. In the back room, I see long tables for cutting, machines for sewing, bolts of wool and cotton, sharp scissors, needles, thread, and lots and lots of pins. Adam’s sons had to work their way up in the business, so that they would know and understand every facet. You can see the progression of the work through census records, they were cutters, clerks, and tailors. I like to think that Adam himself waited on his customers, wearing a tape measure around his neck for quick access to take measurements for his clients. In a time where very few things were disposable, the suits were hung on wooden hangers which had their name and address printed on it. Many of the hangers are still in use today, I have one in my closet. It makes me smile whenever I see it just thinking about the hard work and pride behind it.
Outside the shop was the very busy Myrtle Ave. A bustling brick lined street filled with shops of every kind. Looking out the front windows they would be looking at the oddly shaped intersection of Myrtle and Cypress Ave. They probably watched the street go from dirt to brick to asphalt. From horse and buggy to street trolleys to the first cars.The occasional Om-PA band of traveling street musicians. The neighborhood had a large German immigrant population. German and English were probably used interchangeably
When Adam retired he handed the reigns to his oldest son Henry who ran the business until his death in 1938. Sons Joseph and Anton also were part of the business. Joseph ran the store until the 1950’s when mass produced clothing became more common and less expensive than custom made.
What an amazing legacy Adam built! Through his hard work and dedication he was able to provide for his family and pass the business to his sons. Even more impressive is that Pfundstein and Sons survived through 2 World Wars and the Great Depression.
Tags to be sewn into suits
Wilkinson, C. (2012, September 10). Border Town Ridgewood: Brooklyn or Queens. Retrieved November 11, 2015.