Life on Prince Street in the 1920s and 1930s

by Nat Bodian


Prince Street in the 1920s slices through the heart of Newark's old Third Ward, a bustling Jewish community. It is the Jewish neighborhood's main shopping thoroughfare, just five eighths of a mile west of downtown Newark's Broad Street.

Prince Street is a mirror-image of New York's immigrant-crowded Orchard Street on the lower East Side. Yiddish is the primary language heard on the street.

Pushcarts line the curbs on both sides of the street. Competing with the pushcart peddlers, in the aging wooden cold-water tenements, are merchants in sidewalk level stores, nearly all with canvas awning covered sidewalk displays.

Prince Street's seven block length cuts north to south through the old Third Ward which occupied 81 city blocks. This was where most of Newark's then estimated 50,000 Jewish population lived.

Prince Street is also the center of Newark Jewish religious activity. There are five synagogues directly on Prince Street and eleven more on bordering or nearby streets. The oldest, which last housed Congregation Adath Israel Mishnayes, at 30 Prince Street, is on the National Register of Historic Places.*

Jewish housewives shop daily on Prince Street, where the pushcart peddlers and the store merchants sell everything from barrel pickles, herring, fruits and vegetables, to men's work pants and various items of clothing.

All are at bargain prices and cater to the needs of the struggling and cash-poor Jewish home-makers, most of them emigrants from Eastern Europe.

On all of Prince Street, the busiest block is the one between Spruce Street and Montgomery Street. It is patrolled by a Yiddish-speaking burly 5 feet 10 inch police officer who is frequently seen chatting with merchants. His name was Morris Brodsky.

As one walks into Prince Street from Spruce Street on the east side of the street, there is Brownstein's Live Poultry Market, where housewives pick their chicken purchases from cages and have them slaughtered, plucked and cleaned while they wait.

Then, two kosher butchers follow--Menson's, and Herbert and Paul's. Also in this area and on this side of the street is Kutakoff's Variety Store where neighborhood housewives buy their dressmaking and sewing supplies, and various other small household items.

After Kutakoff's is Halper's Paper Goods, which is the main supplier of paper bags to nearly every peddler and merchant on Prince Street. Proprietor Halper has ten children, and uses several of his sons to make paper bag deliveries along the street.

Next is Bakalchuk the Tailor, a Russian émigré like neighbor Halper. He sells men's and boy's pants from stacks piled high on his wooden counter. He also does tailoring using a treadle sewing machine. And hanging from overhead racks are lines of cleaned and pressed suits and dresses.

The Bakalchuk family of five live in three cramped rooms in back of the store. Their bathtub is a storage place for a wide assortment of laundered clothing. The family takes its baths around the corner at the Montgomery Public Baths, a short way up the block on Montgomery Street.

Next is the Chevrah Tillem Synagogue, and then Schnur's Candy Store. Schnur's also carries stationery and newspapers. The biggest seller, without question, is the special Newark Edition of the Jewish Daily Forward, printed in Jewish in New York City. The Newark dailies are the morning Ledger, the Star-Eagle, and the Newark Evening News. The Ledger is the only morning paper and the top English-language paper seller.

Next is Kaplan's Delicatessen at No. 205 Prince with its dull white tile floor and white tile-topped rectangular eating tables, with bent-wire chairs. On the tables are bowls of block sugar for the tea drinkers. Fat corn beef sandwiches sell for ten cents each in the 1920s.

Adjacent to Kaplan's Delicatessen is Lowitz Grocery Store, a small store with a limited selection of basic necessities.

Farther over the block is Reinfelds, another delicatessen, with sawdust-covered wood floors, and a smokehouse in the back. Between the delicatessens is Mittlemans Bakery, which supplies Jewish rye sandwich loaves to both delicatessens. The two delis are kosher-style, but not kosher. For those who are koshruth observant there is the strictly kosher Stoffer's Hebrew National on the corner of Prince and Court Streets.

On the west side of Prince Street, walking from Spruce toward Montgomery, there is Mantell's Shoe Store on the corner and directly next door to it, the Plaut Memorial Hebrew Free School. This Hebrew Free School was a gift of the Plaut family, owners of a large downtown Newark department store at 707-721 Broad Street adjacent to the bed of the old Morris Canal. A plaque on the outside wall of the Prince Street building stated that the Hebrew Free School had been established to "bring the civilizing influence of American democracy to our Eastern European brethren."

Going down the block, there is Gold's Shoe Store, operated by Leo Gold , who had inherited the business from his father at the same location.

Next to Golds is Moishe Hupert's Fish Market. The name is painted on the double glass windows in Jewish writing that spells out "Moishe Fisher," This translates into English roughly as "Moishe, the fish man."

Inside the fish market is a large water filled sheet metal tank containing live fish., From this tank , Jewish housewives shop, mainly for their Sabbath eve mainstay, gefilte fish. The fish varieties are pike, carp, and perch.

When a shopper makes a pick in the tank, the selected fish is netted, killed on a wooden butcher-block table with a single blow from a round wooden club, then scaled and cleaned for take-home. The fish tank had been specially made for the fish market by "Zozoski the Blecher," a Russian émigré tinsmith named Zozoski in his store/workshop on Belmont Avenue at the corner of Montgomery Street. It had been installed by Morris Kashefsky (Kashefsky the Plumber) who had his plumbing store directly across Prince Street.

Beyond the Spruce-Montgomery Prince Street block are two other Prince Street bakeries that flourished and grew in later years, Wigler's, and Lehrhoff's.

Also on Prince Street nearer to Springfield Avenue were two small family-owned stores that would emerge as large chains in the coming decades. They were Prince Range, near Morton Street, a store selling gas ranges and operated by Charlie Schultz, which would later grow into the large Prince Range Appliance chain.

And at 167 Prince Street was Harry Marcus' Roumanian Broiling House --an eatery frequented by Third Ward politicos who favored the specialty of the house -- sizzling steaks, taken off the huge grill and served on round wooden boards with sides of carnatzlach (a Roumanian delicacy) and kishka (stuffed derma), and hot French fries.

There was also Lechters Housewares at 120 Prince Street, which by the end of the century would become a multi-state chain with hundreds of stores.

But times and neighborhoods change and sometimes die as did Prince Street. The children of those Prince Street shoppers of the 1920s and 1930s later moved to the more affluent Clinton Hill section of Newark, and subsequently into the Weequahic section, and ultimately into the Newark suburbs.

By the end of the 1960s, virtually all 0f Newark's Jewish population had left the City and the Prince Street that was once the shopping hub for more than 50,000 Jews was now just a distant memory, brought back to life for the first time in this entry.


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