Just as Prince Street had served as the
main shopping street for the struggling immigrant Jews of the old
Third Ward in the 1920s and 1930s, by the 1940s and the 1950s, the
second and third generations of Newark's middle-class and lower
middle-class Jews were clustered in the Weequahic section.
The Jewish inhabitants of the Weequahic section relied for their
neighborhood needs on a five-block strip of approximately 100 small
businesses, starting at Lyons Avenue (No. 1079), and proceeding
north past Lehigh, Mapes, Shepard, Scheerer, and Renner to just
beyond Custer Avenue (No. 943).
The northern end of this five-block shopping strip, Custer Avenue,
was just a short walk up from Elizabeth Avenue and the famous posh
Jewish dining favorite -- The Tavern Restaurant, on the corner of
Meeker and Elizabeth Avenues.
At the southern end of the shopping strip is Lyons Avenue and the
Lyons Avenue entrance to Weequahic Park. From Bergen and Lyons down
to Weequahic Park is less than a quarter of a mile.
Bergen Street Strip a Self-Contained Community
The Bergen Street shops along this shopping strip from Custer Avenue
in the low 900s, to Lyons Avenue in the 1080s, were a veritable
self-contained community where the merchants knew and dealt with
many of the shoppers on a daily or frequent basis.
One former Bergen Street shopper, Hannah Litowitz, recalled it as
"a neighborhood of people knowing each other."
My friend, Elliott Sudler, associated with Kay's Pharmacy on Bergen
Street, recalled the fraternity of the people who came to Bergen
Street to shop: "It might for three rolls at the Bergen Bake
Shop, but they rubbed elbows uninhibitably with the more affluent
He added: "It was a stable community, but there was always
an open door for newcomers."
Many area residents of limited means frequented only the stores
that provided their everyday necessities. However, the more upscale
specialty shops attracted patrons not only from the immediate Weequahic
neighborhood, but also from outlying neighborhoods, and from the
4,000 Jewish population of adjacent Hillside, many of whom came
to Bergen Street attracted by the available high style fashions.
Types of Stores
The stores, which totaled from around 100 to 150 offered virtually
everything a neighborhood resident wanted or needed from everyday
necessities to upscale high-fashion clothing, art, antiques, and
Most were mom-and-pop establishments, utilizing family help, but
many also relied on either part-time or full-time extra help.
My older brother, George, and his wife, Ruth, at various times were
part-timers in Bergen Street establishments -- he in various shoe
stores, and my sister-in-law in a store that specialized in camping
A Selection of Choices Available
Clothing: There were many and varied men's and
women's clothing stores -- many very upscale ... men's and women's
shoe stores ... and for the ladies, a corsettier, millinery and
hat shops, lingerie, hosiery, furriers galore (8), women's sports
wear, and more...and for the children -- student apparel ... also
dry-cleaners ... hand laundries ... a shoe repair shop.
Children: A baby-carriage store ... baby needs
store ... kiddie furniture ... toys ... children's shoes ... and
for the musically-talented, pianos.
Household Supplies and Furnishings: A quilt shop
... a curtain store ... a linen shop ... a dry goods store ... a
5 cent & 10 cent store.
Food and Dining: Assorted food stores, including
an A&P ... a dairy-grocer ... fruit and vegetable store ...
live fish markets ... butcher shops (kosher and non-kosher) ...
jewish delicatessens ... an appetizer store ... several bakeries
... luncheonettes, sandwich shops, and restaurants ... two ice cream
Personal Services: Barber shop and numerous beauty
parlors ... miscellaneous shops such as: a tobacconist ... greeting-card
shops ... two book stores ... four drug stores ... jewelry stores
... a movie theatre.
Selected Bergen Street Shopping Memories
From Jacqueline Klein:
... frozen dough cookies from the Bergen Bake Shop ... the smell
of the shoe repair shop near the Bergen Street firehouse ... black
patent leather Mary Jane shoes from Brody's Shoe Store ... and looking
at the beautiful hats in Nettie's Millinery shop.
From Marc Levy:
... as a child, I remember Breslow's Toy Store. It had quite a
large mechanical children's ride that stood parked by the door.
It was not far from Sid Miller's meat market with saw dust on the
floor. I went often to Henry's Sweet Shop, and sometimes my Dad
took me to the Lion's Den across from the Park Theatre, where I
sat at the counter, or in a booth, and drank milk shakes.
From Barbara Rothschild:
... as an eighth-grader in the 1950s, Friday nights we went to
the Park Theatre. Many boys of the seventh and eighth grades enjoyed
tormenting us girls by tossing candy wrappers down from the balcony
... After leaving the Park Theatre, we would go to Henry's Sweet
Shop nearby for malteds and other goodies.
From Katie Klein:
... Belov's Fish Market with live fish swimming in its huge live-fish
tank ... the friendly Dalmatian in the firehouse at the corner of
Lehigh ... the magnificent doll house in the window of the men's
barber shop near Custer Avenue.
The Smells of Bergen Street
Bergen Street was not only a street of food and specialty stores--
it was also a street of 'smells'.
In discussions with former Bergen Street shoppers, the subject of
smells came up, whether it was the smells of the Jewish delis or
the shoe repair shop, there was aroma in the Bergen Street air.
One told me "You could walk along the street and smell what
was in the store."
Another remembered the appetizer store and recalled to me "I
can still smell those barrel pickles."
Where the Bergen Street Shoppers Lived
Bergen Street catered to the middle class and lower middle class.
While there was a scattered mix above and below Bergen, generally,
the moneyed Jews lived below Bergen going toward Weequahic Park.
The less-affluent usually were found in the 2-1/2 family houses
in the streets above Bergen.
The shoppers from below Bergen lived in either finely fashioned
one-family homes, or in one of the two high class luxury apartments
-- one at 19 Lyons Avenue and the other at 25 Van Velsor Place.
In these two apartment buildings with uniformed doormen and lavishly
furnished suites with sunken living rooms lived the wealthiest and
most successful Newark Jews.
As one former employee of a Bergen Street drug store told me, "These
were the Jews who had made it. When I made a delivery to someone
in these two apartments, it was like going into a museum...and they
were big tippers."
Roth Recollection of Neighborhood
The houses on the side streets adjoining Bergen were described
by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Philip Roth, of this childhood
neighborhood, in one of his books:
"The house were all two-and-one half family houses. There
was a full apartment on the ground floor and a full apartment on
the second floor. On the third floor was half and apartment, for
a young couple or a bachelor or an elderly widow. The lawns were
nice and there were no fences."
Roth, son of an insurance agent, himself lived with his family
in one such house as described, on Summit Avenue, a block from Weequahic
Bergen Shopkeeper's Children
The children of the mom 'n' pop shop-owners of Bergen Street nearly
all attended Weequahic High School, which, by the late 1940s was
at its saturation point. As a group, they were instilled by a love
of education and a desire for success and were achievers in the
various professions -- medicine, law, education, accounting, pharmacy,
Still others started small businesses which ultimately evolved
into large-scale chains doing business in the millions, and even
One Child's Success Story
I was personally acquainted with the son of one Bergen Street shop
owner, Arthur Brody, whose father, Samuel Brody, owned Brodelle's
Book Shoppe at 1049 Bergen at Harding Terrace.
Young Arthur, age 20, helping out in his father's store, discovered
and ultimately patented a new way to protect book covers. He fathered
an entirely new industry -- the plastic book jacket industry --
a product now found in virtually every library in the world. His
success led to Brodart Industries, a major supplier of books and
services to libraries, as well as a leading manufacturer of library
Shopping Connections to Bergen
Many shoppers were attracted to Bergen Street from outlying neighborhoods.
As a resident of Hillside in the 1950s, just over the Weequahic-Newark
line, I recall seeing mothers from my street walking baby carriages
down to Bergen Street on shopping excursions.
Bergen Street was also serviced by several bus lines that shoppers
used, among them the No. 9 Clifton, the No. 8 Lyons Avenue and the
No. 48, Maple Avenue.
* * * * *
The five-block strip of shops covered in the above Bergen Street
"Memory" all fall within the 2003-designated "Weequahic
Park Historic District #03000013". In the list of Significant
Historic Functions of the Weequahic District are architectural style
of single and multiple dwellings, and specialty stores, virtually
all of which were on Bergen Street.