Honigsbaum’s in Tannersville

Contributed photo

In Dr. Gary Lelonek’s book, he mentioned Frank Honigsbaum’s department store in Tannersville, and that Honigsbaum opened a small tannery in the store’s basement in 1913. (Next week’s column). As a kid, I remember Phil Honigsbaum’s grocery store just east of where the department (general) store at 6045 Main Street would be today.

Honigsbaum’s Store building survived the devastating February 17, 1939 fire on the south side of Main Street, east of the four corners. The fire destroyed Olin’s Hotel, the Zitter building, the Grand Union Market, and the Village Hall & Fromer Fire Department building Three firemen were hurt, one severely, in the fire.

The Honigsbaum building was saved (with damage to the fourth floor) by a sprinkler system that aided in fighting the fire. Over 150 firemen (mountaintop and valley towns) and volunteers fought the blaze in minus zero weather.

A. William Cohn, a family member, and Honigsbaum shop owner, shared the history of Honigsbaums dating back to 1876 (?).

Cohn said, “the Honigsbaum Company remained in the family since it began, although marriage changed the name to the Elitzer and Cohn families.

The Brothers Grim could have invented the story of how Honigsbaum’s came to be! Mrs. A Cohn has the word of her mother that it happened.

“Mrs. Cohn’s grandfather, Frank Honigsbaum, came to this country from Europe when her mother was a child. The family was poor, for Mr. Honigsbaum had begun his mercantile career with nothing but a pack on his back. Their home was in an isolated section (in Elka Park), and few visitors came except for a close friend who had become a successful manufacturer in New York City and made the trip once a year to renew ties with his country acquaintances.”

One day he appeared without warning. The Passover holidays were approaching, and since the family was deeply religious, Mrs. Honigsbaum’s chief concern was how to find the money for the new dishes and the foods needed for the observance.

The friend was unusually silent through the evening meal. Finally, as it became later in the evening, he asked Mr. Honigsbaum.

“Do you remember a lottery ticket?”

The ticket was one of the thousands issued in the ten-legal Louisiana Lottery. It was -13, and because the New Yorker had found difficulty in selling it to superstitious friends, he had sent it on to Mr. Frank Honigsbaum. He and a brother and brother-in-law had pooled their meager resources for the required two dollars or so (about $50 today) and had bought the unwanted ticket.

The friend had brought the news that -13 was a winner. He broke it gradually to minimize the shock. They had won $500 ($13,400) he told them first, and the announcement was greeted with delight by Mrs. Honigsbaum as a miraculous solution to her Passover worries. As the evening went on, the figure named approached by easy stages to the truth.

The Honigsbaums had won $15,000 ($480,000.). The prize was divided three ways, and Frank Honigsbaum used his share to open what became the largest department store in the Catskills, Honigsbaum’s of Tannersville. It flourished from 1876 until the depression years. Mr. Honigsbaum was a trusted friend and a capable merchant; many asked him to keep their money in the store safe instead of them puttingit in a bank.

Today, a third generation of the family is carrying on the two remaining stores in Albany.” (1963).

Next week we’ll share a little about Honigsbaum’s 1913 tannery in the barn basement on Main Street. For further articles mentioning Honigsbaum, look for Dr. Lelonek’s book, The Jewish History of Tannersville New York, A VILLAGE IN THE CATSKILLS.

Thanks for reading. Stay safe.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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