Marvin Cohen

Marvin Cohen (b. 1929) was not a child of Society Hill, but he grew up on South Street. Since 1913, his grandfather and father and eventually Marvin himself owned and operated Cohen’s, a hardware store with a succession of addresses on South Street. Marvin’s story is characteristic of people who operated South Street businesses east of Twelfth Street. He describes some of the businesses, their owners, and the relationships among them. Marvin, his parents, three siblings, paternal grandparents, and an aunt and uncle lived over the store at 911 South Street. He tells about life on South Street as a child, playing ball in the street where there was little traffic, going to nearby recreation centers for other sports, going to the movies on South Street with his friends. He attended neighborhood schools. By the time he was in high school, his family was living in the Northeast but continued to operate the store on South Street. He tells how the proposed Crosstown Expressway profoundly affected the families, businesses and residences, including his own, in its proposed path. But he says the Redevelopment Authority offered a fair price for their properties. Marilyn Levin Cohen (b. 1936) grew up at 539 Spruce Street, “a big house,” where she lived with her parents, two grandparents, an uncle, and a number of boarders. Many other relatives lived nearby. She attended neighborhood schools but went to West Philadelphia High School. She lied about her age and started working when she was fifteen. She talks about how she and her friends entertained themselves, walking everywhere. After she and Marvin married, they moved to their own house near City Avenue, and when her children entered school, she went to work in the hardware store. Her father-in-law welcomed her there, but the customers did not believe that a woman—especially a young one—could know anything about hardware. But people changed, and one day she was able to help a punk kid who wanted to buy some chains to wear. She tells how the Redevelopment Authority treated homeowners. Her parents ultimately sold their house to the RA “for a pittance.” The disruption caused by the threat of the Crosstown Expressway, she feels, ultimately worked in their favor.


[Note: In the transcript below, “Mr” refers to Marvin Cohen, and “Mrs” refers to Marilyn Cohen.]

DS:      The date is 3/13/2006. The place is the Cohen Hardware and Home Goods, Inc. store, 615 East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, PA.

            Marvin, where on South Street did you grow up?

Mr:      I grew up at the 900 block of South Street, 911 South Street, to be exact. And, yes, what else?

DS:      And then you said before that you had lived on the third floor? Your family?

Mr:      Yes, my mother and father – we lived on the third floor. I had an aunt and uncle that lived on the second floor. And my grandmother and grandfather also lived on the second floor. And we had the first floor, which was a kitchen.

DS:      On the second floor, your aunt and uncle and your grandparents on your (1:00) father’s side –

Mr:      Yes.

DS:      – lived on the second floor, and they had a kitchen on the first floor.

Mr:      The first floor was the kitchen, a [communal] kitchen for my grandmother, my grandfather, and my aunt and uncle. We still had a kitchen up on the third floor where the kids – my brothers and mother and we ate in the kitchen on the third floor.

DS:      And the store was in the first floor.

Mr:      The first-floor front. It was a small store. I don’t think it was more than maybe sixteen to seventeen feet in width to about twenty-five to thirty feet in length. It was a small store.

DS:      But you were able – your father was able to generate enough money from that business –

Mr:      Oh, yes.

DS:      – to support everybody?

Mr:      Yes, my father was [indecipherable]. He also – he supplemented his (2:00) money by playing a violin at weddings and bar mitzvahs on the weekends. He was a very talented man. Between that we did all right.

DS:      How many children in the family?

Mr:      Eventually it became me, my brother, my other brother, and my sister – my little sister. There were four children.

DS:      As you were growing up, you went to a synagogue. Which one was it?

Mr:      It’s B’nai Abraham. It’s still there.

DS:      And it was primarily your mother – your grandmother –

Mr:      My grandmother that took me there. She showed me around. She was very religious. Not my grandfather, not too much my father. Not my mother, either. It was just my grandmother who taught me all about religion, studying, learning. (3:00)

DS:      To get back, you were born in Women’s –

Mr:      Women’s Hospital. That’s the only way I can explain it.

DS:      Give me the date again?

Mr:      That was September 28, 1929.

DS:      You said that your grandparents on your father’s side came from Russia.

Mr:      Yes. And on my mother’s side, they came from Poland.

DS:      Poland. And your parents were born and raised on South Street?

Mr:      My parents weren’t raised on South Street, no. My father – I don’t know where he was born. Possibly not on South Street. And my mother definitely was born in the Strawberry (4:00) Mansion area. And they met possibly when he was playing a gig at one of the weddings, whatever. They met.

DS:      And her maiden name was?

Mr:      Hannah. H-A-N-N-A-H.

DS:      H-A-N-N-A-H.

Mr:      Spell it backwards and forwards, it’s the same.

DS:      Your father worked in the store. Your mother took care of the children and the house and the managing –

Mr:      Right. And did the shopping and the cleaning. Everything was nearby. All you had to do was walk out the house, walk up to the Ninth Street market, the Italian Market. There was a lot of grocery stores in the area. And they’re all closed today. (5:00)

DS:      Where did you go to school?

Mr:      Right across the street. Across the street from the store was an elementary school called the – let me see – I can’t remember. It will come back to me.

DS:      That was the grade school?

Mr:      That was grade school. Then I eventually – that school closed down, and I went to McCall’s School, which is at Sixth and –

DS:      Delancey?

Mr:      Delancey. Right. McCall’s School.

DS:      And after that?

Mr:      After that at that point, we already moved out – oh, wait a minute. The junior high school, also in the neighborhood, which was Bartlett Junior High School at 11 th and Christian. And then we moved out of the neighborhood and moved into the Northeast. (6:00)

DS:      But you continued to have a store on South Street?

Mr:      Continued to have the store on South Street. All the while I was helping my father out whenever I can. When we moved to the Northeast I was already 16. I had a lot of friends in this area. Not as much as in the Northeast, because I was 16. I already had developed a friendship with a lot of people, a lot of guys.

DS:      Who were some of the men that you grew up with, that you can remember? Would they still be around?

Mr:      They won’t be around here.

DS:      They won’t be around here.

Mr:      The only one I know – I remember a guy named Shimmy. But he’s still around somewhere. Living in a senior citizen complex at Sixth and Locust, somewhere. But everybody else all moved out of the neighborhood eventually. Irving Cohen, Joe Steinberg, Jules Epstein, Jules (7:00) Fierman. A few people.

DS:      Tell me, the house that you had had plumbing and heat and cold water?

Mr:      The house that we moved to?

DS:      The house that you lived in here.

Mr:      Oh, yes!

DS:      Had all those things.

Mr:      Had all that. My grandfather had wood – coal – into the furnace there. During the winter, that was his job, to make sure there was enough heat.

DS:      Then you met your wife. Where did you meet your wife? Here in this neighborhood?

Mr:      She lived in this neighborhood. She lived at 539 Spruce Street. She lived there all (8:00) her life. And my mother-in-law and father-in-law and Marilyn’s grandmother and grandfather lived there also. And they had boarders on the second floor and third floor.

DS:      And her maiden name?

Mr:      Her name was Levin.

DS:      Levin. And that’s spelled –?

Mr:      L-E-V-I-N.

DS :     You met and –

Mr:      Hold on. [speaks aside]

[Tape is turned off, then on again ]

DS:      Go ahead.

Mr:      You want to know how we met. Is that right?

DS:      Yes. You met in this neighborhood. That’s important.

Mr:      Actually, we met – I mean, we finally got together in this neighborhood. But it’s – you’re ready to hear this story? I was 22 at the time, and I was stationed in California. I have an aunt and uncle that lives there, in California. And my mother – when I was in the service, (9:00) I was stationed in California. I visited my aunt and uncle, my aunt, who is my mother’s sister, and her husband. Who was there at the time visiting, when I visited my aunt and uncle, was Marilyn’s grandmother. Marilyn’s grandmother said to me, “You know, you know, that man that your aunt is married to is my son.” I say, “No kidding. I didn’t know that. So, in other words, my aunt and uncle’s kids are my cousins and also your granddaughter’s cousins. Is that right?” (10:00) She says, “Yes, that’s right. You have the same cousins.” I say, “What does she look like?” She showed me a picture of her, taken in Atlantic City. And I say, “Wow! She’s a good-looking girl. When I get back from the service, I’m going to look her up.” We both have the same aunt and uncle. We’re not cousins. We’re not related to each other. But we fell in love. First time I came home, I talked to her about two hours. It’s been like that since. It’s fifty-two years now.

DS:      Fifty-two years! Wonderful. Did you have children?

Mr:      Oh, yes.

DS:      How many?

Mr:      A boy and a girl.

DS:      A boy and a girl. And did they stay in the neighborhood? (11:00)

Mr:      No, because we went very fast about this. No, they didn’t stay in the neighborhood, because we didn’t live in the neighborhood at that point. When I married Marilyn, I already lived in the Northeast. Remember, I said we lived in the Northeast. I had to travel from the Northeast back here to visit Marilyn. A lot of times, if it was late at night, I would sleep at the store, up on the second floor at that point, because my grandmother and grandfather had already passed away. My aunt and uncle had moved out. The place was empty. I slept there so I could be in the store and help my father out. At that point, I was working full time. I was out of the service. (12:00) And that’s what we did.

DS:      You were working full time for your father?

Mr:      Yes, full time. When I got married, [it] was full time. Before then, come to think of it. Got married in ’54, so – at least 19 –. When I got out of the service, I worked full time. Which was in 1952.

DS:      Fifty-two. You never did move back into the neighborhood with your wife?

Mr:      No. Never did.

DS:      But you kept the store.

Mr:      My wife eventually moved out of her house, even though my mother-in-law and father-in-law stayed there for a few more years, before they moved out.

DS:      Now the Cohens, when we moved into the neighborhood in ’63, there was a Cohen’s (13:00) – a big Cohen’s – on South Street. That’s not your Cohen’s?

Mr:      Yes.

DS:      That’s your Cohen’s. You had a store at Ninth and South, but at some point you moved east.

Mr:      Yes. All right. Now let’s just get a little history about the store on South Street. We were at Ninth and South. We eventually spread it out to 911 South, and spread the store out to 913 South. We had three properties at that point. In 19 – around the 1960s, the early 1960s, it was a lot of talk about the Crosstown Expressway coming along. We had to decide whether we wanted to stay [t]here and be in the way. You know, they were going to tear down all the houses, all the stores, and all the businesses on the north side of the street. We had to decide (14:00) did we want to do this. A lot of stores started going out and moving, and the Redevelopment Authority gave us a fair price for our property, and we decided to move. In 1967, we moved to 532-34-36 South Street. I think it was three stores wide. It was owned by Taub brothers. What did they sell? They sold drug supplies, you know, drug store stuff and all that. They were moving out anyway to larger quarters in Jersey. So we moved there. And even though my father didn’t like the move, because he said, “Nobody’s chasing us out now.” I said, “No. The point is that now, Dad, we are expanding, and we could use a bigger store. We have a little store. (15:00) We’re cramped up.” So, he said, “Well, I’ll see if I want to move also.” I moved all of my stuff out. My father was still there for about one week. I said, “Dad.” I called him up, “I’m at 532 South. We’re very, very busy. I need you here.” Key in the lock, he shut the thing. He came in, whatever little stuff he had there, he moved it out. And that’s where we stayed, at 532-34-36 South Street, from ’67 to approximately ’76.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Your father moved back? (16 :00)

Mr:      Yes, remember, the store – he didn’t live there, either, you know. [He lived] in the Northeast. But anyway, he decided that’s a good idea. I had a nice-sized store. It was a self-service store.

DS:      Let me just clarify something here. Crosstown Expressway was going to come in; you contracted to sell your other stores –

Mr:      Yes.

DS:      – and to buy the one east at Fifth Street on South.

Mr:      But I couldn’t buy it. I couldn’t buy it. I had to rent it. They would not sell it because their mother, an elderly woman, wanted to use that, the money for the rental, to supplement her income while she was alive.

DS:      You bought these other stores, these later – this later store on South Street, (17:00) after the threat of the Crosstown Expressway.

Mr:      Absolutely.

DS:      After the threat.

Mr:      Absolutely. Yes, I got very much involved with the people in the area – in this area, between Fifth and Fourth and Third. I got very much involved. I never knew they even existed when I was at Ninth and South. It seemed like another world. When I was at Ninth and South, just going – my father would say, “I want you to go to Kelem’s, a delicatessen, and get me a delicious corned beef sandwich. I never get to go up there.” And I would walk up there and get him a sandwich there.

DS:      Where was Kelem’s?

Mr:      Kelem’s was where Philadeli is now [410 South Street – now closed]. That’s where Kelem’s was. And even the stores – I always wanted to move in this area. I mean, as a business. It was really nice. I thought (18:00) I’d never do that. But the time came. All you’ve got to do is wait long enough, and the opportunity knocks. 417 South Street was available. [inaudible]

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Tell me about South Street when you were growing up, the stores there. I hear it was a wonderful shopping area.

Mr:      Yeah, it was. My block, the 900 block of South Street, it really was – I remember it when Joe Krass clothing store, right directly across from me, that would be on the south side. He had a nice-sized store – (19 :00)

DS:      That’s Krass Brothers?

Mr:      No, that was Joe Krass, that’s the father. You want me to go back, don’t you?

DS:      I do.

Mr:      All right. He’s the father. And as those boys grew up, they decided to make a larger store, go to a larger store. On my side of the street was the Hippodrome movie theater. They took that into it, and they made it into a big clothing store. At that time, it was huge. We thought it was huge. And the Krass brothers, it was three boys, they grew up in – all the clothes. I used to buy my clothes there all the time. In the same block was two other hardware stores beside mine – a lot of hardware stores. And on the next block, at Eighth and South, was another hardware store. I remember his name was Miller. I think they were a childless couple. They also had a (20:00) hardware store, nice and neat, not like my father’s store. Everybody had different types of stores.

DS:      And what was your father’s like? Like this?

Mr:      Mine was like – no, this is – in fact my father’s store was a little bit smaller than this store, and this is small. I think his store probably came down to about here. Yeah, because the kitchen area.

DS:      Two-thirds of the first floor was store.

Mr:      Yes. Then the kitchen area. We’d walk down the stairs and partially into the store and then into the kitchen. This is the way it was done. I thought nothing of it. Now, who does this? But we did that and, uh … (21:00)

DS:      Hardware stores, a clothing store…

Mr:      Oh, there was plenty of clothing stores. There was –

DS:      Movies.

Mr:      There was no movie except on the 800 block of South Street, called the Rexy. They were closing down at that time.

DS:      When you were growing up?

Mr:      Yes. Even when I was growing up they closed down. It stayed that way as an empty store for the longest time.

DS:      But the Hippodrome, you said, was that not a movie theater?

Mr:      It was at one time a movie, but that was closed many years before they built a clothing store there. Where it sloped down, the cement – after all, it wasn’t a flat – as movies go, you had to go down. Is that right? Or go up.

DS:      And watch the movie. (22:00)

Mr:      Yes. I think you had to walk down.

DS:      Your mother would go food shopping –

Mr:      Yes.

DS:      To the Italian Market.

Mr:      The Italian Market sometimes, or the food stores on my block. There was a small deli, and the next block there was a –

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      You were saying –

Mr:      My mother went shopping – she would go, she will still go to Fourth and – to Fourth Street also. Had a lot of nice – they were Jewish-owned places there. Had a lot of shopping there.

DS:      On Fourth Street below South Street?

Mr:      On Fourth Street between South and Fitzwater.

DS:      Vegetables or –?

Mr:      Oh, they had fruit stands and inside the stores, behind the stands, they had     (23:00) stores that sold butter and eggs, chickens, poultry, the whole thing. They had a lot of that there. And that was on the west side of the street. I remember the south side – the east side of the street was a lot of clothing. Women’s clothing, not high-priced, just the low-end type of clothing.

DS:      Material stores like there are now?

Mr:      Material stores was always between Fitzwater and Catherine. It was solid material stores, things like that. So, like I said, my mother did a lot of shopping. All of it. She had a (24:00) lot to do. Never had to go out of the neighborhood. Never had to use a car. Come to think of it, my father didn’t have a car. He learned how to drive a car when he was in his mid-30s. Finally learned how to drive a car, buy a car, so we could travel elsewhere in the big city. We took the trolley car everywhere.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

Mr:      As I was growing up, I used to play baseball at Starr Garden, which is still there. There was a playground also at the – I can’t remember the name – I used to play baseball there, at 10 th and Lombard. (25:00)

DS:      Seger?

Mr:      Yes, that’s it. And as kids we used to – there was always somebody there that we would visit, or they’d have classes. Little things like that. We always found something to do with my friends and I.

DS:      What kind of classes? You mean like to learn?

Mr:      Different things, like how to – I don’t know – work with wood, different things, little things like that.

DS:      And that would be sponsored by who? Somebody at the playground?

Mr:      City of Philadelphia. Just to keep the kids off the streets. I used to play catch (26:00) in front of our store at Ninth and South, right on the street. It was no problem. Now you can’t do it. There’s always cars. There wasn’t that many cars. We had a streetcar running on South Street, which is the same as the bus that’s still running here. And it would run around, turn around at Second Street and go back on Lombard Street. Which was the 47 trolley, and it’s still the 47 bus now, as far as I’m concerned. I had friends get out. We’d go out on dates. As my friends go, I think I had – one of them became – I became his best man at his wedding, and he became my best man at my wedding. (27:00 )

DS:      So South Street had hardware, clothing, delis –

Mr:      Lot of clothing stores.

DS:      Lot of clothing stores.

Mr:      Every block had at least one or two. And the upper end of clothing was between Seventh and Eighth on South Street. On the south side of the street was Diamond and Co., which had really good clothes, expensive. I know I could never go there. And as I got older and I could afford it. I would go. Growing up, I remember one of the sons, Berman, Al Berman, had a clothing (28:00) store. I was friends with the Berman boys. Now we’re getting closer to Sixth and South Street. If I forgot something, I’ll probably remember later on. But there was always something to do.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

Mr:      Not only did we play baseball at the Starr Garden. I seemed to like Starr Garden more than the other, Seger. But they also had the neighborhood center on Bainbridge Street which would be between – at that point it was between Fourth and Fifth, on Bainbridge Street, on the south side of the street. The neighborhood center. I met a lot of girls there. My friends, Irving, (29:00) we would play basketball. We had teams. I don’t know how we played basketball, because the ceiling was so low that we had to shoot – you couldn’t arch a ball. You had to shoot straight. It was the most difficult way. But we played basketball there and had teams. Full games. I don’t know how I did it. You couldn’t arch it. It would hit the ceiling. It was unbelievable.

DS:      Swimming?

Mr:      Swimming? Only swimming I ever done was at the YMHA at Broad and Pine. We’d go there. There were places to go. And there were movies to go to. At the Model, to the (30:00) one where TLA is now. It was still a movie house there. I think it was called the New Palace movies. Down on Twelfth and South Street was the Standard movies. At Fifteenth and South was the Royal. The Standard movie was a run-down movie. Most of them were occupied by a lot of blacks, they’d go there. But I would go in there, too, because they had some good movies. And we all got along.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Tell me about the different cultures.

Mr:      Well, for instance, right across the street from the Standard was – across the street from the Standard movie house was a restaurant. I wouldn’t go in there. I don’t think I ever ate (31:00) in there. But they had – they sold hot food. It was a real honest-to-God restaurant. It’s a – I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it was interesting.

DS:      Southern cooking you think?

Mr:      Yes. It was southern cooking. Because it catered mostly to the black people in the area. And there was a lot of black people in the area. And I had some very nice friends there that went to Bartlett Junior High School.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

Mr:      Yes, it was a diverse area. And usually it was a – in those days, usually the black people would stay in that area, right? From Twelfth and South all the way to Sixteenth and South. There was that area there. (32:00)

DS:      And that was black while you were growing up.

Mr:      While I was growing up, yes.

DS:      But from that area going east was not black?

Mr:      No, no. A lot of Jews and other people that –

DS:      Any Puerto Ricans?

Mr:      No Puerto Ricans.

DS:      No Puerto Ricans.

Mr:      No. In fact, when we lived on South Street, my father and my aunt and uncle, at those times, when I was small, growing up, in the summer, school would close and we would sit outside, in front of the store, facing the store, with a bench or seats, and sit there. It was – you don’t do that anymore. (33:00)

DS:      There was no air conditioning.

Mr:      That’s true, too. Nobody had air conditioning. The movies were air cooled. Model movie had fans running there. And we had our best times on a Saturday going to the movies, at the Model, which was just about where my store was when we finally moved to the final place, which was at 417 South Street. But anyway, we would go. We were – how old? We must have been about eight, nine, ten, something like that. And my friend Sonny, I’ll never forget. Irving, we used to call him Sonny. We used to go to the movies, and they said, “Hold on to your tickets, (34:00) because we’re going to have a drawing. You’re going to win a – the winner will win a wagon. A red wagon.” And between movies, we’d sit there with the stub, and they called the number out, and my friend Sonny won. Screamed, “I won! I won!” I said, “Yeah, it’s there. You don’t have to take it now.” “No, I want it now. I want it now.” And he ran out and he showed them his ticket, and he got his wagon, and he ran down the street. He was carrying – rolling the wagon down. And he didn’t even see the rest of the movie. He was so excited. He lived at 943 South Street. That was a – name was Kolmins, Jack. And they had a – unusual. He sold (35:00) newspapers, magazines, hot dogs, fishcakes. They sold everything. And he owned a lot of property. Anyway, he had – I got interested in reading murder mysteries, science fiction, pulp fiction, all these books. And they were pulp books.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

Mr:      Video people. The people at the – the city talked to me about – that they are going to tear down the north side of the street [South Street]. My thoughts were that either I’m going to have to move out of the neighborhood, which I found a lot of people did move out of the (36:00) neighborhood. Some of them actually closed up. Krass Brothers stayed in the neighborhood. For some reason, they had enough money maybe to develop the area for themselves. But as for myself, I found that I would have to move to another location.

DS:      Can you give me an approximate year?

Mr:      That year was 1967. And I’ll show you a picture. I have it up there. You’ll see my father and I and the whole thing there. But a lot of people lined up, just didn’t make it. One person moved to the Northeast. That was Harry Distel. It was a pawn shop/store that sold musical instruments. They decided to move to the Northeast because some of them lived in the Northeast and wanted to try a different location. I stayed in the area because I was used to the area. My (37:00) brother moved out of the area. It was a scare, to move in. Something entirely different. The other store was strictly – you had to be there to take care of every customer. There was no – where people can just take what they want.

DS:      Self-service?

Mr:      Self-service. That’s the word I’m thinking of. Self-service. And this is entirely new to us. Even my father, who finally came in. Somebody would say – my father would say, “Can I help you?” He says, “No. I’m just looking.” He says, “Well, I can help you, you know.” He says, “But I don’t need help. It’s self-service. I can take what I want.” He says, “I’ll tell you – (38:00) we’ll tell you where it is.” My father was a tough one to get used to that. It was a little easier for me. My wife was easier. It’s great. Especially the people around there that had stores. They would come over to me and says, “Gee, it’s great to have a hardware store in our neighborhood! Gee, I’m glad you came into this neighborhood. Where’d you come from?” They never knew we were there since 1913. We were at Ninth and South. 1913. These people. Like we’re like strangers. I said, “We’ve been around here. I’m your neighbor. I just moved from one place to another.” This is at 532 South Street.

DS:      \What’s your impression now of – (39:00)

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      I wanted to ask you what’s your impression now of South Street with this long, long history that you have. It’s gone through many changes.

Me:      Yes, it has. Many changes. I notice a lot of larger stores have moved in. Just to take care of the rent. Anybody that’s small. When I was coming and moving in to my new store or even when I got to 417 South Street, I noticed that there was a change. You just couldn’t open up a store, open up a business, on a shoestring. It just wasn’t possible. There are stores here that are still working. They started out as a shoestring, but they’ve grown and they’ve developed (40:00) and have become a large type of store that can stay in business in that respect. Just look around. Pearl Arts, they bought my big store. And I don’t know who else would be able to move in there, except a store like Pearl Art and the other larger stores. And that’s sad. Because anybody that wants to be an entrepreneur just can’t stay in business even if you give it a chance. Really.

DS:      You had told me about in the summer a nice story about how you would put the chairs out in the front sidewalk and you faced the store and you’d sit out there and talk to the neighbors.

Mr:      Yes. They’d say, “Hey, I need a bulb.” Or “I need a fuse.” My father would get up, open the door, get them a bulb or get them a fuse or something like that.    (41:00)

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

Mr:      – spring. Never the winter. Never the winter.

DS:      But it was a nice time to socialize, is that what you’re saying?

Mr:      Oh, yes. Socializing. Neighbors would walk by, say hello, they’d talk. You know. He made – even the neighbors, competition, they all stopped and said hello. Sometimes I would stop by their store and walk in. “Mr. Miller, how are you?” “Mr. Janowski, how are you?” And “What’s good? What’s new?” And, you know, my father would do it. My grandmother.

DS:      So most of these people lived in the building that their store was in?

Mr:      Yes! I can’t think of anybody that – well, no. It’s changed. I mean, it’s all changed.

DS:      Do you think of anybody else in the neighborhood from your era that I should (42:00) interview?

Mr:      If they’re in the area. Oh, you know, like Isaiah came in around 196 – maybe 1969, 1970. Somewhere around that.

DS:      Somebody before that.

Mr:      Before that.

DS:      Like who would have grown up here, like you?

Mr:      The people – some of them are dead.

DS:      Did you know a Mrs. Powell?

Mr:      Yes, I knew a Victoria Powell, as a girl. Wasn’t in a business. She lived on Eighth Street. Oh, I liked to go to Snockey’s. My father loved the oysters, the oysters at Snockey’s. (43:00) It was right there in the neighborhood, right there on Eighth Street. No, there was a lot of restaurants here. The Samuel Lator, Samuel [indecipherable]. His son grew up in the neighborhood. He’s at the store. You know, he’s still in business. Not Sam, no, but the sons, who worked with their father, on the corner of Eighth and Kater. Now he’s got, he’s got a store like a UPS store. Packaging. Even makes keys. He’s been in the business, he’s been there a long time.

DS:      Where would I find him?

Mr:      He’s there!

DS:      At Eighth and Kater.

Mr:      Eighth and Kater. UPS store.

DS:      UPS store.

Mr:      He’s been around a while. I should know. He knows me.

DS:      All right.

Mr:      I haven’t seen him in a while. I know he’s still there.

DS:      Anything else that you want to tell me about when you were young, growing up, (44:00) Redevelopment Authority, changing neighborhood, problems?

Mr:      I can’t think of anything. Problems?

DS:      Yes.

Mr:      I never really had any problems.

DS:      Thank you very much.

Mr:      On Sundays, when I was growing up, we all closed on Sundays. Very, very seldom did we open up. You know, working seven days a week, you need one day to close up. And that was usually on a Sunday. My mother and my father, a few times we would go, get dressed. I have a picture. I think it was during the holidays, maybe spring or something like that. And we got dressed up and my mother would get my shoes and she would polish them white. (45:00) They were brown shoes but she would polish them white. Of course, some of the polish would come off on our socks. But she would do that. And me and my father took a picture, on Tenth Street, on a Sunday, of my mother and my brother and – yes, it was just the two of us – and my mother. And my father took the picture. And we would go downtown. She had friends there. And we dressed up. We didn’t have a lot of money. I could tell. The way my mother was dressed – she had a pin holding up a part of her blouse or something. Just to see, the sleeves on my jacket were very short. And my brother, he was wearing one of my older jackets, and that was short on him. But this is what we did. Dressed up. (46:00)

DS:      You would go visiting.

Mr:      We would go visiting. No one wanted to come to our house, because they had to walk through the store. There was no outside entrance. You walked through the store.

DS:      What did your brother do?

Mr:      My brother is now an illustrator. He’s an illustrator and artist, and he’s very, very successful. He lives in Bucks County.

DS:      And your sister?

Mr:      My sister is a – she’s married to a wonderful guy, and she has two daughters. They’re – she works for the city of King of Prussia. King of Prussia.

DS:      Yes. (47:00)

[End of side one of the tape]

[Side two of the tape]

DS:      The date is 3/13/2006. The place is Cohen & Co. Hardware and Home Goods, Inc. store, at 615 East Passyunk Avenue, in Philadelphia. Marilyn, tell me your full name, including your maiden name.

Mrs:     Marilyn Delores Levin Cohen. That’s my full name.

DS:      [Laughs] And how do you spell Levin? With an E or not?

Mrs:     L-E-V-I-N.

DS:      And your date of birth?

Mrs:     1/5/36.

DS:      And what was your birthplace? Where were you born?

Mrs:     Philadelphia.

DS:      But it was in a hospital? It wasn’t at home?

Mrs:     Yes. It was in a hospital, but I don’t know.

DS:      And where did you grow up?

Mrs:     Right here at 539 Spruce Street, my entire life.

DS:      Your entire life.

Mrs:     Yes, until I was [indecipherable].

DS:      Until you got married.

Mrs:     Yes, until I got married. I still lived down here for a couple of years after I got married. Until I was 21, I lived here.

DS:      And you lived with your mother and father?

Mrs:     My mother and – I grew up with my mother and father, my mother’s parents, my grandmother and grandfather; my uncle lived there, my mother’s brother. And my mom rented out some rooms to boarders to make some money. We had a very – the house was very big.

DS:      And did you have brothers and sisters?

Mrs:     No, I’m an only child. Our house was always loaded with relatives, at different times.

DS:      Yes. It was a very family-oriented childhood.

Mrs:     Yes, very. And most of my – a lot of my other relatives lived around here. My grandmom’s sister, Anna, she lived at Fourth and Pine. She was always at the house. And just that time. Open doors, and people were coming.

DS:      Yes. Your parents – what were their roots, going back to….?

Mrs:     You mean my – my grandparents were from Russia. My grandfather was from (2:00) Russia, and my grandmother was from Poland. My mom’s parents. And my father’s parents were – I don’t know where they were from, because I never knew them. They were deceased by the time I was born. I didn’t know them.

DS:      But both – your mother and father were both born in the United States.

Mrs:     They were both born in the United States. My parents were, yes.

DS:      And were they born in this neighborhood?

Mrs:     My mother, I think – I knew she grew up at Fifth and Jackson, she told me. Other than that I don’t really know. My dad was from West Philly. That I know. My mom, I know, yes, as a young girl, Fifth and Jackson. But before that I think, perhaps, I’m not sure.

DS:      They met and married and moved here? What did your father do? (3:00)

Mrs:     My father was a jack-of-all-trades. He did a lot of things. And he worked – he was like a handy man. I guess you’d call him a janitor. He worked at the Navy Yard when I was a little girl. And then he worked for – I can’t think of it – Gordon Davis Linen Company. He was a do-all kind of guy, fixing up everything.

DS:      Was that in this neighborhood?

Mrs:     No, Gordon Davis wasn’t. Marvin might know. No, Gordon Davis –

DS:      It’s all right.

Mrs:     That’s what he did. Navy Yard for all the years I was growing up. Navy Yard, and then Gordon Davis laundry. He was an all-around fix-up things guy.

DS:      And your mother?

Mrs:     My mother took care of my grandparents and ran the whole house. You know, with the boarders, cooked and cleaned. She was home. (4:00)

DS:      Yes. She worked hard.

Mrs:     Yes, she took care of everybody.

DS:      Yes. In the home, the big home that you –

Mrs:     It was big.

DS:      And your parents owned the home.

Mrs:     Yes.

DS:      And did you have indoor plumbing and heating and hot water?

Mrs:     Yes, all those. It was a huge house.

DS:      Huge house.

Mrs:     Three stories – it’s gone now – and the attic and a huge basement, which, when I was a child I didn’t know, but the holes – it was a wine cellar. There were holes in the wall, and I didn’t know what it was.

DS:      The house has been torn down?

Mrs:     Oh, yes. It’s been torn down. And they have this huge, modern-looking thing. Very big house.

DS:      Give me the address again?

Mrs:     539 Spruce Street. Right on the corner.

DS:      So where did you go to school? (5:00)

Mrs:     I went to McCall School, and then I went to Bartlett Junior High. And then I went to, believe it or not, West Philly High. And I went to West Philly High because a lot of the people I knew were there, some people I knew. So, and in those days you could get in – certain boundaries were not too far down into the south. And because I was on Spruce Street, I was able to go. And I took the trolley car over to go to West Philly High.

DS:      Did your parents have a car?

Mrs:     Yes. My dad drove. My mom didn’t. My dad taught me how to drive. [Laughs] He had to do all these side things, like taking me down to Delaware Avenue with the railroad tracks in those days on one side and the water on the other. And said, “Now drive.” It was a stick shift. That’s how he taught me how to drive. Since I was an only child, I had to learn everything. That was it.

DS:      But most of the time as a child you walked.

Mrs:     Everywhere.

DS:      Everywhere. (6:00)

Mrs:     Yes. Everyone did. My mom walked to Fourth Street to do all the shopping.

DS:      She shopped on Fourth Street.

Mrs:     Oh, God, yes. And I went with her. I remember it was very different. The merchants were there with the pushcarts. That was before the Italian Market.

DS:      Before the Italian Market?

Mrs:     I think it was before the Italian Market. I’m not sure. I can’t remember. Because everything – the butcher and the poultry store – you went in and picked out what you wanted. And they killed the chickens and had their own – you know –

DS:      You didn’t come to the Second Street markets?

Mrs:     No, only Fourth Street.

DS:      Only Fourth Street.

Mrs:     Fourth Street, you know, when I was a kid. My mother might have – I don’t know. I’m seventy now, so let’s see.

DS :     After you finished school, what did you do?

Mrs:     Well, I met Marv – I met my husband when I was sixteen. And I got married when (7:00) I was eighteen. I never went to college. I would have liked to, but I couldn’t. In those days it was, well, that’s a long story.

DS:      Be as long as you want.

Mrs:     You know, I wanted to attend college, but I had little things. I went to work when I was fifteen. I worked at Lit Brothers. I lied about my age. In those days, everyone wore high heels and girdles and stockings. And I lied about my age. And because I always had a love of antiques and dishes, and my mom’s like that too. I lied my way in, and I was working in the china department at Lit Brothers. And because we didn’t have any money, I turned over my paychecks. Anyway, that’s another story. But I did that. And _________ I had met Marv, and I got married when I was eighteen. And then in high school I had a course where I worked a week (8:00) – I took a commercial course – I worked a week and I went to school a week. My first paycheck – Wearever Aluminum. The office was at 1730 Chestnut Street. And my real first paycheck was $28.10. I remember that [laughs] I brought that home, too. Twenty-eight dollars. In high school.

DS:      Twenty-eight dollars.

Mrs:     Twenty-eight dollars and ten cents. For working – I was a secretary in training there.

DS:      For a week? For two weeks?

Mrs:     That was – I think it was for two weeks. Yes. Once a month. Yes. And I was so proud of that. You know, to do that. That was Wearever Aluminum, the main office. I really learned a lot. I remained there for quite a few years.

DS:      Wait a minute, I’m getting confused. So Lit Brothers was first.

Mrs:     That was first, when I was young – yes, when I was fifteen.

DS:      Aluminum was next.

Mrs:     Yes, and I had a lot of – I had met Marv when I was sixteen, and we were going (9:00) together for those two years and got married in March of 1954. And I was not working in our store then. But I was learning about it a little bit. And then I was working at Wearever Aluminum as a secretary for three guys.

DS:      A secretary at Three Guys?

Mrs:     Three bosses.

DS:      Oh, you had three bosses.

Mrs:     Three bosses. And I was there, and I worked there until –

DS:      And this is – where is there?

Mrs:     Wearever Aluminum? 1730 Chestnut. It was right down here.

DS:      Oh, all right.

Mrs:     Still we couldn’t afford to move. We lived at home, because the house was so big. We lived here at 539 Spruce Street. And until I became pregnant with our first child. And we bought a house, but it wasn’t done yet. I remained living – with the veterans’ thing. (10:00) Whatever that loan was, whatever that’s called. We did that. And then Jen was born in March of – she’ll be 49 next Monday. I still lived at home because our house wasn’t done.

DS:      Where was that new house?

Mrs:     The house was on – a row house – on Country Club Road right off of City Line Avenue. It wasn’t that far.

DS:      It wasn’t here.

Mrs:     Yes. It wasn’t here. And then I moved out when Jen was about six months old or seven months old. But I’m always down here anyway. So that was, you know …. And then –

DS:      You talk about “our store.” Or “your store.”

Mrs:     You want me to talk about that?

DS:      Well….

Mrs:     Well, when I first met Marv, it was, you know, the small, the original store, 911 South Street. And my future father-in-law was looking at me and saying, “You could do this. You could do that.” But the times were so different then that men regarded women as stupid.         (11:00) [Laughs] And so they belonged only in two rooms, the kitchen and the bedroom, not anyplace else. And I was the recipient of that type of behavior. I was a young girl and I just, you know, I was in my twenties and, you know, and it was just very difficult for me. I’d say, “Can I help you?” And some would say – you know, push me away with his hands. “OK, girly girl.” I got a lot of – it’s almost like living through political times. Only I did it through the way the world changed. It’s the way people change too, you know, handle that a female is actually in a man’s world. Very strange.

DS:      A hardware store. Such a man’s world.

Mrs:     A man’s world. They didn’t expect a woman, especially a young girl, to know anything about anything, especially hardware.

DS:      Hardware.

Mrs:     Yes. I learned – it’s very interesting. It’s almost like marking time with the (12:00) times. The way people react to things. I had an excellent education in that respect.

DS:      What did Marv’s father let you do?

Mrs:     Well, he let me – he pointed out a little bit of stock here and there, because that store was very small. And he taught me a few different things. And then – but I didn’t really think then, I wasn’t, you know, I didn’t think I would, I wasn’t thinking about winding up being in the hardware store. When I had first met Marvin, I was still working in, you know, in Wearever Aluminum, the office. So – but I was very interested in mostly in people, though. And I didn’t do that much. And then after I had – gave birth to my first child, and then (13:00) our second, our son, then I went back to work when they went into school. When they went to school, I really officially went to work. I did a little bit, but I went fully then, when they were in school.

DS:      And got some wonderful degree?

Mrs:     No, I didn’t get a degree.

DS:      Just took courses that you liked?

Mrs:     No, I didn’t do that. I just went back to work in the store.

DS:      Oh.

Mrs:     I didn’t go to college. I wish I had.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

Mrs:     My mom was sick. I was taking care of her. Are you showing me this because why?

DS:      No, I’m just holding it because you’re talking so softly I’m trying to hold it in front of you.

Mrs:     My life just took a different turn.

DS:      Your mother was sick and you had two children.

Mrs:     Yes. I took care of her. She passed away when she was sixty-three. And I found myself doing pretty much what she did. Taking care of everybody. That’s what I did. I was the only child. There was no one else. I couldn’t – so I really – (14:00)

DS:      And your dad? Did he –

Mrs:     Well, my dad, he – well, she died first. And then I took care of him.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

Mrs:     After my mom died, my dad – that was when we [the hardware store] were at 417 [South Street]. I brought my dad into work one day a week, just a little bit, to get him out of the house. He was a character. He was kind of funny. But he really did work. He sat at the – behind the register, on a stool. He drove me a little nutty sometimes, but at least he was not alone. And so I did that. And because he was handy, Marv and I thought it would be good for him to do something. He was. But then he became ill himself. He got a little – he was getting a little out of control here and there. But he still enjoyed it, and everyone got a kick out of him, too. He was kind of funny, and that was good. So, you know, but then he became really ill, and I couldn’t take care of him because I had to (15:00) work all the time. I got someone to come. That was 1989 that he died. And I had someone come to the house, and I cooked all his meals and everything. And I came and made sure she took care of him and bathed him and did what I couldn’t do.

DS:      You worked at the store all this time.

Mrs:     Yes, I did a lot. When I think about it now, looking back, it’s quite amazing, actually. But when you’re in the middle of doing it, you do it and you don’t think about it. You just do it. I was an only child. I had no choice. And that’s probably one of the reasons why I rather enjoyed being at the store and having my relationships with my customers. Because it’s fun, and I had so many stories, most of which can’t be told here. [Laughs]

DS:      [Laughs]

Mrs:     They were really funny. Shoplifting and, you know, my three-legged guy. I don’t know if you want to hear that story. I don’t know if it should go in there. (6:00)

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

Mrs:     – the wonderful people that were – when I was growing up – all the wonderful people that, in those days, you called everybody Mr. and Mrs. And some wonderful people. In those days, of course I was a young girl and they were older. They probably were thirty and [so] forth, and to me they were ancient. But it was just a different time, and you walked out and you left your door open, and you could sit on someone’s step and never think about somebody coming in and robbing you. Not that there weren’t criminals. You just didn’t hear about it. And it was just a different time. People were—your manners were always there. I was brought up that way. Most people you addressed them properly. It was just a different time. People seemed to take great pride in what they did, in their work, no matter how simplistic that was.

DS:      You are saying this is your childhood, this is not in that era of the ‘60s and ‘70s when you were working at Cohen’s store on Fifth Street. (17:00)

Mrs:     That’s right. And I grew up exposed to a million different people. But they were kinder and gentler. And even though I was born and raised in the city, I really learned a different side of people. But that wasn’t until I was older and went into work to see that people were not this soft-spoken, gentle, willing to answer and talk to you. When I was a little child I found that people, in my opinion, seemed to be different. But I still don’t know if it’s because I was older or because I looked at the world through rose-colored glasses. And I don’t think necessarily that it was just me. It was the time. There was no television when I was growing up. And there (18:00) weren’t newsy reporters reporting everything about the President and everybody else that was doing things that we didn’t know about. And so –

DS:      And there was no air conditioning.

Mrs:     No air conditioning.

DS:      You were always out and about.

Mrs:     Out and about. And I went out. There were no toys. Even if there were, we couldn’t have afforded them. And I played with my friends. We shared things. I shared a skate. One skate.

DS:      One ice – one roller skate?

Mrs:     One roller skate. We had the key. We used to share. She lived at Fifth and Delancey. Irma Sigel. She lived at Fifth and Delancey. And we shared the skate. Cause neither of us could afford it. We had to do skating on one, with the key. And we just played in the park in Washington Square, which many years later I wheeled my child in there, and I couldn’t believe that. (19:00) And, you know, we just did things. We played with boxes. The interesting thing, I was the only girl on this particular block of Spruce Street, and I remember the Victory gardens and everyone planting things. And the boys used to tease me because no one could afford a bike. We walked everywhere. But we used to hang out on the corners and –

[Tape is turned off, then on again ]

Mrs:     We went into the Model movie at Fifth and South, and Charlie was the usher. And we used to laugh, because he cut – he always had white socks and black shoes, but the front of his shoes were cut open, cause he had bad feet. But we didn’t know that. He used to walk up and down the aisles. And we would go in, and because I was short, and because I knew everybody, even the cashier – they got me in for under twelve [Laughs]. I was cheating and then I felt guilty. (20:00) I felt guilty. And then we would do that every Saturday, when we could afford it. Then, you know, we went to the movies. And the people that I knew that went to McCall’s School, Harold Baumholtz from Baumholtz Real Estate used to be over here. And David Meyers and all the guys. And we would go in and we would walk around, and that’s what we did! And so, when the Five and Dime was there on South Street I was getting a little bit older then. We would go in because we were trying on lipstick. And that was our thing, you know.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      A wonderful life.

Mrs:     Sy Solomon. Manny had places –

DS:      What, what, what?

Mrs:     This was a restaurant on the corner at Sixth and – I can’t remember. Sixth and Pine. Yes. And there was Bowman’s down at Fourth and Spruce. These were all places, little restaurant things where you knew the owner and different things. (21:00)

DS:      Growing up you had a girlfriend?

Mrs:     I had a lot. Irma, she lived at Fifth and Delancey Street. Irma Sigel. We would hang out together. It was a mixed neighborhood also, and there were – it was mostly white people, but there were a couple mixed people in there that lived on Cypress Street, and one of the girls, she went to school, too.

DS:      Five hundred block?

Mrs:     Yeah. This was ___________ . Then another friend of mine, Pat Mietla, she used to – she’s deceased now. She lived at Fourth and Spruce, and her father worked for years and years at Campbell Soup. She was Polish. We used to laugh. Matter of fact, we stayed friends, and then years and years and years later we went to a wedding, and that wedding went on for like a week, and we were still laughing about it. And she worked with me at Wearever. And, of course, my family, my first cousins, lived at Fourth and Spruce. That wasn’t uncommon then, (22:00) you know, families. And they were there – and of course, my mother’s sister, my aunt Shirley, lived right across at 528 Spruce. She lived there downstairs, and I grew up very close to my two first cousins.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

Mrs:     A lot of not so wonderful things, but I was very fortunate.

DS:      Growing up in this neighborhood you were very fortunate?

Mrs:     Yes, yes. I thought I had a very – just interesting people in –

DS:      You never felt scared?

Mrs:     No, not in the time I grew up. I walked everywhere, at night, everywhere. One of my girlfriends lived at Gaskill Street, and – Alice Levy and her whole family were there. Spanish Jews. They all lived there. And I would walk back and forth. I never thought anything of it. And all the years I went to Bartlett Junior High and I walked back and forth. We had stuff (23:00) after school. It was dark. Nothing. No one ever – you know, nothing. There was just never any thought about it, because nothing ever happened that we were aware of.

DS:      And you didn’t lock your doors?

Mrs:     Oh, yes, we locked our doors at night when we were inside, but sitting out of an evening my mother would walk across the street to talk to one of the people, or I would, and the door was open. When we went in at night, I grew up next door to the McGlone family, and we used to laugh over the fence in the back, in the backyard. We used to crack up. They were a huge family, they were Irish, and we were Jewish. Really funny. And so I really – I was privy to a lot – Hi, James. I have to –

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Did you know Marvin, as a child growing up, did you know Marvin?

Mrs:     No.

DS:      He lived on South Street, and you lived on Spruce Street.

Mrs:     Right. (24:00)

DS:      But you didn’t know each other.

Mrs:     We didn’t know each other, and the only time we ever saw each other was we have, um, his Aunt Beatrice married – his mother’s sister – married my mother’s brother, Uncle Sol. And they met here. They were very young, and they moved to California to start a life out there. He had a – he was a jeweler – he had an offer to work out there. And when they would come in, once in a while, they would all come in. They drove across, and I was still growing up and living on Spruce Street. And I played the piano. One time we were all together, but I don’t remember Marv. I was maybe seven or eight. He said he remembered me as this chubby little girl sitting down and playing the piano and smiling and laughing for the family gathering, always in our house (25:00) because we had the big home. And so – what was the question? – and so it wasn’t until – I had no memory of him at all. I don’t remember, but he remembered me. And it wasn’t until my grandmother, my grandmom Jenny, went out – flew out – in those days it took like half a day to get to California – flew out to visit her son, my uncle, who was married to Marv’s aunt. Marv was stationed in the Marines, and he was visiting Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Sol, and my grandmother said, “Hey, here’s a picture of Marilyn. You haven’t seen her since she was a little girl. And I had gotten grown up and gotten slim that summer. And she showed him a picture, and he said, “Well, I’m going to call her when I get out of the Marines.” And he did. And he called me in March of 1952. He called me up. He said, “Grandmom.” And we went out. March 8, 1952. And we’ve been together ever since. (26:00)

DS:      Ever since. [Laughs]

Mrs:     It was because of my Grandmom Jenny.

DS:      Nice story.

Mrs:     A true story. And it’s – now, we laugh. It’s so funny, because we have the same cousins. It’s quite funny. You know.

DS:      What interests me is that you actually lived so close but you didn’t interact.

Mrs:     No. Not at all. Marv is – he’s seventy-six now, and I’m seventy. Marv is six years older than me, and our paths just didn’t cross. And it’s funny, because we were within distance. And I never, it’s just so funny. It’s amazing, actually, when you think about it. Younger. Nothing.

DS:      Not even through the synagogue.

Mrs:     Nothing, nothing. Our paths never crossed. He said the only time we were ever in close proximity was when the mutual family came, which was only once or twice in those years, and I was entertaining, as I usually did, playing the piano, sitting and smiling. Good little girl. “Play the piano, Marilyn.” And I did! And that’s when Marv said he remembered seeing me. But I do not remember seeing him, and our paths – even though we went – the only thing that      (27:00) we did do together – we talked about it and laughed. We both had the same kindergarten teacher, Miss Rutt, in McCall’s School. We remembered her. And, “Marv, you went to Bartlett Junior High.”

Mr:      Yes.

Mrs:     But our paths didn’t cross, which is quite interesting, since we lived so close.

DS:      Did your family go to a synagogue?

Mrs:     Yes, we went to a – on Pine Street. I forget the name of it. I went to Sunday school there. Our paths never crossed.

DS:      All right.

Mrs:     And it’s funny, it’s very funny, when you think about it.

DS:      Are there any of your childhood friends still around here in this neighborhood?

Mrs:     No one that I can think of that lived here. My friend, unfortunately, is deceased. Irma lives far away. Alice, no, she doesn’t live down here. None of them, no. (28:00)

DS:      How about evening life or –

Mrs:     Our evening life. Well, Marvin and I – our evening life, my evening life – you mean, growing up here?

DS:      Um hum.

Mrs:     Consisted of – before I met Marv?

DS:      Yes.

Mrs;     Consisted of walking around, all around, up and down. We would sit in the park or in somebody’s house or somebody’s steps. [narrative interrupted briefly] I went to the neighborhood center.

Mr:      [unintelligible]

Mrs:     But we would just do it. We would –

DS:      What neighborhood center?

Mrs:     Where was the neighborhood center. Was it at Fourth and – where was that?

Mr:      [unintelligible]

Mrs:     It was at Fourth and –

DS:      Yes.

Mrs:     Fourth or Fifth and Bainbridge.

DS:      It was the same one you – the same neighborhood center?

Mrs:     I was – [sound of telephone ringing] the phone’s ringing – I was into shows and doing things. My cousin, Fay, was – are you getting it? – was acting, and they did a couple (29:00) of plays. And I would just do things, and they – things. They had arts and crafts and all sorts of things.

DS:      Swimming?

Mrs:     No.

DS:      Active sports like baseball?

Mrs:     No. Who is it?

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

Mrs:     – it was always a lot of fun.

DS:      South Street.

Mrs:     South Street. On South Street it was the Model movie. Did I talk about that?

DS:      Yes.

Mrs:     The Model movie, which I have many fond memories of my Saturday afternoons and mornings. We spent the whole day there, actually. [Laughs] They let us stay. And we would bring in our food, our lunch, and chit chat with Charlie, the usher, who knew all of us kids by name. And it was – we all were there watching the – I can’t think of the name of that – (30:00) before the movies they would have the guy with the – I forget his name. Not in space, but close out there. Marv, was it – I can’t remember.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

Mrs:     Fun thing. It was just fun. It was a gang. We would all sit together, me and all of my friends: David Meyers, Harold Baumholtz, Pat Mietla, Alice Levy, Irma. Charlie would walk up and down with his bad feet with the cut black shoes, with the light socks showing through. And every once in a while he would – he wouldn’t holler at us, but he would just – he just would say, “SHHH! Be quiet!” or something.

Mr:      But it was very crowded.

Mrs:     It was always crowded.

Mr:      It always – we couldn’t sit. Remember they had a right side, where the exit was. They had steps, and we would sit on the exit steps and watch the movie, because there was no (31:00) room for you.

Mrs:     You’re all different memories. But Charlie was a hoot and a half, and he would let us do just about anything. Of course, we were well behaved. We didn’t yell – we were always – we would save all of our napkins and whatever food we had. But we spent all day there. And my other fond memory of South Street is of the Five and Ten, which as a young girl growing up, they would have lipstick! And we were allowed to try on pink lipstick, hot pink lipstick and all the goodies. And everyone there was very tolerant of all of us young girls walking in and out.

DS:      You could try on – they had a sample lipstick?

Mrs:     A sample lipstick.

DS:      And everybody would use it on their –

Mrs:     Yes. It wasn’t the most hygienic thing one could do, but we had fun.

Mrs:     What the heck did we know. We were walking around. We didn’t know.

DS:      Where was the Five and Ten?

Mrs:     It was next to where would be now where – it would – practically where our store was, actually. (32:00)

Mr:      It started on Fifth Street, the entrance, is that right? Fifth? And you could walk in and walk out on South Street.

Mrs:     Right.

Mr:      Was it Kresge?

Mrs:     Kresge’s, yes. Kresge’s Five and Ten. And it was near the Model movie. It was before the Model movie, actually, where the corner would be where –

DS:      Sixth and –

Mrs:     No, Fifth. Right here where Johnny Rocket’s is. A little bit further in. Johnny Rockets.

Mr:      Yeah, but that 811 store, that’s –

Mrs:     No, that’s Fifth Street, honey. The Five and Ten was there.

Mr:      Yes.

Mrs:     Right. He’s right. On Fifth Street. Right.

Mr:      It was big. And you would walk around –

Mrs:     And you’d come out on South.

Mr:      On South Street.

Mrs:     And go to the Model movies with my lipstick in my pocket. Anyway, but also, I liked that very much. I remember that. And I remember walking on South Street and all the hustlers, I guess you’d call them. They were outside the men’s clothing stores calling everybody in. (33:00) “Come on in!” You know, the guys would go, “Come on in! We have suits. We have this.”

Mr:      They didn’t recognize me. I said, “I live around here.”

Mrs:     But as a kid, as a young girl, I knew things very differently. Everything was a small store.

Mr:      They [indecipherable] hustlers. They were barkers.

Mrs:     Barkers. Barkers was the word. Well, actually, they were hustlers, I suppose. But all the businesses, you know – and there weren’t that many businesses then. This particular area – up – was all the clothing. But it was just fun. And we would walk around on Saturdays. We walked everywhere, but mostly on South Street. But then we would go to – Marvin, was Manny and before Sy Solomon owned the luncheonette on Sixth and Pine? But there weren’t that many restaurants on South Street. There weren’t any. Oh, yes, there was Kelem’s. (34:00)

Mr:      Yes.

Mrs:     Kelem’s Delicatessen was across the street from us. But we – it was just so different because – and you knew the owners because it was a small, one on one. There were no big markets. There were all the, you know, the pushcart peddlers. And, of course, Levis’s Hot Dogs.

Mr:      [inaudible]

Mrs:     What?

Mr:      Levis’s.

Mrs:     I just said Levis’s. We just said it. Levis’s Hot Dogs. A real institution. You went in and had a hot dog and a cherry Champ soda, and you knew everybody there. And they knew you. And it was fun. And it was – we just walked around. You know, walked and talked and we just talked about a lot of things, like what we were going to be, do, when we grew up, like most people do.

            But we weren’t encumbered by all the technology. It wasn’t there. And one of the things I remember as a kid is sitting in our living room, gathered around the radio, which later on my grandchildren said, “What is a radio?” They did. They never heard of it. And listened (35:00) to Franklin Delano Roosevelt give his fireside chats. And I was so in awe of the President, and I think most of us were as young kids, because not that anybody was any better then than they are now. It’s just that everything was so revered. And because you didn’t have all the knowledge and hear all the bad stuff, you only heard the good stuff. And I think that collectively that thread ran through. It still does. You were proud to be an American.

            As a young child, I remember at McCall’s School, the sliding doors. That’s how they did assembly. The doors slid open between the classrooms, and you were all together. You were separated but not really. When you pledged allegiance it meant a lot, because you were so overcome by that (36:00) feeling of “Wow!” The respect was there. That’s what’s missing today, the respect. Those of us that grew up at that time, we had great respect for our President, for everything. We were in awe of everything, because there was nothing there to detract us. I don’t know if that could be both good and bad, because we weren’t knowledgeable about a lot of things. We only knew, we only knew – like Will Rogers, you only know what you read in the newspapers. And it’s true. And, of course, reflecting what your parents had to say. But I remember, that’s my memory, of sitting around the radio listening to him and being – and the radio itself. But when I went out in the world and walked on South Street, I still preferred South Street to Pine Street because South Street was more exciting even then.

DS:      Tell me, did you ever go down to the river?

Mrs:     Yes, I did go down there. We did go down, and we did walk around there. (37:00) Of course, the Navy Yard was down there, and my dad worked there. So most of the time we walked to Washington Square. Of course, we walked in town, Lit Brothers and Gimbels, and growing up to see the Thanksgiving Day parade was really something. I still can remember climbing up the side of the building to go to Gimbels or Lit Brothers, I can’t remember which. But I just – we walked everywhere. And, of course, people dressed differently, that’s for sure, with the hats and the gloves. You can measure it with the atmosphere and the dress. It was the way you conducted yourself. And so, and everyone, I suppose, a restrained era as well, for me growing up. [background conversation]

            I think it was a nicer time, actually. I know it was for me. And my dad was very strict. I can remember speaking about South Street, that (38:00) my girlfriends Irma and Pat they said, “We’ll meet you on South Street. We’re going to have – we’re going to walk around.” They were wearing high heels. My father wouldn’t let me, and he said, “You cannot wear them. You cannot!” I said, “Why?” I remember he said, “Because you’re just too young, and I don’t want you to wear them.” I’m bringing it up for a reason. The parents, at least the ones I knew, including my own, were not strict, but it was their code of ethics that was passed down. You didn’t dare go against that. It was handed down to you, and you’d better listen if you knew what’s good for you. I didn’t wear lipstick except on Saturdays when I was on South Street in the Five and Ten, and I could wear a sample. But I had to wipe it off my mouth__________ before I got home. My dad (39:00) would have had a fit. You didn’t do these things –

DS:      Nail polish, too?

Mrs:     Yes. You didn’t do these things. You didn’t smoke. You didn’t do these things. You listened to your parents. My dad was very strict. We even went on – it was after I was already married, and I had my first child. They were babysitting, and we were going out. And he said, “What’s that stuff on your face?” And I said, “Dad, that’s makeup. For goodness sakes, I’m married now.” Everyone I knew had the same thing, the same code. The parents were strict. You did not disobey. You listened. You may not have liked it, but you listened. And so, that sense of respect. Also, when you went into a shop on South Street or any street nearby or on South Philly, too, you gave respect to the person that was waiting on you and taking your order. You didn’t flippantly answer. They said, “What do you want?” You would answer, “I’ll have this, thank you.” And they said thank you. And so, there wasn’t this flippant – (40:00) it just wasn’t there. The shopkeepers – anyone on South Street – these small luncheonettes – there was a drugstore across the street from me – at 539 growing up, a pharmacist, Mr. Finklestein. He served – had a soda fountain. I’d go in and say “Please” and “Thank you.” And that’s – and everyone was the same way. The give and take of respect for the older person that was there [coughs] – excuse me. We never called anybody by their – we said, “Mr.” “Thank you.” And that’s gone. In South Philly we had the best pizza, and a lot of my friends lived down there. We would walk and go to – it’s still there. The Triangle Pizza. I think it’s right here, Passyunk Avenue. It just was different, the area, the people. (41:00)

DS:      Tell me, the Redevelopment – when the food produce center left and then the Redevelopment Authority came in, in the late ‘50s, how did that affect you and your family?

Mrs:     Well, my mother, she remained there, but they came in. They wanted to buy her house. They offered her a ridiculous amount of money, a small amount. Had she stayed, she would have gotten more. I referred to them – the Historical Society – as the Hysterical Society, because I thought they were like really funny. They came and looked at her home – our home – the mantelpiece. They were checking out the authenticity of the wood in there and the hallway and different things – the wine cellar and whatever else. They offered her money to (42:00) move. They wanted everybody to move the heck out. That’s what they really wanted. A lot of people did not. My mom at the time did not. Marvin, when did my parents move to 2601? Early ‘60s or late ‘50s? When was it? Jen was – I think it was the late ‘50s, right? Yes, good. A few people took the offers, and it was minuscule compared to – and they moved. That’s how that impacted us.

DS:      But your family did not move?

Mrs:     Not right away. But my mom – they did. Then my grandmother had died in ’54, and it was just my mom and my dad there. My grandfather died in ’52. So they took the offer and they moved. But you know, my mom was a town person, and so it was real – there’s a bus there. My mom would always come into town. (43:00)

DS:      Did they sell it to the Redevelopment Authority?

Mrs:     They sold it to Redevelopment Authority.

DS:      For a very small –

Mrs:     For a pittance. Well, my mom was – she was, you know –

DS:      Older and needed a –

Mrs:     A little bit older – and she wasn’t ill then, but she got sick.

DS:      She didn’t feel threatened by them, did she?

Mrs:     Well, she wasn’t – she didn’t feel threatened, but they certainly weren’t – I just happened to be there at the time when one of the jerk weeds came in and was discussing something with her. I was young and had my own thing. I was married already and stuff. She was anxious to get out of the business. I told her, “Mom, it’s too much for you.” And she did. But it was really screwing up. A lot of people were very – felt threatened by that, you know, coming in. “What do you mean, you?” The only thing that affected us, impacted us, was the (44:00) Crosstown Expressway, which Marv may have spoken about.

DS:      He did.

Mrs:     That was a – well – but it ultimately was a wonderful thing for us. Because had we not rented at 534, and that rent went up, and then we purchased 417. We never would have done it. So that turned out all right. But you never know.

DS:      It’s the change.

Mrs:     Yes. But I have a very difficult time. The world has changed. I am an old lady now. I’m seventy, and I just remember people were just not so locked in that five inches of space around them, the cell phone and the iPod. I don’t know. And so everything affected – the neighborhood changed. People here were great. They’re still great. And – but – South Street. [Laughing] I remember what we called the hippie years. Did Marvin refer to that, too?

DS:      No, go ahead.

Mrs:     Some of my funniest moments were there, actually. The funnier things that my children remind me of. Because we were in business always, and because of the restaurant boom – you know, the whole restaurant thing – so one of my memories – and don’t forget I’m going home to the motherhood part of my life – with all the sedate, subdued women who didn’t work then; they were home, and they weren’t exposed to some of the fun stuff: spiky, purple hair and green hair and people with chains wrapped around their feet. I’m going back into the ‘60s.

            They would come into the store, and one of them was this young man, John, he was very bright and had foresight to be interested in purchasing property. He looked like a geeky freak with all the chains and his spiked hair. And people would – we were at our 417 store – and people would jump back when John would walk in. I’m tying this all together. he would say, “Marilyn, OK, Marilyn, I’m making ______________ chains.” He liked to rattle everybody, literally and figuratively. I said, “Go ahead, John.” And he would walk through the door. You know, all the people that would come down to our store were not born and raised around here. You could just see the shock. I would die, and he would go on. Someone would say to me, “Who was that?” I would say, “That young man is John.” And they would say, “Well, what is he?” I said, “Well, he’s a wonderful young man and –“ whatever.

[End of interview.]


©2006 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
Cohen Hardware and Home Goods, Inc., 615 E. Passyunk Ave.
Interview Date
March 13, 2006
Cohen, Marvin
Narrator Type
Oral History Sources