The current COVID-19 plague finds me quarantined in my UES Yorkville apartment. Fear for my health along with news of economic uncertainty set upon me a raft of family legends passed down to me including the 1930s depression mayhem my grandfather, Jacobi Press, heroically endured and conquered.
He received an early lesson when he saved Herman Goldbaum from bankruptcy. The elderly Mr. Goldbaum owned a custom tailor shop in New Haven opposite the Yale campus that catered to students since the civil war. By the turn of the century, facing both physical and financial crises, Goldbaum made a deal with 22 year-old immigrant mover and shaker Jacobi Press to rescue the business. Knocking on doors at Yale dormitories pitching suit samples, the indefatigable and irrepressible Jacobi Press brought home the bacon, bailing out Mr. Goldbaum and allowing him after two years to turn Goldbaum and Press into J. Press Inc.
Grandpa Press had the foresight to prepare for tough times. The 1860 French Second Empire style building my grandfather purchased in 1907 was formerly the grandiose townhouse residence of Cornelius Pierpont, a successful New Haven grocery merchant.
The landmark building at 262 York Street became more than just the headquarters for J. Press, offering my grandfather an array of rental income. The Barrie Ltd. shoe-store occupied first floor south entrance. C.A. Stonehill Rare Bookseller, a treasure for the Yale community was at the north entrance. Valentine’s Barber Shop encouraged Yale crew cuts on the north side of the second floor. Klingerman’s Luncheonette, a popular Yalie hangout, served burgers well before the Yankee Doodle appeared at the rear entrance on Broadway.
J. Press’ enduring slogan Gentleman’s Tailors, Clothiers and Furnishers aptly described its 1930s physical appearance via sparsely featuring fabric bolts, mill books, and a narrow range of Burberry Raincoats and Topcoats. Dress shirt displays, neckties and assorted haberdashery selections required only modest store space. Branch stores at the Harvard DU Club, the side street shop in Princeton, the 2nd Floor tight space on 44th Street and two “road” salesmen carrying two sample bags narrowly met cash flow requirements. The Bank of New Haven went belly up, but Grandpa Press kept his mattress full.
Trust fund elites, the lion’s share of J. Press Ivy League and St. Grottlesex patrons, never sang the depression anthem “Hey Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime?” inside the hallowed portals of Porcellian, Cottage, Fence or the Racquet and Tennis Club on Park Avenue.
World War II changed the flavor of Grandpa’s solely custom operation. Sons Irving and Paul transformed the company into a ready-to-wear stronghold that iconically ushered in the classic Ivy League Heyday Look that headed across America.
Stores throughout America are currently shuttered, nevertheless a J. Press short bench is busy processing digital orders from enthusiastic customers engaged by the 2020 Spring & Summer Brochure together with the impressive display of merchandise available for purchase @jpressonline.com.
God and science willing, Happy Days will soon be here again.
What about the San Francisco store. It was on the second floor on Post St next to the venerable Brooks Brothers. We have some ivy style, here on the West Coast, too.
Wonderful story, Richard. Getting a kick out of your IG Live! Stay safe and be well.
Superb reading! Thank you for sharing Richard and here’s to the resurgence of classic dressing after this too passes. God and his gift of Doctors and science willing indeed!
When I left Yale and began my career in North Carolina some 40 years ago, I stopped into our “Bargain Box” used clothing store run by the Junior League and found a J. Press suit for sale. It was the highest quality suit I have ever owned. I have been a J. Press customer ever since.
Another wonderful story. While I hope this downturn does not last anything like The Great Depression, inspiring stories you provide help us endure the storm.
This article reminds me of my great grand-father who, from a brownstone, where the family lived on the first floor, used the third for his workshop where he tailored button holes on custom made clothes coming from establishments such as yours. Can you imagine raising a family with this skill? Well, I guess not surprising given an uncle who was hired to work in Penn Station due to his good penmanship…for writing out tickets.
Another fascinating story. Keep up the good work and stay well! Your Grandfather was a remarkable man.
I enjoyed the picture of York Street. I never saw traffic running “the wrong way” as the street always ran one way in the other direction when I shopped there.
Richard, thanks for another entertaining Press story. The last time I visited the New Haven store was in the early 2000’s. After having bought a couple of shirts and bow ties I headed home to Darien, and was sideswiped by a Yale pick up truck.
Now, I buy strictly on line since I have moved to Charleston SC.
April 27, 2020
Another very interesting article — I very much enjoy reading the series.
I am reminded of the late televangelist Robert H. Schuller, who stated “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do!” Our forbears were tough and resilient, and we must rise to their example.
It’s great to hear about the history of a successful business -
Traditional clothing will always be here to stay!
Looking forward to continual stories.
Nice read. Thanks for this and stay well.
Rich, I grew up in Northern California, where my of my friends were children of Depression-era Dustbowl emigrants. We all grew up with the “wolf at the door” family lore. But instead of wringing our hands we were encouraged to pull up our socks, set goals, and get to work. Work was the cure. But we also grew up with healthy doses of hope, humor and concern for others down on their own luck. The only thing we lacked was matzo ball soup! Love your stories: full of optimism, humor & hope. May you be blessed with good health so you can keep the stories coming. Cheers, Richard Landerman
The articles and history are very enjoyable to read. Thank you.
Rich…allow me to add a personal view of my best friend growing up….my Grand Pa…every Sunday he would drive me to 262 York Street and after checking in with ADT. we would proceed to the Court Street Jail and bail out Yale students who had overdone it the night before…then the highlight…a walk across the street to the New Haven Green….to feed the pigeons!!! Then I turned 7 and had to attend Sunday school…but nothing can erase the memories of my Sunday mornings with him….later a tale of how I got to Loomis.
Thank you for this! so charming
Great memories Richard. I took the catalogue you mentioned and used the discount coupon enclosed therein to purchase a navy (not striped) seersucker jacket. My next purchase will be the matching pants to make it a suit. Stay safe and healthy.
Thank you, Richard, for this wonderful story. I always enjoy reading your stories. I have fond memories of the Cambridge store and Rich Demont, my salesperson.
An inspiring article. My only request-more of the same.