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.
With Brooks Brothers finally and mercifully being put down after a long, debilitating illness, it’s gratifying to see J. Press still carrying the standard. Long may it wave.