Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Gruber Bros. Furniture

Gruber Bros. Furniture, Main Street, Maynard, MA (2015)
 The fire of 1934 changed everything. Julius and Benjamin Gruber had bought the business from Alfred T. Haynes in 1917, followed by buying the building in 1919, and were operating as Gruber Bros. Furniture on the first floor. Upstairs was Riverside Theatre (motion pictures), managed by Samuel Lerer. Elsewhere in the building were the Waino Williams Bakery, King & Huggins liquor merchants, and various offices of the Town of Maynard. The fire started in the back of the building around 4:30 AM on a Saturday morning and was not entirely extinguished until after noon. The re-build was to a smaller building, currently with Gruber Bros. Furniture as its sole occupant.

A pre-fire photo hangs in the front window along with a plaque from the Maynard Historical Commission. The original building, three stories tall, much modified through the years, was erected in 1868. A large meeting hall on the second floor served as host to Maynard’s first town meeting, in 1871.   

When Julius and Ben retired the business fell to Burton “Burt” Gruber, Julius’ son. A newspaper clipping from The Beacon, Nov 18, 1982, recounts a story about Burt selling $69 worth of office furniture on credit to a couple of guys starting up a new business in the mill. The business was Digital Equipment Corporation and one of the shoppers was Ken Olsen. When Burt retired operation of the business went to his nephew, Joel B. Cohen, son of Burt's sister Jeanette (Gruber) Cohen and Sidney Cohen. [Burt died in 2006, age 94 years.]

Joel B. Cohen, president & proprietor of Gruber Bros. Furniture, Maynard MA
The Gruber family was an active part of a small Jewish community in Maynard. Family records suggest that brothers Max and Eli Gruber came to the United States from Russia circa 1880, with both of them ending up in Maynard some time later. Ellis Island as the east coast immigration arrival site did not start operating until 1892, so a good guess is that the Grubers left port from Hamburg, Germany and landed in Boston (rather than New York, the major destination for Jewish immigration from 1890-1925). Max's oldest daughter was born in Europe, but the subsequent four children, including Julius and Benjamin, were born in the U.S. The oldest sister married Samuel Lerer, local store owner, movie theater operator, and a Selectman of the Town of Maynard.     
Warehouse behind Gruber Bros. Furniture, Maynard, MA
The murals were painted by members of CinderBlockHustle
in 2008, with the north wall repainted in 2012 with a
patriotic/military theme. [Click on photo to enlarge]

The Gruber family was instrumental in forming the Maynard Hebrew Society, which in 1921 bought a house on Nason Street and had it moved to Acton Street to be the home of Rodoff Shalom Synagogue. Prior to that the members had been served by a visiting rabbi, holding services in space rented in the meeting hall of the International Order of Odd Fellows, on Nason Street. Rodoff Shalom Synagogue existed through to 1980, when it merged into Congregation Beth Elohim, in Acton. In a temple newsletter, Adam Jacoby remembered, “In 1980 we built a new building and marched the Torah from Maynard to Acton under a chuppa [canopy] with shofars [horns made from rams' horns]. I was one of the shofrot during the walk.”

Gruber Bros. Furniture intends to close its doors later this year, thus bringing a closure to three generations and 98 years as a family business. As Joel Cohen put it, "When I was 16 years old my mother sent me over to the store to help with a furniture delivery. Now, 54 years and one hip replacement later, it's time for me to get off the truck and retire." The middle photo shows Cohen leaning on a stand-up desk that spans the width of the office. When asked the history of the desk he replied that it was in the office when his family bought the business in 1917. Future use of the building, which includes a mural-decorated warehouse building in back, is unknown.

Fifty of David Mark’s 2012-2014 columns were published in book "Hidden History of Maynard" available at The Paper Store, on-line, and as an e-book.