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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Molly Rubinstein
INTERVIEWER: Sylvia Shorstein
DATE: June 5, 1980
S: This is Sylvia Shorstein interviewing Fortuna Molly Rubinstein on June 6,
1980. Molly, let me ask you about your parents coming to America. Where
did they come from?
R: My mother and father were married in Tripoli, Syria, and my mother, origi-
nally, was from Smyrna, Turkey. She was of Spanish descent, and it really
and truly is a very romantic story, but, we won't go into that today. How-
ever, at the time of my mother and father's marriage, the only language that
they spoke in common was Turkish. My mother was born in Smyrna, Turkey.
Originally, her family came from Spain. We had tried to trace the family
background on my mother's side for quite a while, and we had come up with
the conclusion that her family definitely was recorded as far back as
Christopher Columbus' day. My mother spoke several languages fluently,
and she was quite knowledgeable in other fields as well. However, in order
to be able to converse with my father and his family fluently, she learned
the Arabic language. In coming to America, which they did together, and
they settled in New York, it did not take her very long to master the
English language, because of her knowing French.
S: They were married when they came here?
R: Yes, in 1900.
S: And they were living there?
R: Oh, sure. My father and mother had heard so much about how beautiful America
was, and for some reason or another, my father felt that even then there
was feeling against people of the Jewish faith in the city where he was
born, which was Tripoli. There were very few Jewish people there, and
he felt a little resentment at the fact that they were barred from a great
deal of things, even over there at that early time. So he decided that he
was going to come to America. And, of course, he discussed it with my
mother, and my mother was very willing.
They arrived at Staten Island, and my mother, having friends in New
York at the time, they came to greet them. They stayed with them for a
while, until they could find an apartment of their own. Mother and Dad
had two children that they brought with them, Rachel and Rebecca. They
also brought a niece with them. Her name was Rose. And they lived in
New York for a few years. But my dad found that the winters in New York
were too severe for him, so they thought they would try to move near the
ocean, and they moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey, and were there also
for a while, but my dad did not find that the winters agreed with him there,
also, so he decided that he was going to try to go to Florida.
At that time, Florida was not too well-known, but he had heard some
beautiful stories about it, and he wanted to see what he could do. So he
packed a suitcase with some very lovely linen items, and decided he was
going to see if he could seek his fortune in Florida. He did that for
two years while my mother still lived in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with
the children. However, she decided that she could not take being sep-
arated from my father, and she told him that she would like to move to
Florida. So they decided to settle in Jacksonville.
S: Do you know why he decided on Jacksonville?
R: He knew there was a good opportunity here. There was no railroad beyond
that point, and any traveling you had to do had to be done by horse and
buggy. He used to go to St. Augustine and places in the vicinity as far
as traveling is concerned, but Jacksonville was the metropolis at that
time, and that's where he felt that, with a family, that Jacksonville would
be an ideal situation. He opened a small showroom in the Windsor Hotel,
which was quite successful because this was the residence of tourists,
and they were always interested in the type of merchandise that he had to
offer. From there, he also opened a shop in the Seminole Hotel, which also
seemed to go over very well.
S: Tell me about the type of merchandise that he carried?
R: The type of merchandise that he carried was mostly imports. Of course, at
that time, ready-to-wear was not an important part of the retail business,
and most of his items were such things as very fine handmade blouses.
Also very fine linen tablecloths, collars, and cuffs, which were very pop-
ular. Just more or less accessory types of items. In 1911, he opened
his first large shop, which was at 325 Laura Street, across from Hemming
S: What did he call it?
R: He called it G. Mizrahi and Company. When he opened his second shop,
which was at 34 West Adams, at that time it was across the street from
the Roosevelt Hotel, and in the old Arcade Theater building. It was a
single small shop at that time, because most of the items he carried were
imported from France and other foreign countries. He decided that The
French Novelty Shop would be a very good name, so that is where the
French Novelty started.
S: When was the second shop opened? About what year?
R: It was in the area of 1920, I believe. Frankly speaking, I don't know
the exact date.
S: Were any of the children able to help him in the store at that time, or
were they too young?
R: My sister, Rachel, who was the oldest, supervised and managed the store
on Adams Street soon after they decided to close the store on Laura
Street, and expanded at the Adams Street location, which at that time
seemed to be a little bit better. And they took a double store, and that
worked out very well. Then, as sportswear began to become popular, they
put in additional items, such things as sweaters, skirts, and lingerie.
So they expanded to four shops in the same location. There had been
four shops there at one time, but my father took over the entire four
shops. They could not break through to two additional stories because
the arcade had a stairway that went up to the second floor between the
shops, so he decided that the infants' and children's wear items, and the
linens would be one section, and the sportswear and lingerie would be in
the second section. By that time, my sister, Rebecca, came into the busi-
ness, and she was very helpful in buying the linens as well as the in-
fants' wear. And as I grew up, I took over part of the buying--the sports-
wear and boys' and girls' wear.
S: When did you become active in the business?
R: Soon after I graduated, which was in 1926.
S: In other words, that was your first job?
R: That's fine. Yes, my first permanent position. My father was a very, very
good teacher. He taught us so much about merchandising as well as other
very important items--selecting the best quality in workmanship and fab-
rics, giving our customers the best that we could for the most reasonable
price. With this basic foundation, the business grew.
When we first moved to Jacksonville, we lived at 518 West Duval
Street, which was very close to the B'nai Israel Synagogue, which was
at that time at Jefferson and Duval Streets. My father was very, very in-
terested in B'nai Israel, and he did everything he could to help the
growth. We were a religious family. Our background being Sephardic, our
customs were a little different, but we definitely made a place for our-
selves in the growth of B'nai Israel. My father was not a fanatic, but
he felt his religion very deeply and he imbued the feeling in all of his
Having a nice-sized family, and wanting to provide as well as he
could for them, he worked long hours, and all of us tried to do our
share, including my mother. My father became very much interested in
Zionism, and he always had a desire to go to Israel, although his dream
was never realized. His origin was in a country that was very close to
Israel--Tripoli, Syria. Although in his youth he traveled a great deal,
he never had the opportunity of going to Israel. My father was a member
of several synagogues. As problems arose, he tried to help them all, and
he did a great deal of work in trying to unite the community. It was
not until the time of his retirement that he became involved in the study
of and he did the Talmud. He studied for hours at a time, with different
friends who were also interested in learning, and became very knowledgeable
in this particular field.
As far as our home life was concerned, there was nothing more beau-
tiful. My mother was a terrific cook, and our Sabbath meals were some-
thing I remember we looked forward to coming home to after school. The
smell of hot bread in the oven and the beautiful table settings, that made
the Sabbath meaningful. My mother tried to show us what the Sabbath meant
in so many different ways. All of us, more or less, were very involved
in the business, even from a younger age; however, once we graduated from
high school, we gave practically all of our time to do the business, which
we enjoyed. It became a challenge to see what we could learn and try to
do as far as helping my father increase the growth of the business. Af-
ter my brother Joe graduated from college, and before he went into the
service, my father asked him if he was interested in the business, and
he discussed the idea of turning the management of the business over to
the younger generation with him.
I went to LaVilla Elementary School for one year, and from there
I went to Central Grammar School until I was in the seventh grade. When
I was in the seventh grade, we moved to the Springfield area. We lived
at 417 West Seventh Street, and I went to the Eighth and Perry Streets
School. At that time, we graduated from the eighth grade, and I grad-
uated from there in 1922. I went to the old Duval High School for my
high school studies and graduated in 1926.
S: Molly, when you lived on Seventh Street, did your family buy the house?
R: Yes. Yes, we owned a house on Seventh Street. In 1926, we built a house
on the corner of Eighth and Perry, 1934 Perry Street. Springfield was
a growing community, and needed a larger house. Before the new Center
was built, my father affiliated himself with the group that rented a
house on Pearl Street and held services there. And then, when the new
Center was built, he affiliated with them.
S: Was this between the B'nai Israel and the Center?
S: Why did he not continue with the B'nai Israel?
R: Because he could not walk that far to services after we moved to Spring-
field. My father used to go to services morning and night, early ser-
vices as well as late services. And definitely he could not go downtown,
especially on the Sabbath. Father didn't have too many other interests
than the business; in fact, at that particular time, there were not too
many clubs that he could be a member of, with the exception of religious
affiliations. My mother was kept very, very busy with her children,
with her household, and seeing that her family was well taken care of.
She, of course, went to all the PTA meetings and things of that parti-
cular kind. She was a charter member of the original Hebrew Home for
the Aged, she was a member of Hadassah Sisterhood, and of course of the
Center Auxiliary where we grew up. She kept very much involved.
S: Was your mother in the business too?
R: No, she was involved with our growing up and having a good home life. When
ready-to-wear became important, Dad opened a shop in partnership with one
of his nephews--his name was Zachie Mizrahi--called Frocks and Frills in
the Arcade Theater lobby. It was a very lovely shop, and one of the origi-
nal ready-to-wear shops in Jacksonville. Also, in the early years, one
of his other nephews, Meyer Dayan, worked with him.
Soon after, all went into businesses on their own, and they did very
nicely, as they had the ability. They were very good retail men. And
in the year 1952, we decided that since the Arcade Theater was going to
be remodeled, and since the shop was really not as large a shop as what
we would like, my brothers Joe and Ralph negotiated for the old Morrison's
Restaurant building, and redecorated it into a very, very attractive shop,
which was opened in August of 1952. At that particular time, we decided
that we would like a very fine ready-to-wear floor, and we took over the
second floor and made it into what we called the Parisian Room. And Mrs.
Ralph Mizrahi was in charge at the time, and she did a very, very good
job with introducing very lovely ready-to-wear items, which was well-
S: What was the address of your new store?
R: 119 West Adams. Downstairs, the first floor, I should say, was infants'
and children's wear, fine linens, and sportswear accessories. We had a
staff of about twenty-five, and on the opening we had 5,000 people that
S: What did you do for the opening? What kind of an event?
R: Oh, we had a lovely cocktail hour, serving hors d'oeuvres and soft drinks
of all kinds. Then we had lovely displays showing the kind of merchandise
we carried, of course, with the crowd pouring in. Sometimes they didn't
show up as attractively as we would have liked to have had them. My
mother, Mrs. S. Mizrahi, cut the ribbon of the store when it was first
open, and she was very, very proud of all her children who were very much
involved in the business. As far as the type of merchandise we carried
at that particular time, we had the reputation of having the finest linens
in the city of Jacksonville, as well as the finest children's and infants'
wear in the city. The shop was a very beautiful one, and it was very,
very well accepted. From there, as time went on, we found that the
suburban areas were becoming more popular, and in 1960, we opened a
suburban shop, our first suburban shop, at Jacksonville Beach.
8: Where was that, on what street?
R: Well, actually, it was on Beach Boulevard, in the first shopping center
that was built on Jacksonville.
S: At that time were there a lot of people living at the Beach all year
round, and was there enough...?
R: Oh, not as many people living at the Beach all year round as there are
today, but it was a success. It took a little time to build up and from
there our second shop was Lakewood, and we kept the ball rolling and went
from one suburban area to another, as they were offered to us. At this
point, we have two out-of-town shops, which are located in Tallahassee,
Florida, and we have eleven shops in Jacksonville.
S: What prompted you to close the downtown store?
R: Well, for quite some time, the parking situation downtown was a very,
very big problem. We tried to do everything we could to create some in-
terest in having the cost of parking being paid for by all of the shops
that benefitted from the consumer, but it did not seem to take hold. The
department stores could not see the writing on the wall, as you might
say, and we felt, by having our suburban shops, that the trend of business
was going that way, more or less. It was easy for the consumer to go to
the suburban areas because they did not have to dress; the cost of taking
their car downtown was becoming more or less prohibitive if they wanted
to spend any time in shopping. So we decided that the best thing that
we could do was to go more suburban, which was what we finally decided
on. We sold the lease of our downtown store, and from there built up in
S: When did you close downtown?
R: Now, it was in the '60s, I'm sure. I believe it was '67 that we closed
our last downtown store.
S: Actually, the retail business in Jacksonville following the trend of the
country. Suburban shopping was definitely the in thing.
R: Right, right. I don't know if you're interested in this--my brother,
Joseph Mizrahi, he had the foresight to see that things were not progress-
ing downtown, and he tried to influence both the Chamber of Commerce and
the individual department stores to try to have a cooperative parking
program. But it was like trying to fight city hall. He could not get
too far. I believe, frankly speaking, until downtown has a turn for the
better, suburban stores are much better in the retail field.
I wish I had a copy of these pictures. In the year of 1949, we
felt the need for expansion, so we moved our linen department to another
shop, so that we could have more room for the individual departments, and
we called our new linen department, S. Mizrahi Sons. This was on Laura
Street right around the corner from Adams. We stayed there until our
complete move to 119 West Adams Street, where all of the departments had
more than sufficient room. My sister, Rebecca Mizrahi, was in complete
charge of the linen division and she did a terrific job there. In memory
of my Uncle Jacob Mizrahi, my father, Salim Mizrahi, gave the first
Sephardic Torah to the Jacksonville Jewish Center. It was a beautifully
designed Torah; royal blue velvet, with sterling silver trimming.
R: Yes. He also donated a Torah to Etz Chaim opening, and he felt that this
was something that was very important as far as his feelings towards his
affiliations were concerned. As far as being conservative, he also tried
to do everything for the orthodox synogogue that he could, and he was
very friendly with even the Temple membership as well, and the Rabbi
Kaplan at the Temple.
S: So he was really trying to build the...
R: Build the religious feelings as far as he could.
S: ...good relations in the community, too, as well.
R: Right. Oh, he was very interested in that.
S: Tell us more about your dad and what type of a man was he?
R: Well, he was a very lovely person as far as his ideas. Charity meant a
great deal to him, and he was the type of person that, as I mentioned,
whenever he would meet any rabbis, or different people that traveled all
over the country that were perhaps in low income brackets, whenever they
would come to the Center, he always would try to help them., And so
many people used to tell him, "Well, if you're donating to a Yeshiva or
to a school or anything, how do you know if it is going to that charity?"
He said, "You know that ninety per cent of that money won't go to the
place you think it's going to." And his feelings were that even if a
dollar of the money that he gave went to the proper place, he was doing
what he felt was right. And he was very, very charitable-minded. I mean,
this was one of the things that is imbued in all of us as well. He just
felt that to give was much better than to receive, and we tried to give of
ourselves as well as monetary values were concerned; they were not always
the most important.
This is where my mother came in. So strongly was the fact that she
gave of herself to everyone that came in contact with her. And so many
people would call her a martyr, because she was always so helpful as far
as her community was concerned. She used to help a great deal at River
Garden, and to the patients there that knew and loved her, she was an
angel of mercy. So, it was a fact that we were taught, you might say,
as we were growing up, that it was very, very important to try to give of
yourself more than anything else because this is where love begins, and
we were always so full of love, not only for each other. We've always
been a very, very close family.
S: Molly, thank you very much for the time, effort, and all the beautiful
pictures. When we have this transcribed, we will give you a completed
copy of the edited edition for your own keepsake. Thank you very much,