So, yesterday, on behalf of the Connecticut Historical Society, I attended the Connecticut Conference on Tourism in Hartford. Firstly, it is inspiring to see the number of wonderful institutions across Connecticut that are so passionate about what they are doing. There was lots of learning opportunities with workshops about social media, using video content, reaching core audiences in ways that are relevant to them, presentations, networking opportunities and all that. What I left with, however, was insight. Continue reading
Tag Archives: G. Fox & Co.
Last year, for the holiday season, the CHS store featured a reproduction ornament based on an original in our collection: Winter Wonderland, Old G. Fox Building, Hartford, designed by Richard Welling, 1995, and G. Fox & Co. This product was so popular, by the end of the season, it sold out. Continue reading
The Tube Went Where…?
I was in the inside drive-thru lane at a Walgreens drug store recently and was watching a customer in the outside lane retrieve her prescription via a motorized “capsule” that traveled to and from the pharmacy. This got me to thinking about those wonderful pneumatic tube transport systems that were and in some cases still are used in large businesses, factories, banks, and department stores. You know (or at least those of a certain age know) the ones I mean, whereby a cylindrical capsule containing money or small merchandise items magically appears or disappears through a metallic tube, often with a satisfying hissing “thwunk” sound.
Well, since CHS’s collections has so many different objects I did some quick checking and learned that we in fact have one of those cylindrical capsules! Manufactured by the Lamson Engineering Company in London, our tube was used to transport money from a G. Fox & Co. sales desk to a centralized accounts receivable room in a distant part of the Hartford department store’s eleven-story building. Photographs of large pneumatic tube systems remind one of a mechanical octopus with long steel tentacles—or (I’m serious) in some ways the interior of the TARDIS time machine on the BBC’s Dr. Who television series. Don’t believe me? Well, have a look at the photo of the cash department at G. Fox, probably dating to the early 1920s. Get a load of all those tubes bringing cash to be processed, with change and receipts making the return trip to the sales clerk and, ultimately, the customer. There is almost a steampunk feel to the appearance of the tubes in the scene!
The technology for today’s pneumatic transport systems actually dates to the 19th century, when steam-powered air pumps were developed to provide the propulsion. Some large systems linked adjacent factory buildings, moving messages and even small parts between different departments. And get this, some visionaries even proposed subway systems employing this technology; but the airflow such large systems would require outstripped the capacity of existing technology. I can feel my ears popping already…
Boy Scout Jamboree, 1953
I have not posted to the blog for ages; too many things got in the way, I am afraid. But I am back! On Thursday of this week, we received the most remarkable scrapbook. It was created by a young man from Wethersfield, Connecticut, Andrew Twaddle, who in 1953 took a cross-country train trip to attend a Boy Scout Jamboree in California. The scrapbook, like many from the first half of the 20th century is on very acidic and poor quality paper that crumbles when you touch it. Everything is affixed to the pages with cellophane tape that has yellowed and dried. Typical. It is the contents that is not so typical. This young man included a catalog for boyscout uniforms (G. Fox & Co. was the official outlet for Boy Scout equipment), the flyer for the jamboree, notes on the exciting things he saw while on the train, a diary (!), lots of newspaper clippings made by his aunt who lived in California, postcards to his parents, and, believe it or not, a cover for his flashlight that would make it glow red during one of the ceremonies.
I remember my brothers in Scouts, but I do not think they attended anything this big. What a wonderful experience it must have been for a pre-teen boy. Now we can preserve that experience here at CHS.
Christmas at Fox’s
Beatrice Fox Auerbach may have been Jewish, but she was also an exceptionally adept businesswoman and, as such, catered to her mostly-Christian clientèle by turning her store into a virtual wonderland every Christmas season. The children’s department was transformed into Toyland, much to the delight of children all over Connecticut. And, of course, Santa Claus was there, beginning the day after Thanksgiving, so that every little girl and boy could be sure to tell him exactly what they wanted to be waiting under the tree on Christmas morning.
However, the most memorable aspect of Christmas at G. Fox & Co. has to be the store’s marquee, which was decorated complete with lights during almost every holiday season. For several years, the marquee consisted of the Christmas village with accurate replicas of many of Connecticut’s most important historic buildings. Pictured below is the scene of the Connecticut village from the brochure that G. Fox & Co. produced as a guide to the historic buildings on the store’s marquee.
The buildings reproduced on the marquee that year (1959) were:
- The Green Homestead in South Windsor
- The Osbert Burr Loomis House in Windsor
- The Joseph Webb home in Wethersfield
- The Litchfield Congregational Church in Litchfield
- The Noah Webster Home in West Hartford
- The Nathan Hale Homestead in South Coventry
While the Christmas Village was by far the most popular display, there were others as well. During the energy crisis of the early 1970s, the marquee was decorated, but did not have its traditional light display. At other times, festive scenes took the place of the Christmas Village, whose buildings had to be restored or replaced several times due to the destructive forces of the winter weather.
Look Who’s in the News!
As a premier in Hartford’s world of retailing, G. Fox & Co., and those at its helm, frequently made headlines. Many of these stories have been preserved in scrapbooks of newspaper clippings. In most cases, clippings concerning the store were kept in separate scrapbooks from those concerning the family, but there is some overlap.
A few of the scrapbooks act as memorials to Beatrice Fox Auerbach’s husband, George S. Auerbach. In these volumes, there are letters of condolences from area organizations in addition to the newspaper clippings of his obituary as it appeared in several different papers, including Salt Lake City publications.
The scrapbooks about G. Fox & Co. include articles from 1931-1968, almost the entirety of Beatrice Fox Auerbach’s presidency. There are even scrapbooks that were specifically created to house many the newspaper articles that resulted after the G. Fox & Co./May Co. merger.
If you’re just beginning to research G. Fox & Co. or if you’re looking for information about a specific event in Fox’s history, these scrapbooks are an excellent place to start. Additional newspaper articles can also be found in the collection. These articles are either duplicated in the scrapbooks or never made it into one, but are also a great resource for background information about G. Fox & Co. as well as members of the Fox family, particularly Beatrice Fox Auerbach and her father, Moses Fox.
The Tobé Award
In 1947, the same year that G. Fox & Co. celebrated its centennial, Beatrice Fox Auerbach was honored with one of retail’s most prestigious awards. At the 13th Annual Tobé Bosses Dinner, the fifth annual Tobé Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Retailing was bestowed upon Mrs. Auerbach “for demonstrating that a department store can and must exert a positive social force in its community.”
Beatrice Fox Auerbach, in her acceptance speech, said in part, “To be singled out by one whom I have so long esteemed as a woman in business, and so deeply regarded as a friend, as worthy to receive an award that bears her name is one of those rare experience in a lifetime that one cherishes and remembers. I accept it proudly, aware of the high standards by which its recipients are chosen. Yet my pride is tempered with humility. Whatever I may have done to be named for this distinction is not mine alone. It is but part of a heritage from the past, a partnership with the present, and a trusteeship for the future.” (More of the speech appears at the end of the post.)
The Tobé Award was considered to be the highest honor one could achieve in the field of retail and had previously been bestowed upon such prestigious individuals as Walter Hoving and Dorothy Shaver of Lord and Taylor, Adam L. Gimbel of Saks Fifth Avenue, H. Stanley Marcus of Neiman-Marcus, and Walter H. Rich of Rich’s in Atlanta. For Beatrice Fox Auerbach to be awarded such a distinction reflects greatly upon her importance in the world of retailing during the better part of the 20th century.
The image to the left depicts the letter from then-President of the Connecticut Historical Society, Edgar Waterman, who offers his own message of congratulations on behalf of the Society. This letter was one among dozens from institutions, businesses, and personal friends of Mrs. Auerbach that were included in the book, “A Tribute to Beatrice Fox Auerbach, Tobé Award Winner for 1947.” Telegram messages also fill the pages as do clippings of newspaper articles concerning the awards ceremony.
Richard Koopman Joins the Fox Family
On June 21, 1940, Richard Koopman became a member of the Fox/Auerbach family when he married Beatrice Fox Auerbach’s daughter, Georgette Auerbach. Two years later, on October 18, 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Corps. In 1946, after being discharged from the service, Richard Koopman became a member of another Fox family when he began working for his mother-in-law at G. Fox & Co.
Among his materials in the collection, there is a training booklet, specially prepared to introduce Mr. Koopman to the store. The booklet contains a daily schedule that includes training assignments for his first six weeks of employment, divided into two categories: salescheck system & sales training and non-selling training. Because of the depth of this training program, it is possible to obtain from it a basic understanding of the responsibilities of each department.
Mr. Koopman continued working at G. Fox & Co. for several years until his retirement in 1979. During his thirty-three year tenure at the store, he served as both store president (from 1967-1969) and vice-chairman (from 1969-1979). In this way, he continued the family tradition of long-term service to the department store following in the steps of his mother-in-law, Beatrice Fox Auerbach and her father and grandfather, Moses and Gerson Fox, who devoted a total of 132 years (41, 58, and 33, respectively) to building and managing G. Fox & Co., Hartford’s largest department store.
“Once Upon a Time…”
As I mentioned several months ago in my special “Happy Birthday, Beatrice” post, Beatrice Fox Auerbach often received birthday gifts from her employees. For her birthday in 1945, the employees from one of her departments presented Mrs. Auerbach with a book titled “Once Upon a Time…” that presents a minimalist’s version of her life story in the form of a children’s book, complete with illustrations (even if they are stick figures). The entire book has too many pages for me to post all of them, but I have included a couple of images below. You might also like to read the story so here it is:
Once Upon a Time…there was a little girl…whose papa owned a store…a very little store…every night her papa told her how BIG the store would be some day…and how thrift and good will and hard work would make it so…and sure enough the store grew and grew and grew…until…it was a very BIG store indeed
! all Connecticut shopped there…and suddenly one day the little girl who had grown up and married and had little girls of her own…found herself President of the great big bewildering store! And she didn’t know a thing about being President…except…what her papa had taught her…
- hard work
- buy right
- sell right
and the customer is always right…which was enough!…and so for 17 years… the store grew even bigger and bigger and better and better…and other store owners from all over the country came to see and try and find out what made it tick…and they looked and asked questions and huffed and puffed because they never found the answer…because the answer was so simple and simple things are so hard to see and understand…YOU know, of course, because you work here…the little girl who grew up but never forgot papa’s teachings…still isn’t very big…and couldn’t have changed much…her desk still looks like this…and probably always will!
The Fox Way: Honesty, Courtesy, Service
As a store, G. Fox & Co. thrived for well over a century and outlasted all other department stores in downtown Hartford. Part of the reason for its enduring success has to do with Gerson Fox’s business philosophy, expressed best in his motto: “Honesty, Courtesy, Service.” This philosophy, and the principles it shaped, determined the way in which business was conducted by all members of the store’s team, from the president to the part-time employee.
It was this business philosophy, and the family’s unwavering devotion to it, that really set Fox’s apart from other stores. All store policies stemmed from this simple motto; the most enduring and memorable of which are the following four principles:
- The customer is always right!
- We will not knowingly be undersold!
- If Fox’s says so, it must be so!
- If you can get it anywhere, you can get it at Fox’s!
There are many anecdotes from customers and employees alike that attest to the fact that these sentences were more than mere words; they were a way of doing business. According to an article in the Hartford Courant on April 17, 1927, honoring the store’s 80th anniversary, G. Fox & Co. is “firmly entrenched in the hearts of thousands as the home of honesty, courtesy, and service. And this trinity, which breeds success in any enterprise, were the materials from which Gerson Fox fashioned the cornerstone of his career.”
The unique nature of G. Fox & Co. as a store is evident from many of the business records in this collection. The item that stands out most in my mind as a testament to Gerson’s motto of “Honesty, Courtesy, Service” is Beatrice Fox Auerbach’s letter to her employees after the sale of the store to May Company. She is not only forthcoming about the situation, but confident that the change in ownership would not impact the level of service for which Fox’s was so fondly known. While those dearly-held ideals did seem to die with Beatrice Fox Auerbach as the May Co. made ever-increasing changes to the department store, the Fox way of honesty, courtesy, and service continue to be remembered with affection, and a hint of nostalgia, as a testament to an age in retail that has long since passed.