An Auerbach Family Christmas

During the holiday season, Beatrice Fox Auerbach sent out Christmas cards as was the custom at the time, a practice that is widely continued to this day. In our collection of Fox materials, we have a scrapbook that contains the Christmas cards she sent to friends and associates between 1929 and 1966. All of the cards were specially designed and featured subjects like her home on 1040 Prospect Avenue, her dogs, Auerfarm, and, in the later years, her grandchildren. The formats of the cards started off quite simple, but increased in complexity and creativity over the years. Pictured below is a sampling of a few of my favorites.

Christmas Card, 1931 This one, from 1931, shows Mrs. Auerbach’s home on Prospect Avenue as well as her two dogs. The inside reads “Wishes you A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year”

Christmas Card, 1945 Auerfarm is the subject of this card from 1945. The inside message reads, “To you and your dear ones – a very happy Christmas and all the goodness of life. Let us hope that peace now begun will spread its blessings more and more confidently into the New Year. With warmest greeting and much good cheer, Beatrice Fox Auerbach, Hartford Connecticut, December 1945”.

This 1950 Christmas card was one of the first to depict Mrs. Auerbach’s grandchildren. After 1950, however, the majority of her Christmas cards featured her grandchildren in some way.

Christmas Card, 1950

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.

Christmas Marquee

The buildings reproduced on the marquee that year (1959) were:

  1. The Green Homestead in South Windsor
  2. The Osbert Burr Loomis House in Windsor
  3. The Joseph Webb home in Wethersfield
  4. The Litchfield Congregational Church in Litchfield
  5. The Noah Webster Home in West Hartford
  6. 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.

Letter to Mrs. Auerbach from CHSThe 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.

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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:

Front Cover

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…

  • thrift
  • hard work
  • buy right
  • sell right

            and the customer is always right…which was enough!…and so for 17 years… the store grew evenPage 10 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!

            Page 17

            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:

            1. The customer is always right!
            2. We will not knowingly be undersold!
            3. If Fox’s says so, it must be so!
            4. 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.

            Thanksgiving at Fox’s

            Thanksgiving is generally a time for reflecting, with a sense of gratefulness, upon the good in life. For Beatrice Fox Auerbach, Thanksgiving was often a time to express her appreciation to her staff for their loyalty and hard work throughout the year. One example of this expression is seen in an issue of the employee newsletterGo-Getter, November 22, 1960, the Go-Getter, and exemplifies generosity of spirit that came to characterize Beatrice Fox Auerbach.

            Although the year was “marked by increased expenses of operation and customer services with narrowed rewards,” the decrease in profits did not prevent Beatrice Fox Auerbach from bestowing upon her employees a generous end-of-year bonus. She indicated that the company, through her, still “wishes to express tangible recognition of [her employees’] devoted work.”

            In keeping with her father’s long-standing tradition of providing exceedingly generous yearly bonuses, the 1960 was no exception. This year, Beatrice Fox Auerbach awarded all employees who worked at least 20 hours a week for the past five years or more, “a sum equivalent to such person’s salary for two full weeks.” Those individuals who had been with the company for between five years and three years were given “a sum equivalent to such person’s salary for one and one-half weeks.” One week’s salary was given to those employees who had been with the store between three years and one year and those employees who had worked there for at least six months were given a half and week’s salary. But Mrs. Auerbach didn’t forget those employees who had been at Fox’s for less than six months; they were given the sum of $7.50.

            Bonuses were one expression of Beatrice Fox Auerbach’s generosity to her employees, but there were certainly many others, including her establishment of the Theresa Stern Fox Fund, which provided interest-free loans to her employees during times of crisis. More examples can be found among the many materials in the collection and I urge anyone who’s interested to come and check it out for themselves. To conclude this week’s entry, I’d just like to say, in the words of Beatrice Fox Auerbach, “my warmest Thanksgiving wishes to you and your family, as you celebrate the holiday together.”

            The “Scary” Side of the Store

            Happy Halloween, everybody! G. Fox Building “at Halloween”It looks like the G. Fox building once had a few bats in its belfry! (Not really, of course! Mrs. Auerbach wouldn’t stand for it!)

            Since there really isn’t anything Halloween-related in the G. Fox & Co. materials in our collection, I thought I would take this opportunity to write about the aspect of this collection that really “scares” me off. There’s really nothing scary about these materials; it’s just that in the diverse range of items that form this collection, these documents are not among my favorites. That’s not to say that some of you might not find them irresistible, however! Just what are these items I have heretofore been somewhat afraid to talk about? Legal documents.

            The majority of legal documents in the collection were created by Moses Fox. Some of the more interesting ones concern the agreement between him and his sister, Emma Fox Plaut, and sister-in-law, Sadie Fox, regarding the transfer of ownership of the store over to him. After his death, Gerson Fox had left shares of the store to each of his children, but by 1917, Moses Fox was the sole owner of the company. There are also materials relating to Moses Fox’s purchase of the Brown Thomson & Co., a store he (and later his daughter, Beatrice) continued to operate independently of his own department store.

            While many of the legal materials help to document aspects of the company, a few of them are just downright bizarre. The ones I am specifically referring to are the patent assignments that Moses Fox had in his possession. What makes them so odd is that none of them are made out to Moses Fox himself, or anyone else in the Fox family. In fact, some of these patent assignments concern individuals from New Jersey and New York while others concern the Smyth Manufacturing Company of Hartford. Perhaps Moses Fox was involved in some way with the Smyth Manufacturing Company, but I have yet to find a connection.

            I am sure a researcher will come in one day and be able to uncover all their hidden secrets, but I’m afraid these documents will just have to wait until such a person arrives because all their legalese leaves me with a slight case of the shivers.

            Service Bureau for Women’s Organizations

            Today, October 24th, is United Nations Day and when I think about the United Nations, I always think about Eleanor Roosevelt because she was chairperson of the UN’s Commission on Human Rights. However, instead of writing yet another entry about Eleanor Roosevelt’s connection to this collection of G. Fox materials, I thought I would discuss an important organization that she supported: the Service Bureau for Women’s Organizations.

            In January of 1945, the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation sponsored a Woman’s Service Bureau in order to increase the effectiveness of women’s work through organized efforts. From the beginning, Beatrice Fox Auerbach was deeply involved in the organization. She was the first chairman of the advisory board for the Service Bureau and donated space on the eleventh floor of G. Fox & Co. for the Bureau’s director to use as her office. In fact, the Service Bureau was never far from Mrs. Auerbach’s mind. When traveling abroad, Mrs. Auerbach would speak with women in other countries about the Service Bureau and would often invite them to come speak at the organization’s meetings.

            Perhaps one of the reasons that Mrs. Auerbach never took a vacation from promoting the Service Bureau while abroad was that her close friend and frequent traveling companion, Chase Going Woodhouse, was also a co-founder of the Service Bureau. Mrs. Woodhouse also served as the Bureau’s second director, a position she held from 1954 until 1981.

            Under the adept leadership of Mrs. Woodhouse, the Service Bureau thrived as a clearing house for women’s organizations in Connecticut.  The agency also researched and developed program materials for use by those organizations.  The Service Bureau’s name was changed in 1970 to the Service Bureau for Connecticut Organizations to be more gender-inclusive.  In the library’s collection, we have two publications created by the Service Bureau as well as a number of their annual reports.