Abo Gleibman was born in 1894 in Ozarich, Russia. He came to the United States in 1911, through Ellis Islan, when he was 16 years old. He came off the boat with $25 which was the minimum amount the 16 year old needed to pass through the immigration station. He spoke no English, and by the time he passed through registration his name changed from Abo Gleibman to Abe Globman.
In order to enter the United States you had to be sponsored, and Grandpa was sponsored by an uncle who took him to Philadelphia where Grandpa supported himself by selling handerchiefs and shoe laces from a cart. In the evenings he attended public school to learn English. After a few weeks he scraped the pushcart and went to work in a dry goods store for two years at a salary of $3 per week.
During that time he met Mamie Zimmerman, or Masha as she instructed everyone to call her. Masha had been born in Russia in 1896, the second of eleven children, and she had come to the United States in 1912. Her family had settled in Philadelphia where Masha and her brothers and sisters worked in the sweat shops twelve hours a day for $3 per week, and at night attended school to learn to speak English. Her whole family lived together in an apartment above a clothing store where Poppa Michael Zimmerman sold second-hand suits for $3 to $5 each.
In 1913 Grandpa moved to Waynesboro, Virginia to work for a friend named Sam Bender at a salary of $5/week.
Two years later, in 1915, Grandpa was 20 years old, and had saved around $400. He wanted to start his own business so he talked to salesmen who came into Sam Benders store and asked them if they knew of a nice community for him to locate. After a salesman told Grandpa about Martinsville, he came here, liked what he saw and rented
A vacant building on the Courthouse square near where WHEE radio is located now.
He paid a one month rental deposit of $25 for a 2000 square foot store which he named “United Department Store.”
Sam Bender had recommended that Grandpa not call the store Globmans. In Grandpa’s words:
“He told me not to call it by my own name so when people came up and asked for credit you could tell them, “I’m sorry, but I’m only the manager, you’ll have to talk to the owner…. I was here only a couple of months though, and I started extending credit. Now we’ve got 16,000 charge accounts.”
After locating and renting the building, Grandpa took the train to Philadelphia where he spent most of his $400 savings on merchandise. He had $12 left. His fortune and future
Was tied up in the shipment of wares for his store.
When the merchandise arrived Grandpa was told that he had to pay another $40 to pay the freight. He was short $28. He went to the bank where he was told that the bank would lend him $28 if someone would guarantee the note. Grandpa replied that he knew noone in town, and if he did know someone that could guarantee the note, he would ask the person to lend him the $28.
“They told me I needed an endorser and I knew no one in this town. I had just gotten off the train myself. So I went back to the store, sat on a box of shoes and cried… But in walked a local farmer with 13 children in tow, all in need of – that’s right – shoes. I sold him anything I could to get that $28, and when he left I was in business.”
Shortly after that Grandpa traveled back to Philadelphia to marry Masha on August 17, 1915, and, after a one-day honeymoon, arrived in Martinsville via the then-famous Danville and Western Railway, commonly known as the Dick and Willie, where the two began from scratch to build a retail business together.
They lived on Ellsworth Street and later moved to Moss Street. In those days, Martinsville had a population of 4000 people. The Henry Bulletin published once a week and the type was set by hand. The City policeforce had just increased to 4 men. The 1st fire truck had just been bought by the City. There were cobblestone streets and very few automobiles. Tobacco growers were in a slump and were being urged to grow alfalfa. The new Hamilton Theatre opened up town with a showing of “Such a Little Queen”
Starring Mary Pickford. Women were fighting for suffrage and President Woodrow Wilson has just gotten married.
By 1917 the Globman family had grown to 4 people. My uncle, Leon, was born in 1916 and my mother, Sis, was born in 1917. The two kids grew up in the store where Masha and Abe worked side by side from 8 AM to dark during weekdays and to midnight on Saturdays. In Leons words:
There was a pot bellied stove in the store for heating and cooking. Mother would cook in the store and put my sister and myself on top of the fabrics counter and we’d sleep there until the store closed….On Saturdays when I was about 7 or 8, my sister is about 1 1/2 years younger than I am—Mother would give us15 cents each, 5 cents for the movie, 5 cents for a drink, 5 cents for popcorn, and tell us to see a double feature and stay all day.”
In 1918, Globmans unsuccessfully tried to expand by opening a temporary branch
In Chatham followed in 1920 by a second branch opening in Leaksville, North Carolina, which is now Eden. Neither lasted more than a few years, and Grandpa closed them up, Both stores had been managed by one of Masha’s brothers and Masha complained for
years that the stores would have done fine if her brothers had left a little money in the cash registers.
By 1923 the store needed to expand from the current 2000 sq feet so Grandpa rented the store next door which had formerly been the site of “Marks Store.”
Two years later, Grandpa bought both stores from Schottland and Ford., and when Grandpa began excavation to provide a basement the floor began to sag and one night the walls and roof caved in.
It was three o’clock in the morning and I thought I’d had it. Some of the stock was destroyed, but we decided to rebuild and add a second floor to the building for storage. The store was temporarily moved around the corner, to the present location of Saters Furniture Store and the people here began to patronize me out of pity just to help me out, I believe.”
Six months later he finished remodeling and the store opened again.
In 1929 Grandpa decided to try again to run two branches in other cities, and this time it worked. Grandpa’s sister, Rose, and her husband, Nathan Potolsky, opened Globmans of Galax, and the store did so well that the next year Masha’s sister, Ceil, and her husband, Herman Kessler, opened a store in Leaksville . Both stores remained successful until the end of Globmans in 1991.
There weren’t many Jews in Martinsville when Grandpa and Masha arrived – the Globmans, the Fusfelds, the Heiners and the Kolodneys to name a few, but they all prayed together on a regular basis, and in 1929, they broke ground on a new synagogue on Moss Street (which is now the Martinsville Center for the Elderly). The synagogue would have never been built without the help of many non-Jews.
A good example of the good will shown to the Jewish people of Martinsville is a story that Grandpa used to tell:
“I decided to move all of the stores basement housewares to a temporary location for a few months. For years I had been playing cards with one of my best friends, Mike Schottland, who owned a vacant place next to City Hall. So, in the morning I went to see him. We dickered for a little about the rent. I told him, “Mike- what do you care? You’ll never see a penny of it because we are building a new synagogue….Mike Schottland shook his head in mock despair, and 5 months later he endorsed a sizeable rent check back to the synagogue’s building fund.”
By 1935, Globmans of Martinsville had grown from 2000 sq feet in 1915, to 13,000 sq feet in the building we are now standing – a 3 story building on the square that most of you probably remember as Shumate and Jessie furniture.
In 1933, Leon graduated from Martinsville High School Valedictorian of his class. The next year, 1934, my mother graduated Martinsville High School Valedictorian of her class.
Leon went to Virginia and graduated with a BS Degree in Commerce. He then enrolled in the University’s Law School graduating in 1939 in the top 10% of his class.
My mother spent a year at Goucher, a year at William and Mary, and her last two years at Duke graduating with honors and a BA degree in 1938.
Both Leon and my mother returned to Martinsville to work in the family business.
Leon had met Minnie Cantor, who was from Richmond, at UVA, and a year later my mother met my dad, Dan Greene, who was a traveling salesman for Sweet Orr Work pants when he came to Martinsville to sell his line to Globmans.
Dad was a very handsome man with slick black hair, blue eyes and a dynamic personality. He was orphaned at a very early age, grew up in New York City, skipped college to play professional baseball until he became a salesman. Masha and grandpa were not crazy about mother dating a traveling salesman.
In 1940 Leon married Minnie in Richmond, and that same year, my mother and dad were married on July 4 at Forest Park Country Club. 800 people attended the wedding. Leon went into the Naval reserve and Dad joined the army and was stationed in Columbia, SC.
I was born in 1941. My cousin, Dicky Globman, was born in 1942, and all of us stayed together at Masha and Grandpa’s new house on Church Street. The best part was the chicken coop in the back of the house where Masha would retrieve eggs every day.
In 1944, Grandpa purchased what was called the Simmons property, for $41,000 which. six years later, would later become the site for the 54,000 sq foot Globmans on Church Street . This was a real gutsy and far-sighted move because the lot was huge and located far away from the Central Business District which, at that time, was located around the Square.
It was about that time that Grandpa received the devastating news that almost all of his Gleibman family had been killed by the Germans in the concentration camps. A brother was still alive in Russia, Sister Rose was in Galax, and a brother, David, was in New York. Everyone else was gone.
Dad came back to Martinsville before Leon because the Army discovered that dad had 3 kidneys and have him a medical discharge. Mom, Dad and I moved to Galax where mom and dad worked at Globmans of Galax with Uncle Nathan to learn the business. This didn’t last very long because mom was homesick for her family, so we moved back to Martinsville and Dad bought a house on Spruce Street.
Leon came back in 1945 after a 3 year stint in the Navy, and Stanley Bowles’s father built them a house on Hundley Street which cost Leon $12,000.
In the late 40’s, Grandpa decided to build on the Church Sreet property that he had purchased in 1944. The store was 54,000 square feet, one of the largest in Virginia and North Carolina. The building cost $450,000, property, furniture, fixtures and electric equipment $200,000, and merchandise $450,000, which brought the total costs to around $1.1 million.
The financial community thought that Grandpa was nuts. Church Street then was a residential neighborhood.
“People thought I was crazy,” Grandpa said,” but there were a lot of advantages. It was the biggest space available, and it offered entrances from Main and Church Streets.”
Grandpa needed to borrow $200,000 to do the deal. In those days you went to insurance companies to borrow that type of money and the first five insurance companies turned him down. Finally, Equitable Insurance came through, and, on May 11, 1950, the new Globman store opened and Grandpa was dubbed the “Merchant Prince.”
The store was built by the John Daniel Company out of Danville. Two year old Linda Globman, Leon’s daughter who is now 60 years old, but the ribbon, and Grandpa presented the new building to the people of Martinsville and it was accepted by the Mayor of Martinsville, Nick Prillaman.
Paul Zimmerman and his Orchestra supplied music, WMVA conducted a live broadcast, there were plenty of door prizes, and thousands of people attended.
The store was such a tremendous success that only 8 years later Grandpa was ready to expand again. Coincidentally, the First Presbyterian Church, which was located right next door to Globmans, also wanted to expand, so the Presbyterians sold their church to Globmans for $150,000 which enabled them to move to build a new church across the street from the Patrick Henry Elementary School.
Around the same time the Babtists whose Church was located right across the street from Globmans decided to build a new Church. So, Grandpa bought the Babtist Church which enabled them to build a new church on Starling Avenue.
At that time, people suggested to Grandpa that he should go on the TV program, “I’ve Got a Secret,” as the only Jew in the world that owned two churches..
The purchases of the two churches set the stage for the Globman building to more than double its size to 120,000 square feet in 1961
Leon recalled that it was a lot less trouble borrowing $800,000 in 1960 than it was to borrow $200,000 in 1950.”
Globman’s itself occupied 90,000 square feet, Woolworth’s 21,000 square feet, Wamplers Drug Store, 8000 square feet, and the Music Bar, 1500 square feet. The Broad Street Parking Lot, across the street, was leased to Benton Blackard and parked 200 cars at once.
Parking was free for Globmans customers who made a minimum purchase of $1.95. The parking ticket was stamped at the time of purchase, and the system was called “Park and Shoppe.”
Those were the days when people worked for the same company for years instead of jumping from job to job as people do today. Globman’s had a lineup of department heads and buyers that not only were extremely proficient in performing their jobs, but, also, were trusted and sought out by the customers.
Examples were Al Morris, who in 1961 had worked for Globmans for 28 years as the Manager of the Basement. Vergie Byrd, had worked for 16 years, as the buyer of fabric, which was called Piece Goods in those days. Mary Earles, 30 years, bought home furnishings. Joe Rudman, 31 years… well, we’re not sure what Joe’s exact job was, but he worked at Globman until it closed in 1991, well over 60 years of service. Ginnie Carter bought lingerie, Mildred Marshall, Childrens, and Lucy Divers, Boys.
In 1966 Eydie and I came back to Martinsville from college, and I went to work in the store. Dicky Globman graduated from UVA, went into the Navy, and came back to Globmans in the early 70’s. There were now 5 families and 3 generations working in Martinsville plus two families running the branches In total, there were 14 members of Masha and Grandpa’s family working at Globman’s.
In 1970 tragedy struck. My dad, Dan Greene, who was only 54 years old, died of a heart attack. I was only 28 years old. The community responded by building the Dan Greene Stadium in dad’s memory.
Nine years later, in 1979 Grandpa passed away at age 85. The Martinsville Bulletin wrote a beautiful tribute to him that ended with the following statement:
“Although we grieve at his death, there is a hopeful message to be learned from his life. It is that a man, no matter how modest his beginning, can elevate himself, his family and his community if he has a mind to. Abe Globman showed us that.”
In 1980, Globmans of Eden, a 35,000 square foot store opened in the Eden Mall.
In 1981, I became President and CEO of Globmans, Dicky, Executive Vice President, and Leon became Chairman of the Board.
Shortly thereafter we started a new company, Lots of Labels, a chain of 4000 square feet ladies off-price apparel stores located in off-price malls in North Carolina. We operated one Lots of Labels store on Main Street in Martinsville for a few months, but closed it.
On March 30, 1984, Masha Globman passed away at age 87.
I adored Masha. She was tough, outspoken and respected, She was a little lady, barely 5 feet tall, who walked briskly, had a deep, sometimes gruff voice, and smoked unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes. Masha was an old-generation, Jewish Matriach in the truest sense. During the High Holy Days, when Grandpa led the congregation in selected traditional prayers, Masha was there on the front pew supporting him and joining in. She knew her Hebrew very well, although at times she intentionally mixed it with Yiddish, Polish, German, Russian or the other languages she spoke. During those days she never missed a service. And after services, it was always to Masha’s home—family and friends, 30 or 40 for the traditional Kiddish over wine and piles of delicacies from the old country—
Matso Ball soup, Masha’s special Gefilta Fish, and more.
Masha used her own special Eastern European dialect and gave all her loved ones nicknames. I was called Yum because my Hebrew name is Benyumin. Leon was Lavela. Abe was Aba. My cousin, Linda was Hanna Pesal or Pesal for short. My brother, Kenny was Lutch, and at times Lutchula. My brother, Stephen, says that Masha called Kenny Lutch because he was chubby. Mother said it was because Kenny loved cantelope and Kenny says it was because he could not pronounce cantelope.
She was a brave and courageous woman. She broke her ankle at Irene Black’s house, broke her ribs in a car wreck with Leon, got hit by a car outside the store, got hit by a push cart and thrown to the ground on 7th Avenue in New York City, and had battles with skin cancer, stomach cancer, cataracts, heart problems, high blood pressure and numberous strokes. Each time she pulled herself together with a minimum of complaining, and then she went back to work just as hard as before.
One of my first jobs at the store was Manager of the basement ladies sportswear and dress departments. Masha bought the dresses. When she found out she had stomach cancer she called me, “Yum,” she said, “I don’t want you to worry because if I live I’m going to come back and make sure that you don’t get stuck with the dresses I bought you.”
A few weeks after Masha’s stomach cancer was removed, Masha, mother and I flew to New York. Late the first evening Masha’s blood pressure shot up, and she was rushed by ambulance and police escort to a local hospital. Mother and I were up all night anxiously
Waiting for Masha’s blood pressure to drop. The New York doctor was in contact with Bill Lewis, Masha’s long standing physician and dear friend. Finally, at 7:00 AM, the blood pressure subsided and Masha sat up. “Let’s go,” she said. Mother and I had not slept all night. “Lets go where?, I asked. Lets go buy coats.” So, Masha and I spent the day on the coat market. Mother went to bed.
Only in her later years when Masha’s eyes and legs began to fail her did she stop going to New York and went to the Charlotte market instead. My mother or Eydie pushed her around in a wheel chair throughtout the Merchandise Mart while she bought dresses. Masha could barely see so she felt the dresses and asked questions about the design, and then she dictated the orders.
She was the true family matriarch. She always stayed a step behind her husband, making sure that he received the accolades which, at times, Masha richly deserved. Grandpa was the family spokesman. He received the community honors. But, when Masha spoke, as rare as the occasion was, EVERYBODY listened.
Our three families lived side by side on Dan-Lee Terrace where Masha and Grandpa lived in the middle house. Masha insisted that she know the whereabouts of all her family at all times. We called her Hawkeye. She never went to sleep until the last grandchild was in. Once she called my mother and asked, “Where’s Leon and Minnie?” “I don’t know, said mother, “I think they went to a basketball game” Masha shook her head and asked, “What for? I don’t even like basketball.”
She was a terrific card player – good at poker, blackjack and canasta. But, if you sat down to play with her you had to play by “Masha’s rules.” It was hard to beat her because she kept changing Masha’s rules to benefit herself.
She taught the people who played with her a new vocabulary. If you asked her if she had a good hand she said she had “vonson.” Vonson is Yiddish for bedbugs. If you said you had a good hand she called you an “emeler” which is a fibber, and if she wasn’t scoring well she was “penya” which meant she was going backwards.
Masha was fair in her dealings with people and treated everyone the same regardless of color or economic status. Her employees fell into two groups – those that loved her and those that feared her. Usually those who loved her were employees whom Masha felt warmly toward because they performed their jobs conscientiously and efficiently. People came from all over to see her, and even when failing health prevented Masha from coming to the store, people continued to come to the store with hopes of seeing her.
Her death brought us to the end of an era. She was the last of a unique generation forget them.
Early in 1985 we opened Globmans of Danville, a 35,000 square feet store in the Piedmont Mall. This brought us to 14 stores – Four Globmans Department Stores in Virginia and ten Lots of Labels stores in North Carolina.
But, then, in March of 1985, disaster struck. My mother, Sis Greene, chocked on her food in a New York City restaurant which caused a heart attack, and she passed away.
Only one month later, Leon died in Florida of acute Leukemia. It was bizarre – a relatively healthy sister and a brother, ages 67 and 68, died within four weeks of each other of completely unrelated causes – one in Florida and the other in New York.
More problems followed that same year. Our best salesman in the mens dept, Lloyd Hundley, died of a heart attack and a few weeks later the manager of our shoe department, Bill Scoggins, died of cancer. The year finally ended with Globmans showing a substantial loss for the year.
We recovered the following year, and, while our sales increased in the subsequent years, they were not as strong as we hoped, particularly in the new Danville store where the rent was very expensive. In 1989 the Martinsville mall opened which impacted the sales of the Martinsville store, and in the spring of 1990 Crestar Bank suddenly pulled our loan even though we were performing better than the forecasts we had given to the bank. Piedmont Trust Bank, who had less valuable collateral than Crestar, remained loyal to Globmans , but we needed loans from both banks .
By late 1990, we had a decision to make. A group of local businessmen offered to replace the Crestar Bank loan. We looked at our declining sales, the impact of the mall, and the deterioting economic positions of family-owned department stores throughout the United States, and finally concluded that we needed to close down the 76 year old business while we could still pay our bills in full.
It was one of the saddest days ever for our family, and for the community.
Events later proved that our decision to close was correct. Regardless of size,big and small old-line department stores crumbled in all parts of the country- Gimbels of New York City, Strawbridge and Clothiers of Philadelphia, Woodward and Lothrop in Washington, DC, Thalheimers and Miller and Rhodes in Richmond, Heironomous in Roanoke, and Leggett Department Stores of Virginia.
Retailing had changed and would never be the same.
And now, some additional Memories of Globmans-
Geneva Jones came to work for Globmans in 1966, the same year that I came back from college. Geneva was interviewed and hired by my dad because our personnel manager was out of the store for a few days recovering from a drunken binge.
Geneva worked in Globman’s receiving department with Elnora Tatum. Every morning grandpa would come down and wrap up the returns to vendors. And, when Grandpa left for lunch, Geneva and Elnora opened all the packages that grandpa had packed and they repacked them.
Mildred Marshall worked with my mother originally, and later became the Childrens wear buyer. Mildred did all of Globmans fashion shows. So many children in Martinsville and Henry County remember Mildred because she helped to outfit them for school.
When Mildred made her first buying trip to New York with my mother she went into a restaurant for lunch and asked the waiter how much they charged for a chicken sandwich.
“79 cents, “ said the waiter. 79 cents? Said Mildred. For 79 cents, You can buy a while chicken in Horsepasture
My wife, Eydie, who worked as the General Merchandise Manager of Globmans, promoted Ceil Millner to the Buyer of Lingerie and told Ceil that she would be going to NewYork . Eydie asked Ceil if she had traveled. “Yes, said Ceil, “I have been to Ridgeway.”
When we opened the store in 1961 we were the first store to feature escalators. A customer asked Al Morris how to get upstairs, and Al answered, “Just go over there and take the incinerator>”
Johnnie Jones came into the store and asked Joe Rudman to show him a grey suit.
So, Joe went in the back and came out with a Navy suit in Johnnie’s size. “Joe,” I asked for a grey suit, not a navy suit.
And, Joe answered, “Grey…Navy…what the hells the difference?”
Joe never received his drivers license, so the Globman’s delivery truck took Joe to the golf course every Wednesday afternoon. One day the delivery man complained to me that it messed up his schedule to take Joe to the golf course.
“I tell you what,” I said. When you have worked for Globmans for 60 years and are close to 90 years old, I will personally drive you to the golf course every Wednesday afternoon.”
When Leon passed away he had just gotten back from a buying trip where he had shopped for Christmas trees and ornaments. Eydie looked at this notes, and realized that she needed to go to New York to place the orders. Then she realized that she really did not know what she was doing because she never had a Christmas tree, so she took a Christian with her.
Finally….Our kids would come to the store on the bus from school frequently and Eydie would arrange to send the kids home on the delivery truck. One day our son, Cary, came to Eydie and said, “Mom, please don’t put us on delivery any more. Its embarrassing.”