The Role the Jewish Community Played in Martinsville
By Virginia R. King
Many of us old-timers remember the Globman’s department store on Church Street. It was a favorite place to get everything from shoes to china. It was established by Abe Globman in 1915 on the courthouse square. He was a Jewish immigrant from Russia. However, Globman was not the first Jew to settle in Martinsville. Samuel Heiner was likely that person. Heiner was born in Russia in 1867. He lived in Baltimore for several years before moving here in 1888. His store, which is still standing, is on Walnut Street. It is the second granite building from the courthouse square.
In the late 1800s, Martinsville became known as the “Plug Tobacco Capital of the World”. It had about 4,000 people. As industrialization took hold in the early 1900s, Martinsville became very prosperous. The community attracted entrepreneurs looking to benefit from the prosperity. Included in this group was a small number of Eastern European Jews who would open clothing stores here. Abraham Fusfeld, born in Austria, opened a tailor shop in 1911. He later started selling clothes.
Samuel Kolody, born in Russia, came to Martinsville shortly after arriving in America in 1911. He worked for Sam Heiner until 1915 when he opened his own store. The Kolodny store became a staple in the community for many years.
Another Eastern European who came to Martinsville was Max Berlin. He started Berlin’s Department Store in 1911, which he operated until 1955. He also started Martinsville Distributing Company, a wholesale clothing business.
As Martinsville and Henry County prospered, so did the merchants. Globman’s Department Store became a mainstay in downtown Martinsville. It grew from its original 2,000-square foot building to a 3-story 13,000-square foot building which is now the NCI King building on the courthouse square, 30 Franklin Street
In 1950, Abe Globman built a 54,000-square foot building on Church Steet. The store doubled in size in 1961 and became the first in the area to install escalators.
Following WWII, more Jewish-owned stores were established. Marty Kravitz opened Russell’s Clothing Store. The Altschull family opened The Bargain Center. Martinsville was one of the wealthiest towns in America per capita in the 1960s. The Jewish merchants thrived along with the city.
Although most of the Martinsville Jews were retail merchants, one man was an exception. Saul Schreibfeder, born in Russia, came to Martinsville in 1933. He had worked in New York and Baltimore before being sent here to manage a new textile plant for Jobbers Pants Company. His greatest accomplishment as manager came in 1936 when he opened another pants factory in a wooden dance hall and convinced company executives in Baltimore to allow him to hire fifty black women, unprecedented at the time in Martinsville. By 1939 the factory employed 1,000 black women and produced over 14,000 pairs of pants per day. Schreibfeder eventually managed four Jobbers Pants factories in Martinsville and became a prominent leader in the community.
According to the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, the Jewish residents were publicly accepted in the community. “The Martinsville community celebrated the presence of Jews and encouraged them to practice their religion.” This did not happen in many Virginia communities. The local hospital installed a “Jewish flag” in its chapel along with the “Christian flag”.
In 1927, a Jewish congregation named Ohev Zion was established. Forty-six Jews in five families lived in the area, so with the help of non-Jews in the community, $15,000 was raised to build a synagogue, Ohev Zion Synagogue at 21 Moss Street. (Present day Senior Citizens Center)
Members of the Jewish community became very involved in the larger community. Barry Greene served as mayor of Martinsville in the 1970s. Dan Greene, Barry’s father, co-founded the Martinsville Little League and Martinsville Recreation Association. In his honor, the Martinsville High School’s stadium bears his name. He was also the longtime director of Christmas Cheer. Many Jews belonged to local fraternal and civic groups. They served on city council, directors of the local hospital and country clubs.
We have much to thank the Jews for choosing to settle, start businesses and raise their families in Martinsville over the years. They shared their talents, their ambitions, and their community spirit to make Martinsville and Henry County a better place.
Source: Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities – Martinsville, Virginia by Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life