Reminiscing about when Harry's of Arlington was a general store

 
Posted11/18/2014 2:53 PM

When I read in the Nov. 4 Daily Herald that Harry's of Arlington had new owners with plans for its future, I was much relieved to learn that the joy and camaraderie that have characterized the building at 1 N. Vail through much of its history in Arlington would likely continue.

The building is not going to be torn down. Although it is over a hundred years old and, like all 100-year-olds, shows its age, it is in a superb location. Harry's new owners intend to keep it open as-is through the holidays and close it in the spring for renovation and then new life.

 

I have this notion that certain people in Arlington's history have put their mark on the town, one hopes, for all time. Certain public figures have contributed so much to the town's character that they continue to influence decisions made long after they are gone.

The Redeker family, who built the brick building at Vail and Campbell in 1893 as a general store are, in my mind, exemplars of openhandedness, a combination of generosity and trust. I think of Steve Csanadi telling me of his dealings with Mr. Redeker when Redeker had added "banker" to his roles in town.

"When I was a kid," Steve said, "Ten years old, or thereabouts, my father would send me uptown with a note to Mr. Redeker, asking him to give me $10 from the family bank account. There was no question," Steve remembered. "Everyone in the transaction trusted everyone else."

Mr. Redeker was famous for teaching his daughter-in-law to give extra measure to shoppers. "Give them their pound of cookies and then add another scoop for free. Their two yards of fabric and an extra length. Also for free."

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Farm families usually drove in once a month for staples like kerosene and flour. They were also tempted by high-end products like the silks which, like most of the store's wares, came from the Marshall Field wholesale warehouse in Chicago.

Herman Redeker, who told me he "grew up among the counters," got a job as a ribbon buyer at Field's. He never forgot his boss, a Mr. Nelson, who told him that "business is based 90 percent on friendship." Mr. Nelson's belief fit right into the Redeker mystique.

Herman had already learned that from his mother, who contributed to the business by being a friend to the customers. Early on Saturday she would rise to prepare coffee and coffeecake for the shoppers who would have to return home via horse and wagon on mud roads. The crush of customers came on Saturday nights.

All purchases at Redekers went "on the book." So once a month customers would come in to pay up. It was a festive time. At least for the children. Mr. Redeker gave each child a bag of candy. Many old folk, remembering, have told me that it was "the only candy I ever got."

Candy wasn't a big seller at Redeker's. As Herman told me. "We sold a lot of overalls."