Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thirteen Was Louis Rosenzweig’s Lucky Number

In an era when most liquor dealers were content to operate one or two stores,  Louis Rosenzweig could not have enough of them in Chicago.  Starting with one in 1902, by 1916 he was running thirteen around the city.  Moreover, he was recording their individual addresses on the ceramic jugs in which he sold his “Old Rose” whiskey.  As a result it is possible to track the rise of his retail whiskey empire.

Rosenzweig’s 1902 liquor store, according to Chicago business directories, was located at 256-258 State Street.  It must have been profitable because he began opening other stores in ensuing years.  As time progressed, Rosenzweig added outlets on W. North Avenue and Commercial Avenue.   By the mid-decade that number, as shown here on a jug, had climbed to nine.  He had added two locations on Cottage Grove Avenue, two on South Halsted Street, two on South Ashland Avenue, and one on North Clark Street. 

Within a short time, the number of Rosenzweig’s liquor stores climbed to ten — shown on the jug here — as he added a new outlet at 3418 Sheffield Avenue.  He began to advertise:  “…That our stores are so scattered in Chicago that we can deliver goods to any part of the city the same day the order is given.”  A single telephone number for customers came to the company headquarters at 3557-59 South Halsted that also served as the central warehouse.  Clerks there dispatched orders to the nearest stores and monitored stock control.

An eleventh store was added at 3169 Lincoln Avenue.  A jug shown here recorded that growth.  These addresses also were appearing in ads Rosenzweig was running every Saturday in local newspapers that proclaimed:  “Among other things to be remembered about us is that we have the largest assortment of Wines and Liquors in the city and sell them at bargain prices.”  In addition to Old Rose, Rosenzweig’s house brands included “Tam O’Shanter” and “Golden Drop.”  Apparently too busy building his empire, he failed to trademark any of those labels.

By 1910 Rosenzweig was advertising thirteen stores, his high water mark.  As shown here on a jug, he had added a second location on Ashland Avenue and one at 771 Milwaukee Avenue.  The earlier W. North Avenue address had been replaced by one at 550 North Avenue.  The horses from his delivery wagons had been retired and he was delivering liquor by automobile.  From time to time an address would be dropped from the thirteen and another added, including one on N. Lake Shore Drive.  

Rosenzweig also had ventured outside Chicago, opening a liquor store at 211 Jefferson Street in Joliet, the fourth largest city in Illinois, 45 miles from Chicago.  He called this outlet the Joliet Wine & Liquor Company and issued a souvenir Limoge China calendar plate for 1910 that also lists his Chicago locations.  In ads now calling his company the “Old Rose Distilling Co.,”  Rosenzweig boasted:  “Thirteen large stores under one management.”  His.

Meanwhile Louis Rosenzweig was having a personal life.  He was born in 1865 in a part of Eastern Europe that through the years was variously part of Poland, Russia and Germany.   He came to America as a youth, apparently with his family, the date of their arrival given between 1880 and 1885.  Louis soon found his way to Chicago.

There he met Rose Frank who had been born of German immigrant parents.  They were wed in Chicago on November 17, 1889.  If census data is to be believed, he was 19 and she was 16.  They began a family almost immediate when a daughter, Lillian, was born nine months later.  Just as Rosenzweig steadily added liquor stores, he added seven sons — Maurice Lester, Harry, Bernard A., Joseph, Jarvis, Geoffrey, and Norman — all born between 1892 and 1901.

Rosenzweig’s career began by managing Chicago saloons.  Along the way he apparently decided that it was more profitable to sell liquor at retail than just by the drink over the bar.  In order to build his organization, Rosenzweig leased retail space at carefully selected locations around Chicago.  His business plan was revealed in part during a lawsuit he brought against an erstwhile manager of one of his liquor stores.  In each outlet Louis installed managers all of whom signed a five-year contract that called for $150 per month (equiv. today of $3,750) and an increase if business was satisfactory.  In return a manager pledged to give his entire time to his employment and not to engage in the liquor business in the vicinity of the store for three years after leaving Rosenzweig’s employ.  In this way Louis hoped to limit future competition. 

Harry Feuer, a manager at 6310 Cottage Grove Avenue, decided to test Rosenzweig and the validity of the contract.  On April 5, 1916, Feuer quit his job but returned  less than two weeks later to open a liquor business in a building literally next door.  Rosenzeig reacted strongly to Feuer’s defiance and hauled him into Circuit Court in Chicago.  When that judge ruled in the owner’s favor, Feuer took his case to the Appellate Court of llinois.  After hearing the appeal, Judge Jesse Baldwin affirmed the earlier decision.  Rosenzweig won and Feuer left the neighborhood.

Yet another reason for Rosenzweig’s success was his emphasis on giveaways.  He gifted the traditional shot glasses, with a difference:  often he listed the addresses of each of his liquor stores, adding locations on the glass as the numbers grew.  Shown here is a shot with 13 addresses crammed on the surface.  Others simply declared the number of stores and provided the telephone.   He also gifted an attractive watch fob featuring a red rose that advertised his “Old Rose” brand.

By far Rosenzweig’s most interesting giveaways were his carnival glass dishes and plates.  These were made by a company founded by Harry Northwood, a British immigrant who came to America in 1880.  In 1902, just as Rosenzweig was beginning to build his empire, Northwood opened a factory in Wheeling, West Virginia.  There he developed his formula for carnival glass.  Rosenzweig issued several such items, among them a rose-colored glass dish decorated with roses.  Another was a glass plate with a grape and grape leaf pattern with characteristic carnival iridescence.  The base identified “Old Rose Distillery, Wines and Liquors, Chicago.”

Unlike other parts of America, the Windy City stayed “wet” until the imposition of National Prohibition.  The time allowed Louis to bring several of his sons into the business with him.  The 1910 census records that Maurice L. Rosenzweig at 18 years old was working as a bookkeeper for the company.  The 1920 census found son Harry, 26, as an office worker in the headquarters and son Jarvis, 21, as a clerk.

Nonetheless, as 1920 approached, the numbers of Rosenzeig liquor stores dropped from 13 to 11 and then there were none.  Still only 56 years old and continuing to be energetic, according to the 1930 census, Louis moved into the real estate market, owning and managing his own mortgage company.  With him in this enterprise was son Maurice.  Rosenzweig had only four more years of life, dying at about 69 on April 22, 1934.  By that time he had seen the country’s “great experiment” on banning alcohol all but come to and end.

To my knowledge no other whiskey man has ever done what Louis Rosenzweig accomplished in Chicago — sustaining at one time as many as thirteen individual liquor outlets, some of them also containing saloons.   The management skills required to make a success suggest that Louis Rosenzweig might have been just as competent as the president of General Motors or Microsoft.  


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