By Charlotte “Blu” Berman
If you thought that Beatrice Fox Auerbach, late CEO of G. Fox & Company in Hartford was the consummate merchandiser, you haven’t heard the story of Sarah Markowitz, the late mother of Rosalind Hoffman of West Hartford.
Though Mrs. Auerbach ran her family’s department store from the mid-1930s through the mid-1960s, and made a national name for herself in the world of retailing, in Hartford, Mrs. Markowitz, in her own quiet way, also was a successful figure in that same field of endeavor.
A “double whammy” hit the Markowitz household when the crash of 1929 turned the economy on its head. Sam Markowitz lost his small general store, and suffered a heart attack, which forced him to be bedridden for more than three years.
Confronting the needs of her family of four children and a sick husband, Sarah knew that somehow she had to make some money to support them all. She gathered some merchandise that was left from their failed store, and packed some small household items as well in two battered suitcases. Sarah set out for the “rural” neighborhoods beyond the city of Hartford that she could reach on the trolley line, as they had no car. In the suitcases, there might be some shoelaces, washcloths and children’s socks. Some days, there were pot holders, needles, thread and ribbons.
Her daughter, Roz Hoffman, recounts that being the dedicated mother she was, she never left before she fed her four children and husband. When the children left for school, off Sarah went to visit homes in the “rural” neighborhoods as far away as Bloomfield or Windsor. She would go from house to house ringing doorbells introducing herself and offering to show her wares. Many a day, remembers her daughter, “Sarah would have doors slammed in her face.” But, that did not deter her from her goals. She was determined to have some money in her purse when she returned to Hartford on the trolley. Sarah made sure she’d be home by three to greet her children when they returned from school. Her daughter called her “a determined lady with a will of iron.”
Sarah’s husband Sam regained his health. By now, “The Peddler Lady” had established many steady customers.
Sam borrowed money and bought a car to make selling easier for both of them. He purchased men’s ties, belts and socks from wholesalers and sold them in bars, taverns and other places where men would congregate. Sam drove, and Sarah went out to her customers. They were now a retailing team.
If Beatrice Fox Auerbach had ever heard this heartwarming story of “The Peddler Lady,” she probably would have hired Sarah as a woman after her own heart.
Charlotte “Blu” Berman is a freelance writer living in West Hartford.
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