Bromberg's

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This article is about the jeweler and luxury goods dealer. For the Woodlawn variety store, see C. L. Bromberg.
Bromberg's logo.png

Bromberg's is a jewelry, crystal, silver and gift retailer with four locations in the Birmingham area and one in Montgomery. The firm was founded by Prussian immigrant Frederick Bromberg in Mobile in 1836 and is the oldest company in Alabama.

History

Mobile

Bromberg travelled to New York in 1832 after Napoleon's invasion made his village (Bromberg) a part of Poland. He worked as a silversmith and married Lisette Cunigarde Dorothea Beetz, a native of Hamburg. On the recommendation of acquaintances, the couple set off for the port of Mobile to start a new life together. They arrived on the packet boat Lewis Cass, he wasted no time setting up shop at the corner of Walter & St Michael streets. He started by stocking musical instruments, pianos and sheet music, gradually adding jewelry and gifts. He did well at first, but the panic of 1837, accompanied by a fire that destroyed his store two years later, forced Bromberg to start from scratch.

At his second store, at 22 Dauphin Street, Bromberg added furniture, toys and antiques to his inventory. A yellow fever epidemic threatened the business again as most of the city was affected. Mrs Bromberg, weakened by the disease, was sent to Cambridge, Massachusetts for its more healthful climate while Frederick labored alone. She returned in 1840, and the business finally started to grow and prosper.

Bromberg's sons, Frederick G. Bromberg and Charles, and his son-in-law Emil O. Zadek all joined the business, which was interrupted by the Civil War. When the elder Bromberg died in 1884, Charles and Zadek took over the business as partners. Over time, Charles became enamored of living in Bayou la Batre, where he had begun operating a resort, and Zadek took over daily operations of the Bromberg store.

Birmingham

Bromberg's at 218 20th St N in the 1920s

Charles' son, Frederick W. Bromberg, grew up in the family business and in 1900 made the decision, with his wife, Virginia, to open a store in the rapidly growing city of Birmingham. He bought out an existing jeweler, Gluck and Black, and took over their space in Linn's Folly, the first home of the First National Bank of Birmingham. His sign read F. W. Bromberg, Jeweler. He relocated to the new Farley Building two blocks north when it was completed in 1902. In the next years his four children, William, Robert, Charles and Frank, all began working in the store. At their father's direction, they each served apprenticeships outside the company to gain expertise in different areas of the business.

William spent time with the Whitehouse Brothers, a Cincinnati diamond manufacturer, and became a registered jeweler through the American Gem Society. Robert studied business at Harvard. Charles apprenticed in the New England silver industry, and Frank learned the furniture and accessory business in Chicago. Following World War I, F. W. Bromberg travelled to Germany and bought up significant inventories of precious objects from museums. Bromberg also bought out his neighbors, the Lynch Jewelry Company and the Hood-Wheeler Furniture Company.

The expanding business moved into a larger space at 218 20th Street North in 1920. The four young men formed a partnership with their father in 1926. Cemented in its position as Birmingham's premiere jewelry and gift shop, the business was able to survive the Depression. The store branched out into optical and hearing aids and home air conditioning. The Brombergs also opened the first authorized Eastman Kodak dealer in the South. F. W. Bromberg died unexpectedly at his summer residence in Cape Cod in 1939. Charles left to pursue other interests, but the other three brothers stayed with the firm, which prospered during World War II.

New building

See main article Bromberg's building.
The Bromberg's building

After the Drennen Department Store building at 123 20th Street North, at the intersection of 2nd Avenue burned in 1943, the Bromberg's negotiated to obtain the property for a grand new store. They hired J. Gordon Carr, the architect of Tiffany's 5th Avenue flagship store, to design the modern showcase. As soon as building materials were available following the war, Brice Building Company began work. The grand re-opening was held on July 22, 1946. Along with the new store, the brothers created a corporation, with Robert as president, William as vice-president, and Frank as secretary-treasurer.

Expansion

Robert and William both died in the 1950s, leaving Frank to head the company along with his son, Frank Jr, William's son Gene, and Robert's son-in-law, Paul M. Byrne. In 1959 the company opened a second location in Mountain Brook Village, managed by Joseph L. Morrow.

In 1961, Bromberg's agreed to acquire the 100-year old Ruth & Sons jeweler in Montgomery, taking over its store on Dexter Avenue and retaining James H. Ruth as the store's manager. After 10 years, that store moved to the Montgomery Mall. It outgrew that space and opened its own new store at McGehee and Oxford Roads in 1986.

Meanwhile, a branch store opened in 1964 in Huntsville's Dunnavant Mall. It remained open until a free-standing store was opened in 1983 on Memorial Parkway.

In 1974, Bromberg's acquired the Underwood Jewelers Corporation of Jacksonville, Florida, creating a separate retail division for the company. That same year in Birmingham, Bromberg's opened a location in the Hoover Mall, followed by a Century Plaza store the following year.

In 1980, Bromberg's acquired the Tuscaloosa jewelry store of Paul Vining, consolidating that store's inventory with the University Mall store already under construction.

The Hoover Mall location ultimately relocated to the Riverchase Galleria, and a new store at The Summit represents the company's most recent expansion.

On March 6, 2009 the company closed its downtown store, but renovated the building to keep it in use as the company's main office with active displays in the windows (designed by visual merchandiser Kathy D'Agostino). In 2010 it closed the Galleria location, leaving only the Mountain Brook and Summit locations open. The close-out of merchandise from the Galleria store was held in the downtown location in January 2011.

References

  • Smith, J. Morgan (1987) Bromberg's: An Alabama Tradition for 150 Years. Birmingham: Southern University Press
  • "Crow Real Estate & Insurance Company." (January 2007) Birmingham Then & Now Special Promotion. Birmingham Magazine. Vol. 47, No. 1, p. 142
  • Williams, Roy L. (January 15, 2009) "Jewelry store sales suffer in economic downturn." Birmingham News
  • Williams, Roy L. (March 7, 2009) "After nearly 110 years in downtown Birmingham, Bromberg's closes retail store." Birmingham News
  • Kent, Dawn (September 17, 2010) "Birmingham's Bromberg's closing Hoover store it opened in 1988." Birmingham News
  • Pelfrey, David (December 8, 2011) "Window-shopping through the looking glass." Black & White

External links