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The End of an Era: Saying Goodbye to Kaufmann’s Department Store

Posted by Brian Schreiber on September 21, 2015

For those of you who know me well, I am a lover of history (though I often quote American Jewish theologian, Mordecai Kaplan who stated that the “the past has a vote, not a veto.”)  What that means to me is that we need to acknowledge, respect and draw from our history as we move into the future.

This is a special anniversary for the JCC. To recognize our 120 years of history, tradition and life at the JCC, we’ve themed the year, “Celebrating Yesterday, Imagining Tomorrow,” which also envisions our  continuing to move forward to address community interests and needs.

That theme really hit me a few weeks ago after I finished a lunch meeting downtown.

I was parked in the Macy’s (formerly Kaufmann’s Garage) and I had a desire to walk into Kaufmann’s.  I won’t sugar coat it – it was depressing.  The staff was visibly agitated and not holding back in conversations with the few shoppers in the aisles.  The whole atmosphere was tired and down. In my 23 years in Pittsburgh, I have yet to meet someone under the Kaufmann’s clock, but I know that many of you have. The expression itself is synonymous in Pittsburgh.

As I left the lot, I found it ironic that the JCC, founded by the Kaufmann family, is embarking on working to redefine ourselves for the next 120 years, while Pittsburgh’s last downtown department store (built in 1887) is closing for good.   We know that the building will ultimately be put to good use, but it really is the end of an era.

As we enter a new fiscal year, our job as professionals, as lay leaders, as supporters and friends, is to remember what has made the JCC what it is – but even more important – of what it can become. That’s our job each and every day, to celebrate yesterday and imagine tomorrow while serving people with distinction today.  And we can never rest on our laurels or take what we have today for granted.

(Featured Image of Kaufmann’s clock originally found on the Brookline Connection Website.)


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