INTERVIEW WITH GORDON SCHIFFMAN
My name is Naomi Schottenstein and I’m at the Federation/Foundation and
Columbus Jewish Historical Society building at 1175 College Avenue in Columbus,
Ohio. The date is December 7, 2005, and I’m interviewing Gordon Schiffman. I
want to establish the reason for our interview is that this is a gift to Gordon
for his birthday from Gerry and Ed Ellman and we’re going to be talking to
Gordon this afternoon about his life in Columbus, Ohio, and other places as
well. Gordon, give us your full name.
Schiffman: Gordon Murray Schiffman.
Interviewer: Okay. Do you happen to know your Jewish name?
Interviewer: Okay. Do you happen to know who you were named after? Or were
you . . . .
Schiffman: Gordon was a family name and I don’t know where the Murray comes
Interviewer: Well it fits. It all goes together. We seem to grow into our
names, don’t we?
Interviewer: Do you know if Schiffman was the original family name?
Schiffman: I don’t know.
Interviewer: Sounds like it very well could be.
Schiffman: I think it probably was.
Interviewer: How did your family come to be where it is today, in terms of
being established here in Columbus, Ohio?
Schiffman: Well I was born in Woodmere, Long Island and . . . .
Schiffman: Uh huh. Yes. And my dad was in the furniture business. And my dad
was a very ambitious fellow and he was a “this gun for hire” kind of
guy. Anybody that would pay him more money, he would come home and say to my
mom, “Micky, we’re moving.” My mom being the wonderful sport that
she was all of her life, said, “When and where Harold?” And we moved
from Woodmere to Cleveland.
Interviewer: Cleveland, Ohio?
Schiffman: Yes. To Columbus, to New Rochelle, to Philadelphia, to Pittsburgh
and back to Columbus when my dad went into his own business in 1944. We came
here originally about 1937 or so and were here for a few years. But again, other
furni- ture chains or department stores solicited my dad and we moved. He was
anxious to provide better lives for our family, which he was able to do, and we
moved fre- quently and came back to Columbus permanently in 1944.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Was your dad originally from another country?
Schiffman: No he was born here in this country. His parents came here in the
late 1800s. Settled in New York. Had some other family there. And my mom was
born in another country. She was born in Poland but came here when she was less
than a year old. Her family moved over here. She also came to New York.
Interviewer: So can you describe some of the homes you lived in as a
youngster? What was your life like in these different locations?
Schiffman: We always had a lovely house and each time my dad would move and
get another job, he’d want to move into a bigger house and we had some very
fine houses. Then we moved back to Columbus, Ohio, in ’44 and he was the
ultra-conservative, having started his own business and bought a small house on
North Cassady where we lived for, well maybe four or five years until we moved
into a larger house after that.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Where was that?
Schiffman: On Dawson. Still in Bexley. And then he moved out into the
country, way out. A place nobody ever heard of in those days, called Blacklick.
Schiffman: But people have heard of now, but they didn’t know it . . . .
Interviewer: It was really in the Boonies, wasn’t it?
Schiffman: Yeah in the Boonies. And it was a lovely, lovely big country home.
And another furniture man by the name of Wayne Ketner who owned . . . .
Interviewer: Who is this?
Schiffman: Ketner, Wayne Ketner.
Interviewer: Oh Ketner, uh huh.
Schiffman: He . . . . Ketner. And his daughter was starting CSG and didn’t
want to live so far out so he moved back into Bexley on Ashbourne and sold my
dad his house out in the country where my folks lived until they went to
Florida, until they moved to Florida. And they loved that house. And they loved
Florida also . . . .
Interviewer: Yeah Blacklick is pretty far east, isn’t it?
Schiffman: Yeah. Yes, it’s between 7- and 8000 numbers east where they live
and it’s a lovely, lovely place.
Interviewer: It’s not unusual now for people to be living in the . . . .
Schiffman: You’re right but it was nothing then. I mean nobody knew where
the heck it was.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Well he was an adventurous person it sounds like.
Schiffman: Yes, right.
Interviewer: Tell us your, you had a sibling, didn’t you? You had a sister?
Schiffman: I had a wonderful sister Barbara. Unfortunately she passed away at
a very early age. She was in her mid-50s. She didn’t abuse anything. She didn’t
smoke. She didn’t eat or didn’t drink. She wasn’t overweight. She didn’t
do anything wrong. And she got sick and in three months she was in heaven.
Interviewer: Hmmm. What was her name?
Schiffman: Barbara Stone. She married Bill Stone And Bill was in the Stone’s
Bar and Grill business which he didn’t particularly like. Then he got into the
hamburger business which he liked a lot better and they had two wonderful
children, one of which is no longer living. Died just recently a couple of
months ago in his 50s.
Interviewer: Tell us about these kids.
Schiffman: Kenny was sick. He had a heart attack and he was just 55, 56. I
visited him in the hospital every day that he was there and he seemed to be
doing fine. A little more than a month or two later, I was in the hospital with
some open-heart surgery myself. I recovered fine. Kenny didn’t. He just died.
Just very quickly he just died and Kenny is divorced. Has a wonderful son by the
name of Brandon who lives in California. Has a wonderful sister by the name of
Kathy who also lived in California and she is in the entertainment business and
is married to a lovely man and has a lovely daughter. And her name is Kathy
Interviewer: Uh huh. Kenny had a lot of good friends, didn’t he, that
stayed close to him?
Schiffman: He had, the ceremony they had to celebrate his life was
overwhelming. So many people that I had never heard of, that I’d never seen in
my life, were there and had very nice things to say.
Interviewer: Was he in the entertainment business too?
Schiffman: Yes, yes, yeah.
Interviewer: Was he a disc jockey or . . . .
Schiffman: He was that for a while. For quite a few years he was a disc
jockey and Kathy is sort of in that business. She’s the agent for Paul Anka.
Schiffman: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Sounds very interesting and fun thing to do.
Schiffman: Must like that kind of business I guess.
Interviewer: Yeah, yeah. Meet a a lot of interesting people. Tell us about
Schiffman: I’m blessed with two of the finest boys God ever put on this
earth. My eldest son Billy is 51. He’s a brilliant young man. I hate to say
this ’cause I don’t like to be quoted, but it’s true, he has a genius I.Q.
Billy has an incredible mind. He’s a CPA and an estate planner and he’s
married to Lynn Aronson. They chose to have no children, to adopt no children
when they got married some 14 years ago and . . . .
Interviewer: Where do they live?
Schiffman: They live in a very hilly street in the Clintonville area, out in
the woods and they like it very much.
Interviewer: There’s some beautiful, beautiful areas out there.
Schiffman: They like it very much and they have five dogs.
Schiffman: Lynn is very involved with the Humane Society and she adopts these
dogs and tries to find homes for them. But after she’s with them for a while,
she loves them so much, she can’t give them up. So when they had one dog, that
was fine. When they had two dogs, that was okay. When they had three, Billy
thought they were getting a little “over-doggied.” By the time they
had four, he was getting very “over-doggied.” Now they have five and
they all get along very, very well except it’s crowded on their bed.
Interviewer: Oh I bet, I bet. But he’s learned to accept it?
Schiffman: Oh yeah. My heavens yeah. My other son is Andy.
Interviewer: Wait a minute? What does Billy do now for occupation?
Schiffman: Billy’s a CPA . . . .
Interviewer: Okay that’s . . . .
Schiffman: and an estate planner. He has his own business. He’s had his own
business for about 15 years. Todd Grow is his partner and Billy was with White’s
for a short period of time and he realized the retail business was really not
Interviewer: White’s is the name of your furniture store that you have.
Yeah, we’re going to talk about that in a little bit. Okay.
Schiffman: And . . . .
Interviewer: Is Lynn occupied?
Schiffman: Oh yeah. Lynn has had a very, very prominent job with the Gas
Company for quite a few years and will be retiring with a handsome package in
about another year.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Who were her parents?
Schiffman: Bob and Joan Aronson and they are Columbus people.
Interviewer: Bob and . . . .
Schiffman: Bob and Joan.
Interviewer: Bob and Joan?
Interviewer: Joann. Yes, Joannie and they are.
Interviewer: It’s a good thing I just happen to know who they are.
Schiffman: Oh yes . . . . And they moved, well not they moved, they’re
Florida residents. They have a home in New Albany but they spend eight months a
year in Florida and he comes up here in time to play four months of golf with me
and some of our friends three times a week and Bob and Joan are wonderful
in-laws for Billy and wonderful friends for Felice and me.
Interviewer: Uh huh. And your second son?
Schiffman: That’s Andy who’s possibly the sweetest person God ever put on
this earth. He’s caring, thoughtful, wonderful, wonderful boy. Gets involved
with good activities, whether they were in the Academy. Both of the boys went to
the Academy. Andy was very popular in school and . . . .
Interviewer: The Columbus Academy?
Schiffman: Yeah, right. Billy went to Middlebury to college. Andy went to
Tulane College. He was having such a good time, he stayed down there for
graduate school as well and he was President of the fraternity down there, ZBT.
And that’s carrying me back to my old days when I was in ZBT as well.
Interviewer: Your college life, huh?
Schiffman: Yes. And Andy came out of school and went into the furniture
business and was there for a pretty good while and is now a realtor and . . . .
Interviewer: Who’s he working with?
Schiffman: He’s working with Larry Ruben in Plaza Properties and enjoying
it and doing a very nice job.
Interviewer: They’re really all over town, aren’t they?
Schiffman: Yes. Andy lived in German Village. He loves it. He is not married.
He always had a delightful girlfriend whom I usually fall in love with and
think, well it’s going to be my daughter. But then he decides no, I don’t
want to spend the rest of my life with her so he moves on and . . . .
Interviewer: But he has a fulfilled life it sounds like.
Schiffman: Yes he does. Yes he does. And his dog just passed away a year ago.
He had it for 17 years and Felice and I have had dogs every day of our married
life and we think that that’s wonderful family extension.
Interviewer: Uh huh. That’s very caring. I know it takes a lot of patience
and care to take care of animals.
Interviewer: Grand animals. That’s about the extent of our relationship
with dogs and cats. Do you remember any of your grandparents?
Schiffman: I remember my grandparents on my dad’s side and they were very
dear, sweet people. Abraham was my dad’s father. He was a tailor. He had his
own tailor shop in New York. He was a very quiet reserved man and that was sort
of made up for by my grandmother Sophie, who was a very outgoing kind of lady.
And he was a very small man and she was a very large woman and they were very,
very sweet and kind. He passed away, oh probably when he was in his early 70s.
My grandmother lived for a long time. She was an old lady and used to come out
and visit with us and she’s a sweet lady. And my mom’s parents I never met.
They were both gone before I was born.
Interviewer: Uh huh. So your grandparents, they were English-speaking, were
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: Well the ones I didn’t know. So I say that. My other ones, yes.
They had an accent. They did. They, my grandfather had an accent. My grandmother
a little bit but my grandfather . . . .
Interviewer: Did they relate any stories about their lives as younger people?
Schiffman: No nothing at all.
Interviewer: Did they have any attachment to Judaism in terms of holidays and
. . . .
Schiffman: It’s the only religion they knew and they didn’t have any
friends other than Jewish people.
Schiffman: So it was their whole life. But were they very observant or very .
. . .
Interviewer: But they knew where they were and they were part of . . . .
Schiffman: That was their life, just with Jewish people.
Interviewer: their community. Uh huh. Uh huh. Do you speak any other
Schiffman: I took some languages in school. I took Spanish. I took French but
I do not speak any other language. No I do not.
Interviewer: It’s kind of interesting ’cause we have a lot of people that
have traveled a lot and have established interests and . . . .
Schiffman: Well Felice and I have traveled a lot but we do not speak any of
the languages to the countries we’ve traveled other than England.
Interviewer: Uh huh. And they speak English?
Schiffman: They speak English.
Interviewer: A hard-to-understand English, but English.
Interviewer: Were you ever Bar Mitzvahed or confirmed?
Schiffman: No. This probably is going to sound very improper . . . .
Interviewer: No the reason, let me set the pace for you too. I know that you
have been very involved in the Jewish community so I’m trying to establish how
you were directed that way.
Schiffman: Okay. I will tell you the reason that I was not Bar Mitzvahed
or confirmed is that when I was a youngster, I had a great passion for riding
horses and the time that I could ride the most was on Sunday. My dad also liked
riding horses. And when it got to be that I thought horseback riding was more
important to me than Sunday School, he didn’t force me to go to Sunday School.
So I kept on riding and I didn’t finish Sunday School. I went to Sunday School
here when Temple Israel was on Bryden Road. I went there for some years. But I
was never Bar Mitzvahed or confirmed. Both of my boys were confirmed.
Neither was Bar Mitzvahed.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Do you happen to have a lot of photographs of your
married life and your childhood, memories? Does that . . . .
Schiffman: Yeah we have a lot of our married life and our kids growing up and
things like that. We do and my library at home, we have forty pictures on the
walls of dif- ferent kinds of things and they’re so very nice to see. And
there when our kids were little, my folks were younger, some exciting places
that we’ve been. Just . . . . .
Interviewer: Those are all memories. I think before we go any further, we
should talk a little bit about Felice.
Schiffman: She’s an angel. She’s my best pal. For 52 year we’ve been
married and had a wonderful life. She was a blind date because I was taking out
her step-sister and we were just friends. We were not destined to be married or
anything like that.
Interviewer: What community were you in?
Schiffman: I was in Columbus at the time.
Interviewer: In Columbus?
Schiffman: And I was probably a sophomore at Ohio State at the time and the
girl was, who’s now Joanie Goodman. It was Joanie Charles then but she married
Jimmy Goodman. And her dad, a widower, married Felice’s mother, a widow. And
she was coming to Columbus one time and Joanie asked me would I please take her
out. And she was a senior in high school at the time. I’m going back a long
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: And we went out.
Interviewer: Where was she from?
Schiffman: Chicago. Lived all of her life in Chicago.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: And she came here. We seemed to get along pretty well. She didn’t
know if she was going to go to Northwestern or Wisconsin. Both the schools had
already accepted her. But for various reasons she decided she wanted to go to
Ohio State. And to make a longer story not as long, we dated, sort of liked each
other. We got pinned. We got engaged.
Interviewer: I don’t know if youngsters get pinned in today’s world.
Schiffman: Oh . . . . back in our days, being pinned . . . .
Interviewer: What did being pinned mean?
Schiffman: It means you give her your fraternity pin and she wears it and
that’s the closest thing to being engaged.
Interviewer: So you’re already kind of connected?
Schiffman: Oh yeah, you’re connected. You’re committed. And at that time
I was going to assist in the Korean War and I was through with college and
Felice was still in school and I went into the Army and she thought maybe we
should get married. And I said, no I didn’t want to get married until I was
out of the Army so she was going to have to wait a little while. And I was one
of the few Jewish boys I know that liked the Army. I liked the Army. I liked
Officer Candidate School. I liked my Army life. I thought it was fun. I was with
a better group of guys in the Army than I was in college. None of us wanted to
be in the Army. We were all there. We were all making the best of it that we
Interviewer: Where were you living then during the Army service?
Schiffman: Well I started out at Breckenridge, Kentucky, for basic training.
And then I went to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, for Officer Candidate, for
leadership school and Officer Candidate School. And I ended up at Fort Bliss,
Texas, because the Korean War was coming to an end and I was able to get out
sooner than I thought. And so I enjoyed that and that was nice.
Interviewer: But you never had to go overseas or never had to leave . . . .
Schiffman: No . . . . a very, very funny story of one of my friends with whom
I sort of kept in touch over the years, was in my OCS class and he was a rascal.
Handsome fellow. Girls liked him. Make no mistake – he liked the girls.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: And I lost contact with him for a couple of years and he got in
touch with me and I found out he was a minister. And I said, “Dick, of all
people in the world that I would never imagine being a minister, why did you
become a man of the cloth?” He said, “Gordy, I’m going to tell you
why. I was in a God damned foxhole in Korea. Bullets were going all the way
around and I said, ‘God if you get me out of this, I’ll work for you for the
rest of my life.'” “And,” he said, “that’s exactly what
I’ve done.” He’s just retired from his church . . . .
Interviewer: So he ate his words?
Schiffman: So he ate his words. And he loves his career. He married a
delightful lady and that was his life. So that was . . . .
Interviewer: So that story worked out well?
Schiffman: Yeah, he went to Korea, I didn’t.
Interviewer: Where does he live now?
Schiffman: In Illinois.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Interviewer: So the Army was a good experience for you. How many years were
you in the Army?
Schiffman: Well I was just for two because when the Korean War was over, I
was then able to get out and so it was just two years. I would have stayed in
longer except I was engaged. I wanted to come back to my best girl. I wanted to
get married. I had worked part-time in the furniture business before I went in
the Army. Absolutely loved it. I was fascinated by the furniture business.
Couldn’t wait to come home, get married, go to work in my dad’s company. And
so I was fortunate and able . . . .
Interviewer: Well that’s good.
Schiffman: It was wonderful.
Interviewer: And so when you came back, did you, is that when you married . .
Schiffman: We got married six weeks after . . . .
Interviewer: What year?
Schiffman: 1953 and Felice has been my best pal, partner, the best mom you
can imagine, good mother to our puppy dogs.
Interviewer: How many dogs do you have now?
Schiffman: We’ve never had five but we’ve never been without a dog since
we’ve been married.
Interviewer: Wow, that’s neat. Well I know Felice. I’ve known her for a
number of years. She is a lovely person and very highly-spoken of.
Schiffman: She is a kind, thoughtful, honorable, dependable proper girl and
we’ve gone through some wonderful, uppy things and some not-so-wonderful, not
uppy things. And man, she’s that partner with me 120% of the way every day.
Interviewer: It seems to me I remember her being a fine cook.
Schiffman: Oh yeah. She doesn’t do that much any more but she was a master.
She was a cooking teacher for a while.
Interviewer: Oh she did teach?
Schiffman: Oh yeah, absolutely. She’s a master cook. She’s fabulous. For
the, when we had family and more people coming over for dinner and stuff like
that, it was more exciting. For, now for just the two of us with my limited
taste appeal and hers and we’re . . . .
Interviewer: I know that changes . . . .
Interviewer: at some stage of your life.
Schiffman: So we have breakfast at home and lunch home and dinner out about
four nights a week.
Interviewer: A time to socialize?
Interviewer: Uh huh. Was Felice ever occupied in some . . . .
Schiffman: No, I mean, she went to OSU and was in SDT and over the summertime
she maybe had some jobs just to fill out the summertime and, but she was never
really occupied. She always had a very full-time job taking care of me, of our
house. We bought our first house before we got married. We were not living
together but we bought just before we got married. And taking care of the house
and a year and a half later Billy was born and so she had a child. And a couple
of years after that, three years after that, Andy was born. She now had two
children. She got involved in the community and did a fair amount of community
work. But never had any paying job.
Interviewer: Sure. Well being a full-time mom and wife is a full-time job,
that’s for sure.
Schiffman: Yes that’s true.
Interviewer: What were the homes that you and Felice have lived in?
Schiffman: Well when we first got married, we lived on Dale Avenue. It was an
almost new house in Eastmoor. We liked it very much and we had lovely neighbors
and we lived there for eight years and then moved to another house in Eastmoor
on Plymouth, a larger house because of that, our family was growing and it was
nicer to have a larger dining room and a recreation room and a bigger yard. So
we moved and lived there for eight years. Then we moved to 247 North Parkview
and lived there for 24 years. And it’s basically where our kids grew up. It
was a wonderful big, big house. We bought it from, when John Wolfe, the late
John Wolfe and Joann got divorced, I happened to see Joann at the Maramor, if
you remember that old restaurant . . . .
Schiffman: and Joann sat next to me at a couple of classes at Bexley High
School. She was a classmate of mine. She said, “Gordy, I understand that
you and Felice are looking for a bigger house.” I said, “We are.”
She said, “Why don’t you buy my house?” I said, “Joann, I’ve
never been in your house.” She said, “Why don’t you come over and
see it?” I said, “Okay you got a deal. When do you want me to see
it?” And, “Come over tomorrow morning.” She said, “See you
tomorrow morning.” So I rang the bell. A black lady answers the door. She
cocks her head. She looks funny at me. Turns her head the other way, staring at
me. Runs over to me, throws her arms around me and says, “On my God it’s
Gordy, Gordy.” This was a lady who was my parents’ housekeeper, who
helped bring me up.
Interviewer: Oh wow!
Schiffman: And she, Sally was wonderful. To make a long story short . . . .
Interviewer: That sounds like a movie moment.
Schiffman: To make a long story short, we bought the house. Sally came with
the house Sally was with us until she died and it was wonderful. We enjoyed that
house very, very much. We . . . . our neighbors.
Interviewer: What a great story.
Schiffman: We had wonderful neighbors. It was . . . .
Interviewer: It was a very interesting house. I remember that one.
Schiffman: It was a fabulous, fabulous house and we built a nice big pool
house . . . .
Interviewer: I’m going to stop you at this moment because this is the end
of Side A, Tape l. Okay now we’re on Side B of Tape l. And you just bought the
house on North Parkview. And lived there how long?
Schiffman: About 25 years.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: Twenty-four years really. We liked it and we built a wonderful
pool house. That had a 50-foot indoor swimming pool and I swam every day of my
life if I was in town. Enjoyed it enormously. And, but when New Albany started
coming to be and I’d been very close with Les Wexner for so many years, I was
possibly one of the first persons on the original Limited Board. And he was
telling me all about how wonderful New Albany was going to be.
Interviewer: How did you become friends with Leslie? Were, you weren’t
Schiffman: He and Felice were, got to be sort of friendly with some
after-school activities and then he had a store in Northland. It was his second
or third store. His first store was in Kingsdale. And he called it “The
Limited” because he didn’t have any money. He borrowed $5000 from his
aunt Ida and all he could carry was sports- wear. He didn’t have enough money
to have a balanced inventory so he was just limited to sportswear. So he decided
to call his company “The Limited.” Well he was single for a long time.
He used to eat dinner at our house probably three nights a week and we just got
to be best pals for a long time. Well he told us about New Albany and I believed
it was going to be that great.
Interviewer: That was a dream, wasn’t it, at that point?
Schiffman: Yes. And it is a dream that came true because it is absolutely a
colossal place in which to live. It is a magnificent place in which to live. And
we built a wonderful, wonderful house there in Edge of Woods on the golf course,
a very great, fine house. And it’s a large house and it was lovely. And lived
there for eight and a half years and then our company went out of business, most
unfortunately . . . .
Interviewer: This is White’s Furniture?
Interviewer: And I want you to talk about White’s Furniture in a few
minutes. Let’s finish up about where you’re at with New Albany.
Schiffman: Okay. Well we wanted to downsize. Our house was too big for us.
Schiffman: And so we moved a couple of blocks away into a wonderful, smaller
house where we have, once again, delightful neighbors. Most of them are company
presidents who have retired, that lived half of their life down in Columbus and
want a nice, smaller house and . . . .
Interviewer: Where is this? Now what street are . . . .
Schiffman: This is Ashton Grove. Ashton Green we live on. Bobby Rahal, the
driver, is my next-door neighbor on one side. The recently-retired President of
Nationwide is my next-door neighbor on the other side. I mean, we’ve got
lovely, lovely people that way. And we like living there. I’m very involved in
the community. I’m on several of the different committees in the community. I
was on the Planning Com- mission. I’m on the Architectural Review Board. I’m
on the Board of Governors of the Country Club. I’m the elected official for
the Country Club Community Association.
Interviewer: What Country Club is this now?
Schiffman: New Albany Country Club.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: Which is, where can you go and find a club two minutes from your
house that has 27 holes of Jack Nicklaus golf, hard surface and soft surface,
tennis courts, plat- form tennis, five swimming pools, indoor and outdoor, a
wonderful club house with all kinds of dining facilities, the sweetest, most
thoughtful staff? It is, it’s one of the things that makes New Albany a joy in
which to live. While our boys were privately educated, Felice and I have become
involved with the New Albany public school system and have been mentors up there
for a day a week and enjoy it very, very much and . . . .
Interviewer: It’s a lifestyle, it certainly is a comfortable lifestyle.
Schiffman: It’s very, very lovely. We have nothing against Bexley. Our
mayor, my life-long friend David Madison, who I love, I couldn’t say anything
bad about Bexley and I lived there most of my life. I lived on Sherwood Road.
Interviewer: Did he give you a hard time about being in New Albany?
Schiffman: No he really didn’t.
Interviewer: He’d probably like to live in New Albany.
Schiffman: I wouldn’t doubt it. One of these days he’ll retire but who
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: And so I do think Bexley is wonderful but I think New Albany is
just, again, to live two minutes from a club and I’ll bet you, between working
out, swimming, playing golf, dining, meeting a buddy for a drink or, I’m there
five times a week. It’s just, just adds another dimension to our life and we
like New Albany very much.
Interviewer: And you’re still swimming?
Schiffman: Yes I am
Interviewer: That’s great. That’s really great. I want you to tell us the
history of your career with the furniture business.
Schiffman: That was, like Felice, the love of my life. As I said before, my
dad was a “this gun for hire,” whoever would pay him more money he
would move, go run their stores and decided at age, I think he was 41, he was
41, he wanted to go in business for himself. And we’d lived in Columbus once
before when he ran some stores that are no longer in business. And he liked
Columbus very much. And they were here visiting one Labor Day weekend in 1941,
or no, 1944, I’m sorry. And dear old friends talked him into, “Why don’t
you move back to Columbus if you don’t know what city you want to open up a
store? Why don’t you open up a store in Columbus?”
Interviewer: Who were his friends then?
Schiffman: Bob Weiler. Tom Lurie’s dad. Henry Piatt, the dentist.
Interviewer: So they were all well established into the community?
Schiffman: Yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: And so he decided he was going to buy a store in Columbus, Ohio,
and he found this building at 625 West Broad Street and wanted to rent that
building and went back to Pittsburgh, resigned his job, told them he was coming
here. Then he found out that the estate that owned that building wouldn’t rent
the building. They would only sell it. Well my dad didn’t have enough money to
buy it and to buy inventory both. So he spoke to his lawyers, who was Stanley
Schwartz and Sam Gurevitz at the time, who were also his friends and said,
“What the heck should I do?” He said, “Well you’re going to
have to get some partners.”
Interviewer: Now he had already left his other situation?
Schiffman: He’d told them he was leaving.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: Yes. And he may have even bought a house here in Columbus. It’s
possible. But the estate said, “No we don’t want to rent the building. We
want to sell it.” It wasn’t expensive. But he had to get some partners.
So my dad ended up with five partners that ended up each with 10%, being
Schwartz and Gurevitz the lawyers each had 10% and Bill, Ben and Ray Kahn each
owned, the jewelry people, each owned 10%. They were friends as well as partners
with my dad.
Interviewer: What a great gathering of support.
Schiffman: Nice people. Oh it was wonderful. And when I got through school, I
worked there part time throughout and absolutely loved it. I started out working
in the warehouse. My dad said, “You talk too well pally. I want you on the
sales floor.” I was probably 15 at that time. By the time I was 16, I could
outsell anybody so, I don’t want to sound . . . .
Interviewer: No, I can verify for that.
Schiffman: But I did so I got very much into this. I liked the furniture
business from Square One. I loved my dad, respected him, was happy to work hard
for him. My mom at the time was working at the store as well, in the office. And
when I got out of the Army, my dad thought we better own the business alone ’cause
if I was really going to come in the business, I didn’t need to have five
Interviewer: Oh they weren’t actively involved?
Schiffman: Oh no, no. They each put in $10,000 apiece so it was no big deal.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: No he didn’t have enough money, cash, ’cause we had a lot of
inventory. He traded them the building for their percentage of the business and
everybody was happy with the deal. Everybody was always good friends. And that
worked out. And I was happy that, and I started going to markets when I was a
teenager, less than that, with my dad, started working in the store. Absolutely
loved the furni- ture business from Square One. And when I got out of the Army,
I told my dad, he asked me, he said, “Sonny, I’m going to retire soon. If
you want the business you can have it.” I said, “I’ll take it.”
And he said, “I want you to send me a check every month though for so
much.” I said, “You got a deal Dad.” For the rest of his life for
40-50 years or more . . . .
Schiffman: ’cause he lived into his 90s, I sent a check every month. That
was . . .
Interviewer: Did he come to the store?
Schiffman: No he was living in Florida then . . . He was proud of me. I got
to be very active. We opened up several stores. He opened up a store, our second
store, this was an Early American shop on North High Street. Then we opened up
the first Drexel store in America and changed the name.
Interviewer: Oh that was the first one in America?
Schiffman: First one in America.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Drexel Furniture was a very fine line.
Schiffman: A very fine line. Then we opened up the first Thomasville store in
Schiffman: And we went into Northland and into Eastland and opened up a
couple of stores in Dublin and some stores on the east side and had fun doing
this. I was very active nationally in the furniture business. I was fortunate
enough to be named the “National Retailer of the Year” in, like ’86.
I was President of the National Home Furnishings Association in ’87. Traveled
around the country, sometimes around the world, speaking of our industry.
Absolutely loved the furniture business. Something very strange happened later
on that’s not worth discussing and we had to close down our stores and it was
a joy and a half to me and I thought I was too young emotionally to retire so I
joined my pals involved in the real estate business. I went back to school. I
had not been in school for a bunch of years, not since OCS in the Army.
Interviewer: Now when you closed the stores, then that was the end of White
Schiffman: That was the end of Whites. That was the end of Whites. And I owed
a lot of money to a lot of customers. A lot of money to a lot of customers.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: I also owned quite a bit of real estate at that time. And I sold
all my real estate and spoke to each and every customer and said, “We’re
going to close our company. Would you rather have your furniture that’s on
order or would you rather have your money back?” Whatever they wanted is
what they got. There wasn’t one customer that didn’t get every quarter back
that they had. And I sold most of my real estate. That’s part of the reason we
downsized our house and I’m not crying any poverty or anything like that. That
wouldn’t be true and it’s not fair and it’s not true. But I wanted to make
sure that we took care of all of the customers that were kind enough to
patronize us through the years.
Interviewer: You continued your honorable reputation?
Schiffman: It’s what I wanted to, I think it was the right thing to do.
Schiffman: And got into the real estate business. Went back to school. Hung
out that I hadn’t been to school for 50-some years and I wondered how I would
like it. And I found out I loved it.
Interviewer: So a whole new occupation?
Schiffman: I loved it. I thought it was simply wonderful. Felice got up every
morning and said, “Okay schoolboy, it’s off to class for you now.”
She was again, oh so wonderfully supportive to me all my life.
Interviewer: How great that you were able to enjoy another career.
Interviewer: What company then did you start with?
Schiffman: The New Albany Realty Company. I’m still there. I wouldn’t go
anyplace else and . . .
Interviewer: Now you’re selling houses, is that . . .
Schiffman: Yeah. Nice houses. High-priced houses. I like it very much. And
what I’ve done recently, I’ve amalgamated myself with a very, very proper
gal in our office, very, very capable gal and I get a lot of listings because I’ve
lived in New Albany for 14 years and I’m involved in the community and know a
lot of people. But very . . . at age 76, I’m not looking to work as hard as
I used to work.
Schiffman: So I get a lot of the listings and she does a lot of the work and
we split it 50-50 and it’s a swell deal for her, it’s a swell deal for me
and I enjoy it and I love the people with whom I’m working and I feel that I’m
a very happy, lucky, fortunate man.
Interviewer: You are lucky, and especially at this stage of life to be able
to continue to meet the public and be a part of another life. That’s
wonderful. That’s wonderful. Before we go too far, let’s go back to you and
Felice and your travels. You mentioned somewhere along the line that you have
traveled together a lot.
Schiffman: We have traveled considerably and enjoy it very, very much. We
particularly like taking cruises because you don’t have to pack and unpack
every day and you get on a luxury ship, small ones and enjoy some wonderful
cities that you’ve learned about while you’re a student. And in fact, this
last vacation that we took, yeah I got sick last year and couldn’t go, but we
went with the Ellmans. It’s the first time that we ever went with anybody. We
always used to go by ourselves and have a wonderful time and meet friends. But
we went with the Ellmans and we rented a beautiful, beautiful place in Tuscany
and when I tell you, it was the nicest vacation we ever took.
Interviewer: What year was this now?
Schiffman: That’s the year before last. Because last year we were supposed
to be going with them as well on a wonderful river cruise starting out in, let’s
see, in Budapest, and going through Vienna all the way up the river and then up
to Nurenburg and, but I had my open heart surgery just a month and a half before
that. My doctor said,
“Gordy, you’re not going on an out-of-this-country trip. Don’t be
silly.” So we might be doing that this coming year . . . We’ve had some
delightful trips and we always have a good time together. And we just realized
that there are a lot of gorgeous places in this country that we’ve not been.
We’ve gone to more places in Europe than we have in this country. I mean, I’ve
never been to Colorado or Montana.
Interviewer: I keep saying this, especially recently, I don’t know why, I
think because, you know, the dollar value in Europe is not great and there are a
lot of places in the United States that . . . .
Schiffman: That are supposed to be just . . . .
Interviewer: absolutely . . . .
Schiffman: that we haven’t been to.
Schiffman: And we’re giving some thought, in fact we just had some travel
agency send us some things of some of these states of Colorado and Wyoming,
Montana, Oregon and we’ll see . . . .
Interviewer: It’s quite a diverse country too. You can . . . .
Interviewer: …find many different…
Schiffman: It is. We’ve been some, we’ve been other places in this
country. We’ve just not been to the northwest. But we had a house, we’ve had
three different houses in Florida and spent many, many years down there to the
point that Felice got tired of Florida and we sold our place down there and we
don’t go to Florida very much.
Interviewer: Uh huh. And you’re still playing golf a lot.
Schiffman: Not very well but a lot.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Well . . .
Schiffman: I play at least three times a week . . .
Interviewer: But you’re having fun with it?
Schiffman: Oh I have a wonderful time. I have a great attitude for playing
golf because I count my good shots, not my total score.
Interviewer: Oh that’s good.
Schiffman: And I have a very, very good time and the people with whom I play
are . . . . delightful guys and . . .
Interviewer: Just so it’s fun and enjoyable.
Schiffman: It is wonderful. I love it.
Interviewer: So you’re not going to win millions of dollars.
Schiffman: No I think not.
Interviewer: That’s okay. We’ll leave that up to Tiger.
Schiffman: You’re right. Tiger can do it.
Interviewer: What about your involvement in the Jewish organizational
Schiffman: Well I was a Vice President of Temple Israel and got less involved
in that because it was too democratic. Our meetings were too big, too broad, too
many people there. Everybody wanted to speak. Nothing got done. And I didn’t
continue on with my opportunities at Temple Israel. But I had always belonged
there. Then when we moved out to New Albany, I support everything in our
community. But I had not belonged to our Temple. Felice and I are not major
Temple-goers. We really are not. I’m very religious. I talk to God for ten
minutes a day every day of my life. But truth be known, and maybe this is the
wrong thing to say in such an interview, if I went to a church it wouldn’t
matter; I have my own religion and I talk to God my way. And we decided that we
would go to this Temple in New Albany. It’s two minutes from our house.
Interviewer: Temple Beth Sholom?
Schiffman: Beth Sholom, right. We like it very much. And we’ve gotten sort
of involved there with some of the things that are happening. I’m on a couple
different committees there.
Interviewer: It’s kind of an intimate situation there.
Schiffman: Yes, we’ve got 300 members. It’s a small, but we’re growing
very quickly and we’re going to have to continue to build and I think the
people that I’ve met there are lovely and some of my good old friends are very
involved in there, the Feibels, the Weilers. They’re some of my good, old
friends . . . .
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: are involved and so we like that very much and . . .
Interviewer: It’s a comfortable situation there.
Schiffman: Yes it is.
Interviewer: Uh huh. What about the Federation? Are you still involved in any
of that activity?
Schiffman: Not as much as I used to be. I’m really not.
Interviewer: Yeah. I think we spend our time at some point in your life and
then you go on to other things.
Schiffman: I think that’s true. I think that’s true.
Interviewer: Yeah. Fulfilled your need, your responsibility at that point.
Schiffman: Yes I’m more involved in my present community. I was very
involved in my industry and I’ve always had lots of meetings to go to and
things to get involved with.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: Although I’m not as involved in some of the religious things as
perhaps I should be.
Interviewer: Well no, I think you have a commitment and you certainly have
proven, you don’t have to prove anything but you’ve been honest and
steadfast about your relation- ship with friends and your community.
Schiffman: That’s true. I’m very lucky that I’ve had so many good
friends for so many years. I’m very, very fortunate for that.
Interviewer: Uh huh. I just was curious to know, do you have any thoughts of
retiring or you’re enjoying yourself so much that . . . .
Schiffman: Yes, yes, and yes.
Interviewer: All of the above, huh?
Schiffman: On certain days I think enough is enough. I, who needs it? And,
but now that I’ve amalgamated myself with this gal in our office and she’s
doing a lot of the “leg work,” I mean for me to be at an open house
all day Sunday and not be able to play golf, it’s not what I have in mind at
Interviewer: I sold real estate. I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Schiffman: So long as we have somebody else that’s there and it’s not me,
then I’m not as keen to retire as I was. But I will one of these days. My
company is very gracious with me and they don’t make me have office duty and
stuff like that. They’re very, they understand my situation and they . . . .
Interviewer: Well you fulfill a need for opening doors too and so that helps.
Schiffman: Yes I do. I’ve gotten a lot of very, very wonderful listings and
some good friends who’ve bought wonderful homes in our community and I’m
Interviewer: New Albany continues to grow and . . .
Schiffman: Yes I hope it doesn’t grow too much. I’m concerned that, are
we going to overtax our schools and is it growing too much. And, but it’s a
wonderful, wonderful, and I don’t want to sound, no please I hate the word
snobbish, I mean that’s absolutely not me, but there’s a difference between
“the country club community” and New Albany. New Albany is this big,
spreading, growing. The country club community is a smaller segment and it’s
an easier-to-control kind of thing. We have a lot of home owner associations
that are trying to do the proper things. Then you get out into the general New
Albany which has grown to beat the band. It’s hard to be the policeman for all
of that. But our community is, I think, exceptional. I think that Leslie has
done a wonderful job in creating this and we’re very lucky to have a great
fire chief, police chief. Our school superintendent that just retired is
spectacular. He’s just absolutely wonderful. And we’re happy with . . . .
Interviewer: It’s a very healthy community for sure and I can understand
your concern about keeping it in some control.
Schiffman: Yes. It’s growing so fast that I think Granville will be a
suburb one of these days . . .
Interviewer: Oh, oh.
Schiffman: . . . all this Licking County property out there. It’s growing
and growing. We’ve got more businesses coming up there and that’s wonderful.
We need that to keep our taxes in line so it doesn’t all refer just to the
Interviewer: Sure. Well, did your sons ever work in the furniture business? I
meant to ask that before . . .
Schiffman: Well Billy was there for a little while and decided it was not for
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: And Andy was there for quite a period of time and Andy was pretty
good at running, the part that he was the stellar merchant in was in our Sleep
Shops. Our mattress business, . . . . business, was a large percentage of our
business and a very, very big field. People spend a lot of money on mattresses.
They turn it over pretty quickly and he particularly liked that part of the
business but he was in per- sonnel very strongly, running meetings with our
staff very strongly, customer relations very strongly. The product that he was
most excited about was the bedding. But he was into upholstery, case goods and
everything else. But running the business, he was very good. That was the
saddest part of my life when we closed the company down, that Andy would no
longer be in the business. But I talk to that boy at least twice every day of my
life. I see him at least twice a week. I talk to my Billy, who travels a great
deal, I talk to Billy every day that he’s in town.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Schiffman: And we’re just luckier than heck to have a wonderful family,
particularly that live here in Columbus, and we get to be together.
Interviewer: Yeah that is a blessing. That is and thank goodness that you’re
able to enjoy it and appreciate it. You know, some of us don’t realize how
lucky we are, right under our nose and . . .
Schiffman: You’re right.
Interviewer: And you have been blessed. Gordy, I wanted to thank you for
getting us to this point and I hope it hasn’t been a hardship on you but it’s
been a delight to me.
Schiffman: I think it’s been wonderful. I hope I did and said what you
wanted me to talk about and I hope I didn’t sound boorish or . . .
Interviewer: No you shared your life with us and, you know, we really
appreciate it. And I appreciate the time that you’ve given us. On behalf of
the Columbus Jewish Historical Society I want to thank you again and we do
appreciate it and hope you have continued success and happiness in your life.
And most of all, good health.
Schiffman: Thank you and I wish, Naomi, the same to you and Bernie and I hope
that your life is just wonderful. Thanks for being so gracious this afternoon.
Interviewer: Thanks. This will conclude our interview.
* * *
Transcribed by Honey Abramson