Bill Cohen representing the Columbus Jewish Historical Society interviewing Herb Glimcher in his home at 10 North Drexel in Bexley, September 4, 2015.
Interviewer: So, Mr. Glimcher, why don’t we start with a little bit of family background? Could you tell us a little bit about how did your family come to be in the United States? Was it your grandparents that came over, your parents?
Glimcher: Our family came to the United States with my mother’s parents coming here. And they immigrated to Boston and they went through Ellis Island. Then they lived in Boston for a few years and then my grandmother – her mother came to Duluth Minnesota with her son.
My grandmother missed her mother after a few years and got my grandfather to go ahead and move to Minnesota. They had a family – 3 daughters and a son. My mother wound up leaving my dad in Boston – who came here in his late 20s, my mother came here when she was 3 years old. They wound up getting married in Minnesota. We lived there, grew up there and then wound up moving to Boston.
Interviewer: Now, lets get your parents names.
Glimcher: My dad’s name was Paul and my mothers name was Eva.
My dad was a Calvary officer in the Russian Army, which was kind of unheard of because they didn’t have Jewish Calvary officers, but he was taken in when he was around 15 years old, before WWI. They went ahead and confiscated all these guys because they knew the war was coming, so they went ahead and took them and held them til they went into battle. And he was a soldier for 10 years, he was wounded twice, he was a prisoner of war twice. He was entrenched in the trench at one time for 12 days and said if he ever came out of it alive he would never throw away a piece of bread. And he never did.
My dad was very easy going. He could read, write and speak a half a dozen languages. He was an interpreter in the service for two years in Peking, China and he had a very colorful young life.
Interviewer: He was an officer in the Czar’s army. And even though the Czar was anti-Jewish?
Glimcher: Right. We have these old pictures of him, in uniform on a horse. He had a lot of horses shot out from under him. He was really in battle. He had the equivalent of the Distinguished Service Medal here. He wiped out a German machine gun next single handedly.
Interviewer: And this was WWI… And your mother’s maiden name was?
Glimcher: My mother’s maiden name was Fischman and they all came from the Ukraine area. It was not a huge family, but a fairly sizable family. My grandfather only had one brother who also came to this country. He went to Canada for the gold rush and while he was in Canada he died. He had a heart attack, or I think, at that time.
Interviewer: So your family first came to Minnesota
Glimcher: No. First came to Boston
Interviewer: Oh to Boston, then Minnesota
Glimcher: Then our part of the family went to Boston, my parents, and I have three siblings. A sister and two brothers.
Interviewer: And how is it that you came to Columbus?
I came up here to visit a relative. I was very young, in my early 20s and decided to try things on my own and made a decision – I was out here for a couple of weeks and I decided to see if I could sink or swim.
Interviewer: So you grew up, your childhood was in Boston…
Glimcher: My childhood was in Minnesota
Interviewer: Your childhood was in Minnesota. And then you came to Columbus.
Interviewer: And you were in your 20s. So what are your memories? Were you in school? Were you working when you were in your 20s here in Columbus?
Glimcher: I went ahead and I actually came to Mansfield, Ohio. I had a relationship there. Came there. And I started working in the building trade and I was one of the early cash and carry lumber dealers in the country. I had a relationship that I made with General Motors and they became a customer of mine and I wound up not knowing anything about any of this. I was young and my dad was a Jewish cattle rancher. He was in that business.
Interviewer: Wait, say that again. Your Dad was…
Glimcher: A Jewish cattle rancher in Minnesota. And then I went ahead and wound up building some of the first McDonald’s restaurants. Knew nothing about lumber or anything, just self taught, and I built one of the first discount stores in the United States from the ground up.
Interviewer: And what store was that?
Glimcher: That was a Mansfield, Ohio store called Giant. I built for most of the national tenants. After that I became a developer. When I was building the discount store and went down to the bank, they went ahead and offered me more money than it cost – this was in the 50s – and I said to myself, “I’m going to become a developer.” And that’s how I got into the developer business.
Interviewer: So your very first work though was selling wood?
Glimcher: Selling all kinds of building supplies.
Interviewer: Building supplies and you would sell that to a company that was actually doing construction.
Glimcher: No. I’d go ahead and sell it to buildings.
Interviewer: And your first work was in Mansfield. And did you live in Mansfield?
Interviewer: You lived in Mansfield in your 20s and approximately what years would that have been?
Glimcher: In the 50s.
Interviewer: In the 50s. And then how did you come to Columbus?
Glimcher: I came here; I wanted to be in the larger area and have the facilities of flying in and out and to come to Columbus.
Interviewer: So where did you live in Columbus?
Glimcher: First I built a home on Fair Ave in Bexley. And in ’79 we moved here, to 10 N. Drexel.
Interviewer: You moved to Columbus in approximately what year?
Interviewer: ’64. And you built a house on Fair Avenue?
Interviewer: There was a vacant lot in 1964 in Bexley?
Glimcher: It was a lot, there was a house that had a double lot and I bought half of it.
Interviewer: And you bought the lot and built a house. Do you remember the address on Fair Avenue?
Glimcher: Sure – 2740 Fair Avenue.
Interviewer: 2740 Fair Avenue, must have been around Roosevelt or Merkle?
Glimcher: Between Roosevelt and Merkle.
Interviewer: So let’s talk a little bit about what you were doing in the 1960s. You were building your development business. What were some of your projects?
Glimcher: I was one of the early developers in discount stores. I was one of the early developers for Kmart and all the national tenants and then I built discount stores that evolved into building strip centers and then from there I wound up building closed malls all over and just kept on going.
Interviewer: Since this is an interview to try to piece together the history of the Columbus Jewish community, What do you remember in the 1960s and ‘70s about the Columbus Jewish community? What do you remember about the Synagogues or whatever?
Glimcher: When I moved here, I was one of the only people that wasn’t related to almost everybody in town. It was a very tight Jewish community. The German Jews had their group, the rest of the Jews had their groups, and it was pretty much controlled within sectors. Tifereth Israel was Hungarian, Agudas Achim was Russian and Lithuanian and then Temple Israel was reform.
And I didn’t know anybody, but just kept on meeting people as I went along. And I like Columbus a lot. I think it’s a great city and I liked it from the beginning. It’s a very comfortable place to live.
Interviewer: When you started in Columbus, you say it was a tight knit community, but you were not really part of it.
Interviewer: So… How did you become part of it?
Glimcher: You keep on meeting people. People hear about you and we didn’t particularly make a lot of noise, so you just keep on meeting people no matter what community you go to and you get in different organizations and have relationships and that’s how people, wherever they are, they’re either becoming part of it, or not part of it.
Interviewer: Did you join a synagogue?
Glimcher: Yes, we joined Tifereth Israel. I grew up Orthodox, my wife grew up Conservative and we joined Tifereth Israel.
Interviewer: Was Rabbi Zelizer still there?
Interviewer: Did you do anything with any other Jewish groups? Institutions? Clubs?
Glimcher: We were involved with the Federation a lot over the years. I built the two Shalom Houses here in Columbus. I personally built them and…
Interviewer: The two Shalom Houses are for the mentally disabled?
Glimcher: Mentally disabled adult Jewish people.
Interviewer: When you say you personally built them, tell me what do you mean by that?
Glimcher: With a lady by the name of Sylvia Schecter – Sylvia Schecter got me involved in that and I built the first one behind the Jewish Center and down the street and I was the founder of them. I raised an endowment of a million and a half dollars myself. It happened during the same time as the campaign was going on here in town and they didn’t want it to go public, so I raised it in about 90 days privately.
Interviewer: They didn’t want your campaign for the Shalom House to conflict with other fund-raising efforts for other projects.
Glimcher: With the Columbus Jewish Federation.
Interviewer: You raised the money on your own and built the first Shalom House
Glimcher: That was for an endowment. And they still have an endowment.
Interviewer: And the endowment helps to pay for the operating expenses…
Glimcher: What happened during the time I was building it – it was a state-funded project, but I changed it to non-sectarian, so who ever lives there can live there for the rest of their life without paying anything.
Glimcher: So there’s 14 people in the first one and 8 in the other one. After the 14, the state wouldn’t allow anything that large. They wanted it more like a private home and the people that have somebody in there couldn’t have better care, or anything, it’s just a phenomenal facility. I’ve had people come from different cities that say ‘How’d you do it?’ And I said, raise the money and get somebody who wants to go ahead and do it.
Interviewer: So there’s the one in back of the Jewish Center and then there’s another Shalom House about a half a mile south on College Avenue. Was there some special interest you had in that issue?
Glimcher: Yes. I got involved…My wife had a brother who just passed away on Memorial Day weekend, who was mentally retarded and he lived there, probably, from day one. That’s about 26, 28 years now since I built the first one. We lost about 4 or 5 different people over the years, but when you have a retarded person, you always have a child. You never have an adult. So what happens is, the family goes along – they’re heartbroken that their persons retarded and as time goes on they worry about what’s going to happen to their person if they die. And this gave them security to know that no matter what happened to them their person would be taken care of.
Interviewer: So you were active with the Federation and you were active obviously with Shalom House because you helped to start those two projects, what else? Were there any other Jewish…
Glimcher: Active in the Foundation, active in Heritage House, pretty much involved in everything Jewish.
Interviewer: I know there are various Jewish fraternal groups and other kinds of groups, any other memories you have of the ’60s and ‘70s and ‘80s?
Glimcher: I’m really not interested in a lot of those groups. I’m interested in doing things to help people. I’m not the type of guy who has a camaraderie with this group, or this group, or this group. I don’t have any interest in that. I spent a lot of time with Heritage House, I rebuilt Agudas Achim – the whole Temple. I did that personally, and…
Interviewer: Now when was that? I know there were a couple of different times…
Glimcher: 10-12 years ago. It was only one time.
Interviewer: One time. OK. Agudas Achim expanded and you, what, you financed that? You did the construction?
Glimcher: A group of us financed it at the beginning, and then everybody, all the members, went ahead and made commitments so we don’t have any financial problems today.
Interviewer: Now you told me that you and your wife were members of Tifereth Israel. And yet, you just told me that you helped to rebuild and reconstruct Agudas Achim. How did that happen?
Glimcher: We’re members of both. I don’t go to Tifereth Israel. I go to Agudas Achim. After several years, I decided I wanted to go to an Orthodox Shul and I went to Agudas Achim and I’ve been there for years and been one of the( tortzahs) there.
Interviewer: Ironically, you started with Tifereth Israel, a Conservative Synagogue…
Glimcher: It isn’t ironic
Interviewer: Well, then you went to Agudas Achim because you wanted an Orthodox Synagogue, but now I understand that Agudas Achim is a Conservative Synagogue.
Glimcher: Right. We decided to go Conservative.
Interviewer: So you like Agudas Achim? Let me ask you about any other Jewish groups or anything. Even businesses. Do you have any memories of Martin’s Kosher Foods or other places like that, that are Jewish?
Glimcher: Martin’s Kosher Foods… There used to be Dorothy’s Delicatessen where it was really great…
Interviewer: Where was that located?
Glimcher: It was on Broad Street. Martin’s was a fabulous store. On Sunday morning you had to take a number because they were so busy. And they had good food. A lot of the people that worked there were extremely pleasant, so you’d wind up having… There was a lady by the name of Fanny that was fantastic.
Interviewer: She was a cashier
Glimcher: No. She waited on people. And it was really a pleasure to come in there and have her wait on you, because they were kind of funny. You could joke around with them. So it was a whole different environment. It was not a Jewish environment today when it comes to the store, you know? You have Chani Capland with her bakery, but it isn’t exciting to go in to Kroger and have the Jewish section there. They don’t have the real Jewish things in there…
They used to have Schwartz Bakery, which was good. They had good rye bread and different things. So a lot of those things… I think Columbus is a very Jewish city, but the environment has changed. Which it does everywhere. No matter where you go.
When I used to go to Kmart, I used to go up there every few weeks and then I’d stop on Wyoming Street there with the Jewish area and they had a big Jewish market. I used to go into a store called Mrs. Grunts Pickles and she’d make delicious pickles and knishes. She took a liking to me, I was a young guy, and she used to give me a nosh every time I left. And before I got out of the store I had heartburn.
Interviewer: Where was this?
Glimcher: In Detroit.
Interviewer: In Detroit. So what you described at Martin’s was kind of unique in that, for Columbus, you really felt like you were in a Jewish place.
Glimcher: You’re right. This is a Jewish city. It’s a very caring city. The Federation raises twice as much money, in some cases twice as big – You’ve got a lot of dedicated, devoted people. The one thing you don’t have is, if you go back 30 years, when you were doing a fundraiser you could go ahead and pick out certain people and you knew you could get a big donation from them.
People today, there aren’t that group of people around anymore. There are some younger people that probably will be that way, but I think there’s a little lull in the environment. I couldn’t raise a million and a half dollars for Shalom House today. I did it in 90 days.
Interviewer: You couldn’t do that today, you think? But you could do it 20 years ago or 30 years ago.
Glimcher: 30 years ago, yeah.
Interviewer: And what you would do is you would go to your fellow Jewish businessmen and developers and…
Glimcher: I wouldn’t do that at all
Interviewer: What would you do?
Glimcher: I went ahead, and when I couldn’t go public with it, I did a unique thing… I had a one-page letter that I sent off to a group of people and I told them what I’m building, just a one page letter, and I said I’m going to call on you and when I call on you I’m looking for one hundred thousand dollars or fifty thousand dollars. I didn’t have anybody under fifty thousand. And when I called the person and said I want to come and see you, they knew what I was asking for. So I came in there and it was unbelievable how that went together. I bet nobody in the city has ever been able to raise a million and a half bucks in 90 days.
Interviewer: You would first write a letter and then you would visit them in person and you told them, quite frankly, I need big contributions here, Fifty thousand dollars, one hundred thousand dollars for the Shalom House. Did the people you would visit, we’re talking about successful, people of means…
Glimcher: A lot of people, just like all the Russians that came here,. You can take these Russians and some people are very proud to come here, to immigrate here and they want to belong to Agudas Achim, but they don’t have much money – When they came here 30, 40 50 years ago – maybe they could afford to pay $10 a year. That $10 was more exciting than somebody giving ten thousand because they didn’t have the $10, but they wanted to be counted.
I think it’s important for anybody to be counted. Not just to be there. Because if you really think of life and everything, we’re a speck in time. We used to go to a certain place in the Caribbean for about 10 years and I’d sit there and I’d look at these grains of sand and I’d say, “This grain of sand will be there when we’re long gone.” So while you’re going through life, you’re dumped into this world and you’re taken out of the world with no choice. I think people should try to make the most of it
When I came out to visit my cousin, I had a car and fifty bucks in my pocket. And I wasn’t worried about eating because I knew that I could always make a living. No matter what, I felt really good about myself and I knew I was a hard worker, I cared about things and I went ahead and if I wanted to do something I’d just do it. I wouldn’t talk about it. I’m talking to you more than I usually talk. I don’t like keeping up talking about stuff and talking about stuff. I don’t like doing it. Just like with redoing the Shul, they had a committee for about 6 months and nothing happened. And then they called me and I went to one of their meetings, and they had hired a guy from maybe Canton, Ohio and he had all kinds of samples there and they were ugly and they were 50 years behind the times.
Interviewer: Samples of the architecture…
Glimcher: Of materials and different things like that. And then one said, “well I like purple”, another one green, another one another color. They said, what do you think? I said, look I’m not interested on being on the committee, but if you want this done, I’ll do it. I want to do it the way I want it. I want to pick out everything, but I will do it. And everybody agreed and that’s what happened.
Interviewer: So you said, I’ll raise the money, but we’re gonna build this the way I want it built.
Glimcher: Yeah. I mean there are several of us who put in quite a bit of money at the beginning. I’m not the only one who put in the money by any means, I don’t want you to think that. And at the Shalom House, I probably put in the largest amount of money, other than the million and a half dollars, but I had guys that gave me two hundred, one hundred, fifty… There have been a lot of good people in this city. And there still are a lot of good people.
Interviewer: Do you think that Jewish values are the reason that you are a charitable person?
Glimcher: No. I grew up in a family that was charitable. When my parents were in the meat business, cattle ranching and all that. When I was a young kid, every Friday afternoon, I would come home from school and deliver back to the school a hundred packages of meat to give to needy people. When meat was 2 pounds for a quarter.
Glimcher: They used to have a lot of rabbis coming through town and everything like that, so our house was Orthodox and we used to put them up. I have an extensive Hebrew education, I used to go to Shul from the time I was 13, I’d go morning and evening because they needed 10 men. And a lot of these guys were peddlers, got up early in the morning – 4 or 5 am – and they would have a 5 o’clock service or 6 o’clock service in the morning and then go to the market, get their things, so I think I’ve got an interesting life and I’ve done a lot of different things.
When I went to Shul in Minnesota, they used to have hobos coming around to collect 5 cents from a guy and I had a 5 cents that I could have bought an ice cream or a candy or anything like that, but I felt in my heart that they needed it more than I did, so I’d give them my 5 cents.
I think you have to give back, it’s important. And if you don’t give back you’re wasting a life. If you don’t do something.
Interviewer: In your time in Columbus, have you encountered any anti-Semitism?
Glimcher: Sure. You do all over. You do all over the world. You go, for example, in to Northern Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Iowa all those places, there are Rednecks all over the place. I mean you grow up with that. I grew up with and lived with Scandinavian people who were really nice, but in the outlying areas they’re brought up, you know you get some Bible study and little churches and that and I’m sure they preach, a lot of them, against Jews and Blacks. You know, they’re different nationalities.
There’s plenty of anti-Semitism in Columbus, Ohio. It’s all over the world.
Interviewer: Can you give me an example of something that happened that you saw in Columbus?
Glimcher: No. I don’t want to give any specific examples, but you can walk into places. I’ll tell you, when I first started with Kmart, when I walked in there you just felt a chill. The only Jews that walked in to that place were developers because they’re the only ones that gave Kmart the stores they wanted. And they didn’t have one Jew working there.
Interviewer: They didn’t have Jews working for Kmart, but they were willing to deal with Jewish developers.
Glimcher: Yeah, because they needed them. And in a lot of places, they deal with Jews just because they need ‘em.
Interviewer: You could tell in some way that they didn’t like Jews?
Glimcher: You could feel it in the air. They walk in, you could feel it. It would be uncomfortable.
Interviewer: You could feel it in the air. Do you think things have changed at all?
Glimcher: No. I think things are as bad as ever and going back to WWII and the Holocaust and everything like that… Jews in general thought Franklin Roosevelt was their savior, and this guy was as anti-Semitic as anybody you could ever find. And reading the author of The White City in Chicago, did you ever read that book? That’s a book you should read. And he wrote another book and he was here at the museum to speak. And I almost stood up and insulted him.
Franklin Roosevelt could not get an ambassador to Germany during WWII. So he tried all kind of guys and then finally he calls his college professor, maybe from Wisconsin – I forgot where he’s from, and he calls him in and the guy agrees and he moves his family there. In the meantime, while he’s there, they’re killing Jews, they’re taking over their houses and everything – he kept on saying everything is stable and everything’s good and nobody was checking anything and in the meantime, some of the top Jews were rubbed out there.
My brother-in-law, who died several years ago, was in Auschwitz, Buchenwald – he was in three different camps. He was the youngest of his family, he was a teenager when they took him and he was tough. He was somebody you couldn’t step over. When they were in Auschwitz, the American planes were flying so low, they could see the pilots and those guys could not bomb Auschwitz because they didn’t have the authority to.
Interviewer: So that tells you that there was anti-Semitism…
Glimcher: Nobody really said, ‘Hey, this is it, I’m going to do it now.’ Everything takes time, it doesn’t have to take the time. If I’m in a meeting and talking with a bunch of guys that work for the company and say we have to get a hold of this person.
<Short interruption of tape>
Interviewer: Let me ask you this, since you came to Columbus in the 1960s, since you came then, most of the Jewish community lived in Bexley, a few in Eastmoor and some in Berwick, but that was 95% of the Jewish community. How have you seen things change?
Glimcher: At that time, there were a lot of Jews up north in Ohio State who were pretty much assimilated because they didn’t come to the table. And they’re still there and what’s happened is, in any city – Jews are here, then they go here, then they go here, then they go here – so what hasn’t happened in Columbus that happens in some other cities, Bexley is still here. Les Wexner couldn’t kill Bexley, no matter what he tried. He thought he’d pull all the Jews out to New Albany, but that was a bunch of bullshit. You know, there was no way he was going to pull them out there. I love Bexley. It’s convenient to everything and you know there are a lot of great things here. Capital University is a gem of a school. You have CSG, one of the top girls schools in the country and you’ve got a lot of good people here and people that have moved out of Bexley have moved back… You can’t say today that Bexley is all Jewish like it was. All the Jews live here – they don’t
Interviewer: Right. Has that been a bad thing that Jews have moved to other areas of the city, or has that been a good thing?
Glimcher: I think if you look at it for anti-Semitism, I think it’s good that they move around. The Gentile people say Bexley is a Jewish ghetto. It isn’t a Jewish ghetto, there’s more Gentiles here than Jews.
Interviewer: So you’re saying that as some Jews have moved out of Bexley and Berwick and Eastmoor to other areas that has helped to soften anti-Semitism?
Glimcher: I think it shows you that if you’re Jewish you don’t just live here. I think it shows you can live anywhere.
Interviewer: How would you describe the health of the Columbus Jewish community? Is it strong? Is it good? Is it healthy?
Glimcher: I think it’s different than it was 30/40 years ago. It’s got a lot younger crowd. You don’t have, if you’re a German Jew you’re here, if you’re a Russian Jew you’re here, if you’re a Lithuanian Jew you’re here…
Interviewer: You don’t have that anymore.
Glimcher: No. All the old German families, they were one clique. When I lived in Boston, I had friends next door who went to New York without me and I wanted to take out their cousin. And they were German Jews in New York and they didn’t want their daughter to go out with a Russian guy. That was very not so at that time. But today, no matter what your background, it’s so far back. I have a great aunt in this country in the early 1900s – here in the 2000s, so time heals everything and changes everything.
Interviewer: Let me ask you this…
Glimcher: I may be giving a bunch of bullshit here…
Interviewer: It’s your point of view. You have a point of view. Did you go to college?
Glimcher: I was going to be a pharmacist and then I quit because I decided I wanted to go ahead and be in business. That was my calling. So what I was telling you then, that I forgot to tell you..
I had a very extensive Jewish background. I can do the services in Shul. I can do the haftarah. I can do the Saturday service and I had a scholarship to go to the Yeshiva in New York, but I didn’t want to take that course, which was unusual at that time to be in Minnesota and be a Hebrew scholar
So I’ve had a lot of different backgrounds in my life. I’ve done a lot of different things and I’ve been a self starter. Everything I did, I did on my own. And I enjoyed that because whatever I did was right because I had nobody to complain.
Interviewer: Remind us, what would you say are your biggest business projects? You’ve developed malls and shopping centers… What are the most well-known ones?
Glimcher: Well, for this area, it’s Polaris.
Interviewer: Polaris. You developed the Polaris Mall?
Glimcher: Right, right. I developed one of the top ten malls in the United States across from the Newark, New Jersey airport, called Jersey Gardens.
Interviewer: Oh, so your developments are not just in Ohio, they’re everywhere?
Glimcher: All over the country, yeah.
Interviewer: The fact that a guy who did not go to college could rise to that level of success, what’s your assessment? How did that happen?
Glimcher: Did you go to college?
Glimcher: What did you learn there? When you came out of college you didn’t know how to wipe your nose.
Interviewer: You’re right.
Glimcher: OK, so my nephew just graduated May 10 from the Fischer School, Cum Laude, 3.83 average and he’s gonna get a job in finance, but the thing is he doesn’t know – and he’s a smart, sharp kid, aggressive and he’ll be very successful, but when you come out of there, here’s what you learn at college. You get background information, but you don’t know how to do it.
Interviewer: You don’t know the real world, you’re saying?
Glimcher: Right. I was sitting yesterday in a meeting with architects , I’m not an architect, I’m not an engineer or anything, but I have common sense so when I have to figure out something structural, so I said to the architect , “Why don’t we do it like this?” He said “jeez, you’re right. That’ll work.”
Interviewer: You used common sense…
Glimcher: I was laughing to myself because you can’t do something this way, you can do it that way. And to become a doctor. You go ahead. You go through school, get a degree and maybe you’re number one in your class. And you come out of there and unless you’ve cut somebody, unless you’ve practiced on somebody you don’t know what to do. The guy who does his first surgery is pretty damn scary.
I think everybody should go to college, but I don’t know why I didn’t go. Maybe it was the circumstances; I was pretty much a loner, doing my own thing on that. I grew up working. When I was 15 years old I was selling shoes two days a week, making as much as the guys working all week because I was aggressive. I grabbed every customer that came in the store that I could and I wanted to work.
Interviewer: What was your job? Selling shoes?
Glimcher: Yeah. A lot of the Jewish guys grew up, that’s where you could get a job and they guaranteed you nothing. Shoes cost five bucks a pair; you would get 7% commissions or 6% commissions so you’d make 30-35 cents a pair, so you were really hustling. You needed the money. You wanted to make money.
Interviewer: So you are what we would call a self-made man…
Glimcher: Well whatever self-made, but I was not lazy, I was a self starter. Forget about self -made self-starter.
Interviewer: You did not come from money…
Glimcher: My family was a middle class family, and a charitable family, a caring family. But I started out on my own with nothing. When I came out to Columbus I was going back to Boston, and I love Boston. But they kept on pounding on me and my cousin. And I said we don’t have anybody here; it will be nice that we have each other. And then after two weeks of getting pounded on, I started thinking and saying, Hey, if I stay out here and I’m on my own, I get nothing from anybody and I either sink or swim, which is what I said before. And that’s the decision I made.
My mother really didn’t want me to stay because she knew if I did that I’m not coming home anymore and my dad said, well if that’s what you want to do, do it. And I like to do what I want.
Our company, we took it public in 1964 and my son runs the company now, and he loves the public life, I don’t. I want to do my own thing. And I’ve done it for so many years I don’t want anyone to tell me what I can do or can’t do. What he’s doing is right for him, what I did was right for me.
Interviewer: Are you hopeful, you’ve been here in Columbus as part of the Jewish community for 50 years, or more, are you hopeful about the future of the Jewish community in Columbus?
Glimcher: Well, I don’t think the Jews are going to be wiped out from the face of the earth. If they are, everybody else is going with them. I think the strongest military nation in the world, not in size, is Israel and I think they’re phenomenal and I think they’re so smart and they’re ready, willing and able. They love their country better than anybody. Nobody could be more dedicated to their country.
You don’t want your people running around saying “I’m an American, this is my country.” But you hear, “I’m an Israeli, this is my country, I’m going to defend it.” Everybody. Here, certain people grow up and they want to be in the military, they want to defend their country, but as a whole the feeling that you hear in Israel is different.
Interviewer: Now that’s Israel. How about here, in Columbus, do you… the Columbus Jewish community. A few people make Aliyah and go to Israel, but most people stay here in Columbus. Do you think the future is bright for Jews in Columbus?
Glimcher: I think it’s as bright as anywhere in the world.
Glimcher: Because it’s a pretty stable community. And I’m not saying, for example, if you have a neighbor that isn’t Jewish and there’d be another Hitler here that he wouldn’t turn you in. I’m not saying that. But you hope that that isn’t going to happen.
Interviewer: Do you think the Jewish community has allies in the non-Jewish communities that feel protective of the Jewish…?
Glimcher: I’d say it has allies, but it has few friends.
Interviewer: We have allies, but few friends?
Glimcher: It all depends what the situation is, if they’d be your friend. If you take – you know a lot of people – start counting on your hand, if you need them, how many would be there. If you can count to 2 you’re lucky. Different people have been honored in this city. And I didn’t go on the videos. And some of the people needed a friend and I said to the people, “You know, I wasn’t on the video, but who was there when you needed them?” And that’s what counts.
You’ve never heard of Edie Glimcher, Herb Glimcher have their name on the building and been honored here or there, I don’t believe in that. It’s a bunch of bullshit. I don’t want to go and be honored by Torah Academy.
I’ll add to this, when Torah Academy moved out east, they owed $800,000. Dr. Bruce Siegel was my associate. I was developing in Boston, Massachusetts, there was none of that crap. I went ahead and set up meetings two weeks in a row at my office, on Sunday morning and I brought bagels, you know what a Pletzel is? It’s a flat like bagel with onions all over it, I brought those things, I brought Nova, smoked fish, everything and had two meetings and raised the money.
Interviewer: You raised the money for Torah Academy…
Glimcher: To pay off the mortgage.
Interviewer: To pay off their mortgage.
Glimcher: Who do you think Torah Academy honored? Jerry Schottenstein! Who do you think burned the mortgage? Jerry Schottenstein. But I didn’t care because I don’t care about the publicity. So if Torah Academy asked me to be honored, my feeling is to say, honor the people that work there… They’re the ones that should be honored. They’re the ones that have the sweat equity in it.
Interviewer: Your point is that you don’t have your name on a whole bunch of buildings, even though you’ve been instrumental in building those projects.
Glimcher: Yep, yeah. We’re a charitable family and we think that if you can give, quiet charity its better than giving a bunch of, you know.
Interviewer: Well it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Let me just give you a chance to say anything else. Is there some other point you want to make to people about Jewish Columbus?
Glimcher: The only reason I’m doing this is because my wife said do it. This isn’t what I do. I don’t do interviews, I don’t … I’ve been honored once by accident on a building project – they pestered me so long – they had this big dinner and when the people started to call me in there I said, “You know, I think I’ll leave!”
Interviewer: Mr. Glimcher, it’s been a pleasure talking with you.
Transcribed by Molly Crabill