This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on November 22, 2021 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral History project.  The interview is being recorded at The Columbus Jewish Historical Society headquarters.  My name is Ron Robins and I’m interviewing Sonny Romanoff who I just found out was Morris Romanoff.  So, I’ve known him forever and I never knew his given name.  So, we’re going to start now. I talked to Sonny before this all came about.  I’ve been trying to get together with Sonny for maybe two years.  Two or three years we’ve been trying to get this, five years, so I’m glad we finally got this together.  Sonny is a wealth of information about Columbus and he’s also a wealth of information about the Jewish history of Mt. Vernon Ave.  At one time Mt. Vernon Avenue was a vibrant part of Columbus’s Jewish community.  We’ll get to that first but, before we get to that, a little bit of background.

Interviewer:  Sonny’s parents were?

Romanoff:   Herbert Norman Romanoff and my mother’s name was Dorothea Romanoff.  She was originally from the west side of Columbus and her parents were the Berman family, Sam and Kate Berman, my grandparents.  My father’s parents were Joseph Romanoff and his wife Fannie Romanoff who was originally a Grossman.  She’s Ben Grossman’s sister and (part of) the Grossman family.  My grandfather was from Toledo, Ohio.  That’s where he was born.  I have a brother and a sister and I’ve got other family members.

Interviewer:  I had Sonny write this all down.  He’s blessed with a large family.

Romanoff:  We have three sons Chaim Shneur Zalman, Binyamin, and Yosef Yehuda.  Those are their Hebrew names.  Chaim Shneur Zalman is Mark.  Yosef Yehuda was Jeffrey.  Binyamin’s name is, I don’t recall, I don’t call him by his name.

Interviewer:  He’ll know when he hears it and your daughters?

Romanoff:  I’ve got two daughters from a previous marriage.  One is Vicky Romanoff.  She’s not married.  Her sister is Robyn who is married to a fellow by the name of Cianbro?.  Her last name is Cianbro.  She has two children.  Her children are Lillian Cianbro and Cole Alan Cianbro.  That’s most of my family.  My wife’s name is Ellen P. Romanoff.  We’ve only been married for 52 years.  She’s gotten to be the head of the Chevra Kadisha for ladies that pass away in Columbus, Ohio.  Anybody that loses an orthodox Jewish woman in Columbus, Ohio, they have to go through my wife to get their passport to the next world and also she does …  Our anniversary is the third day of Chanukah.   Every year it’s the same, the third day of Chanukah, regardless of the date.  Anyway, to get back to the children for a minute, in Chicago, we have six grandchildren.  We’ve got Chaim Schneur Zalman and his wife, ….

Interviewer: It’s probably not that important anyway.

Romanoff:  You don’t want all the names?

Interviewer:  If in 120 years, Sonny, Mie they listen to this, they’ll know that their grandfather forgot who they were.

Romanoff:  I didn’t forget them.  It just caught me off guard, that’s all.  My in-laws are Ruth and Leon Gross, that’s my wife’s parents.  My mother and father are Herb and Dorothea.

Interviewer: Did he have a Hebrew name?

Romanoff:  Yes, Herschel is his Hebrew name.

Interviewer:  And your mom?

Romanoff:  My mother’s name, Devorah I think, Devorah.

Interviewer:   Just an aside, my grans lived next to the Romanoffs when I was growing up and I always, until today, until a few days ago, I always wondered why the Romanoffs never were able to talk to my grandparents who spoke mostly Yiddish.

Romanoff:   My father didn’t speak much Yiddish.  His wife spoke a little Yiddish, not so much.  They were American born.

Interviewer: Up until I was out of school, I never met anybody who didn’t have Yiddish-speaking grandparents.

Romanoff:   Okay, well anyway, we get back to Cleveland, Ohio.  I’ll go thru a little faster.  Binjamin married a young lady.  Her name is Rivka. They have six children; Chaya Bracha, Avraham Sholom, Raphael Leib, Yocheved Yehudis, Ahuva Elka, and Rochel.  In Baltimore I’ve got, Yosef Yehuda and they all have six children: Chaim Dovid, Chaya Mirel, Aryeh, Boruch, Leah, and Menachem Mendel Dan.  He’s only a year old and he has a 20 year old brother.  (Chaim Shneur Zalman and Dina’s children are: Yehuda Simcha, David Leib, Miriam, Shira Chana, Avraham Yaakov Eliezer, and Devorah).  There’s 19 grandchildren there and my two daughters, that’s 21.  Chaya Mirel Bracha married about two months ago, three months ago, and her husband’s name is Moshe Chaim Reich.  I went to school with a Reich.  They live in Far Rockaway, New York.  Okay, what else can I tell you?  That’s pretty much the whole family.  Well, I got a brother and sister. Ivan and Harriet.  Harriet was married to John.  She was married to Jerry Lopper first and her husband’s name was John.  That’s about all I can tell you from the family.

Interviewer:  You had two daughters from a previous marriage and three sons.

Romanoff:  And all the grandchildren, 21 grandchildren.

Interviewer:  I have to put this in.  At one time, Sonny, right now, is what you would call a Baal Teshuva.

Romanoff:  Baal Teshuva, yeah I am.

Interviewer:  When he married his wife, Ellen, he became a totally different Jew than he was raised.

Romanoff:  Correct.  Let’s get on that subject a little bit.  In 1997, I was awarded, having been President of the Schul for nine years.

Interviewer: At Ahavas Sholom.

Romanoff:  Yeah, nine years, President.  I wouldn’t do it again for nine minutes.  I loved it, but that’s it.  My family is Shomer Shabbas and they all keep Kosher homes.  What else do they do?  They work hard.  Now I’ll get into where they work and all that.  My daughter-in-law is the Principal of the Balish Girls High School in Chicago.  My daughter-in-law from Baltimore, her name is Rochel, she’s Principal of a school, I forget the name of the school, in Baltimore.  Both girls are Principals.  What else can I tell you about them?  You want to know a little bit about some of the people that I know on Mt. Vernon Ave.?

Interviewer:  Yeah, lets do that because really this is a real part of Columbus Jewish history with little undue reporting because everybody that I knew…. Tell us about the store.  Tell us about Mt. Vernon Avenue.

Romanoff:  Well, first of all, when I started in business, in the pawn business, I worked for my father for a while for $15 a week.  Then I decided to open a little store at 186 S. Fourth St.  I had a clothing store and my grandparents, my father’s parents, lived upstairs in the same building.  We made a deal so that we could include the rent for both the rent and the business.  I had a small clothing store there.  I used to buy things from Lazarus that were returned, returned merchandise.  I used to buy shoes from the men’s shoe department.  People used to buy shoes and if they hurt their feet, they’d take them back to Lazarus to get another pair or something else.  So that was part of it.  My brother took over.

I moved to Mt. Vernon Ave.  My first location was 1021 Mt. Vernon Ave., no, no 994 Mt. Vernon Ave.  Then I moved across the street to 1021 Mt. Vernon Ave.  The fellow next door was H. Howard Shearer? who had a jewelry store.  He was Jewish but he didn’t let people know it.  He had a jewelry store and I decided to buy the building from him when he retired so he went on his happy way.  I did open a pawn shop at that time.  I moved down the street.  Coffee Ziskind had a pawn shop at 994 Mt. Vernon Ave. and I said, “Coffee they come in and take advantage of you all the time. They break in.  They rob you.  They this ..  They give you a hard time.”  His eyes were always very bad.  Anyhow, he said, “Well who’s going to buy it, you.”  I said, “I know a little bit about that business.”  So, I moved to 994 and then I moved to 1017 Mt. Vernon Ave and then I bought the building next door which was Ohio National Bank at 1025 Mt. Vernon Ave.  I moved there and I was there until I retired.

Interviewer: The pawn shop started in what year?

Romanoff:  My pawn shop started in about 1964, something like that, 1965.  I don’t know exactly, something like that.  I didn’t keep the records. Anyway, then I bought the building from the jewelry store next door.  There was a store between us and I used it for storage?.

Interviewer: You were there a long time.

Romanoff:  I was on Mt. Vernon Avenue for 52 years.

Interviewer:  That’s a long time.

Romanoff:  Pretty long and Mort Rising moved in the store right next door.  I don’t think…  This building was part of another building next door.  This building was 1017 and 1021.  This was 1021.  I used that for a storeroom and 1017, Mort Rising, who had a store down the street, he worked for Sully’s Pawn Shop and he became my tenant for 19 years.  Anyhow, it was a whole story that Mt. Vernon Ave. was good to me and I think I was good for it because I had a lot of people that…  I was there today, as a matter of fact.  I had to go to the drug store that ended up buying one of the buildings.  I still believe that I am indebted to him for buying the building so I go there to buy my meds, whatever medication I need.  I can tell you about other people on Mt. Vernon Ave.

Interviewer:  Who were some of the people that were working there?  What were they doing?

Romanoff:  Well, here we go. Mort Rising was next door.  He was also a member of Ahavas Sholom and I thought it would be a nice thing to become friendly with somebody and I could help him in business because my business was maybe a step above his, not too much.  I sent customers to him and he in turn sent customers to me, same business.

Interviewer:  Was he in business?

Romanoff:  Same business, pawn business.  My wife’s grandmother went crazy.  She said, “You can’t rent a place to a guy in the same business that you’re in.”  I said, “We’ll see about that.”  So, I did.  I’ll take you down the street to tell you the places.

Interviewer: This is sort of a who’s who of Columbus Jewry at one time, the Risings.

Romanoff: Okay, on the corner of Mt. Vernon Ave. and 20th St. was Abe Pollock.  He had a bar.  He always used to smoke a cigar.  His bar was on the corner.  Two doors down from Abe Pollock was Charlie Solomon, Sully’s Loans.  His brother-in-laws worked there.  A lot of the family worked there.  Mort Rising’s father was a tailor and he used to sell clothing.  He was a tailor there.  Right next door to Sully’s was East Market, a regular like downtown market.  Anyhow, I could talk about Sam Lopper who had a grocery store there. That’s Jerry Lopper’s father.  The Rosens had a chicken…  Mr. and Mrs. Rosen, husband and wife.  On the next corner, I’m going down one side and I’ll have to go back up the other side.  Jerry Mellman had an auto parts place on the corner of 18th and Mt. Vernon. Coffee Ziskind was across the street at 994.

Interviewer:  What was Coffee’s English name?

Romanoff:  Louis Courtney Ziskind and his brother is Max Ziskind.

Interviewer:  Max, they called him Muddy.

Romanoff:  Muddy, and his brother, his other brother, Jacob.  Dr. Ziskind, he was my doctor.  He brought me into the world.  So, I mean I go back with these people a long way.  I’m not going to tell you that I’m only 59 years old.  That’s all I am. (joking)

Interviewer:  I’m a year younger.

Romanoff:   OK and next to, before we got to Pop Ziskind, we forgot Abe Weiner and Tillie Weiner was his sister, married Coffee Ziskind, wait, Dr. Ziskind, and on the next corner was Ben Rosenberg, that’s Gilbert’s brother-in-law.  He was there for more years than I was.  I think he was there for about 60 years, something like that.  That’s one I took to work every day.  Oh, and Ben Golden, he was next door to him, 814 Mt. Vernon Ave.  Ben Golden and his wife, Rose Golden and Sylvia was his aunt and their last name was… I can tell you where they lived.  They lived on Gould, about the second or third ranch houses. They had two houses, I think maybe the second one.   Ben Golden had Ben’s Grill.  Jack Feinstein opened up a sandwich store next door to where I started, a submarine sandwich shop.  His wife said, “You got to get rid of that place because they’re going to kill you there.”  He was open all hours of the day and night.  Oh, Rosen, Emil Rosen.

Interviewer:  What was Emil’s business?

Romanoff:   Chickens.  Maury Cohen, Lee Cohen’s brother.  They started Lee’s Style Shop.  I think Lee started it and Maury took it over from him.  I don’t know what the story was with that.  Across the street was Vernon Tailors, the man that wrote the book, Marvin Bonowitz.  They had a wonderful business.  There’s some beautiful pictures in this book, of him running the store.

Interviewer:  The book that Sonny is talking about was a book that he and Marvin Bonowitz put together.  It’s called, “Mt. Vernon Avenue, Jewish Business in a Changing Neighborhood.”  1918 to …, there was a huge presence of Jews on Mt. Vernon Ave.

Romanoff:  They lived there too.  Abe Weiner lived on N. 18th St. or Miami Avenue, right next to it.  Anyhow there’s a lot of Jews. (leafs through book).  Sully’s building, occupied by …, built in 1920. Oh, we had Jake Papier, Jake the old man who sold shoes.  He used to be in the old shoe business.  We were competitors when I went to Lazarus.  Louie Gurevitz used to sell used TVs at 17th and Mt. Vernon Ave.  Schiff’s Shoes was on Mt. Vernon Ave. of, course I didn’t know who the people were that owned it, Jewish people obviously, Schiffs.  We also had a riot on Mt. Vernon Ave.

Interviewer:  That’s in the book.  Tell us about it.  Were you there at the riot?

Romanoff: No, as a matter of fact, I wasn’t.  I was out of town on a fishing trip and I came home and the front of my store was gone, the whole store, the showroom in the front where the windows are outside, gone, everything.  Anyhow, three or four days I put it back together, started again.  As far as people coming in the store at night, they thought we were open 24/7.  I was open day and night because that’s what it was.  I used to get a telephone call in the middle of the night many, many times.

Interviewer:  I’m looking at a picture of the Bonowitz’s store and its circa 1922.

Romanoff: He went out of business probably in the early 60’s.

Interviewer: You know Mt. Vernon Ave. now and even then was heavily Black.  So what was it like working there?  What was the relationship between the Jews and the Negroes, Blacks?  What was it like?  Was there tension?

Romanoff:  I can tell you a little bit about that too.  I decided that Sully’s business, they were in business way before I was and I took some of the things that they did and made them from me rather than from him.  Needless to say, I never had a problem with having the business.  I worked every day, except Shabbos.  I haven’t worked Shabbos for forty years, maybe more.  When my son was eight years old I was Shomer Shabbos.  That was 42 years ago.  I said, “Now look, you got to go to shul tomorrow.”  He said, “Let me ask you, why do I have to go to shul when you get to go to work?”  That left a hole in my brain.  I don’t have much of a memory.  Anyway, if you’re nice to the customers, I don’t see any problems.

Interviewer:  So you had no problems.

Romanoff:   I had one problem.  I had 1017.  I used to have a lot of policemen come in my store.  They were customers and they wanted to buy stuff and use the facilities.  One Black policeman came in and he said, “Could I use the restroom.”  I said, “Sure.”  He came out.  A guy walked in and he went like that, had a gun in his hand, pointed at my head, and he walked out and heard him.  He was a policeman and he pulled a gun on the guy.  He said, “If you do something to him, I’ll blow your head off.”  That saved me.

Interviewer: That was the only incident?

Romanoff: That was the only incident like that, plenty of burglaries, holes in the roof, holes in the ceiling and in the side of the building, I had all that.  I overcame it and I never had insurance.  I never collected a dime from the insurance company, I didn’t.  I did collect one time.  After I bought Coffee Ziskind’s store, we had a smoke fire from the place next door, had a Chinese restaurant there.  The smoke got my store.  They paid me, I don’t know, a few dollars, I don’t remember.

Interviewer:  What’s you recollection about the other Jewish people who were living there?

Romanoff:  I came after they lived there. Abe Weiner, he told me about where he lived.  Ben Davis, you know Ben Davis?

Interviewer:  I knew of him.

Romanoff:  Ben Davis was Joe Plotnick’s father-in-law and there was another Jewish guy who fixed televisions.  I can’t remember his name.  I thought his name was Gurevitz but maybe not.  All the people that were there, Sam Lopper was there for 20 or 30 years at least, had a little grocery store inside the market house and they had a chicken place, Jewish, Rosen.

Interviewer:  Do you think that was kosher?  They didn’t have a Shochet?

Romanoff:  No, no kosher.  They had plenty of kosher places on Livingston Ave.  I remember that, five or six of those.  You would probably remember.

Interviewer:  Oh, yeah.  I lived in that part.

Romanoff:  Where did you live?

Interviewer:  I lived on S. 18th St. with my grandmother during the war.  That was where the, a huge part of the Jewish community lived.

Romanoff:  That’s where all the synagogues started.

Interviewer:  Yeah, Beth Jacob.

Romanoff:   Agudas Achim.

Interviewer:  Ahavas Sholom was there.

Romanoff:   Beth Jacob, they all started there, Donaldson St., Grant Ave., all right in that area.

Interviewer:   That’s where the bulk of the Jewish community was at that time. Mt. Vernon Ave. was ….

Romanoff:  Mt. Vernon Ave. was downtown for a lot of people.  It really was.  There were very few places that had problems with people, not necessarily Jewish but we’re talking about Jewish people.  I don’t remember of any Jewish people that were taken advantage of.

Interviewer:  So, you don’t remember any overt antisemitism?

Romanoff:  People come in and say …. They used to… so what, words were cheap.  You don’t have to pay attention to words.  I heard them all my life when I was there.  Of course, I went to Mt. Vernon Ave. when I was 19 years old.  I came out when I was 70.  Of course, I was only 59 for a long time.  I don’t know what else I could tell you.  There weren’t very many other kinds of people, other than Blacks.  Right now, if you went there, you’d have to say that 80% are Black, 80-85%.

Interviewer:  Oh, at least. Things are different now.  Jews and Blacks are living …..  I was interested in whether there was a lot of antisemitism.  I wonder what you remember.

Romanoff: My father’s mother worked in a non-Jewish furniture store before she got married.  She came to Columbus.  She was Lena Barnett’s sister.  Lena Barnett and Ben Grossman, they were brother and sister.  Herschel Baker, his brother was rabbi from Ahavas Sholom.

Interviewer: Right, Julius.  What was Herschel’s business?  What did Herschel do?

Romanoff:  He had a place in my old store.

Interviewer:  Doing?

Romanoff:  Racket, they called it a racket store, all kinds of junk, like a 10 cent store maybe, something like that, no clothing and no jewelry or anything like that, no drug store.  There were very few, when I went there, there were fewer and there are more now.  Lev owns my store now.

Interviewer:  Is he operating that store now?

Romanoff:  Yeah, 30 years.  There’s been a pawn shop on Mt. Vernon Ave. since the 20s probably.

Interviewer: What was the one before you?  Who was there.  Sully was there.

Romanoff: Sully was there.  Sam Weiner was there.  Sam’s father, Abe Weiner and Tillie Ziskind was there.  They lived upstairs over the store.  If you tested me on where they lived, I remember that, the names and things as you get older.

Interviewer: There were Jews living on Mt. Vernon Ave.?

Romanoff:  Yeah, not a lot, but some.

Interviewer: Was it your sense that some of them were living in …?

Romanoff:  In the back of the store.  Coffee Ziskind used to sit out in front and read the Forward, the Jewish paper, in the front of the store and fall asleep.  You don’t have to tell me about him.  It’s crazy.  When this book was written.  I go back to this book because I helped him write a lot of the stuff and we were very good friends.  When he, before he, my mother-in-law passed away before he passed away.  We went to a birthday party for Marvin Bonowitz at his house and my mother-in-law never had such a good time.

Interviewer: Your mother-in-law and your father-in-law weren’t from Columbus originally?

Romanoff: They were from New York.  My father-in-law got a job with Schottensteins, then my mother-in-law got a job at Schottensteins.  She did okay with them.  (Looks at book again). This is Mort Rising and he would have pretty much to say, like I did.

Interviewer:  For people who are listening to this, this book that Marvin Bonowitz ….

Romanoff: It’s in the library.

Interviewer:  It’s in the Bexley Library?

Romanoff: Oh yeah.

Interviewer:  It’s in the Bexley Library if anybody is listening and thinks they would like to (see it).

Editor’s note: The book, Mt. Vernon Avenue: Jewish Businesses in a Changing Neighborhood, is also available at CJHS.

Romanoff:  My picture, or Mort’s picture, or Bonowitz’s picture, we got them all.  Anyhow, it was a lot of fun when he did it.  Anyhow he enjoyed it.  He really enjoyed it while he was there.  Then he moved to Bexley for a little while.  Top Drawer, he had a little men’s shop there.  Why he did that, I don’t know.  He got one daughter and a son.  Susan Bonowitz is a lovely girl.  I’d like to find her a nice guy.  She’s got to be half a century.  I don’t know what else I can tell you.

Interviewer:  I don’t know.  Switching gears here.  I know your family lived on South Cassingham because that’s where I live.

Romanoff:  661, we lived in four houses in Bexley.  As a son, as a child, the first one, 661 and 978 Euclaire, 880 Pleasant Ridge.

Interviewer:  I remember that one.

Romanoff: 998 Grandon.

Interviewer:  Pleasant Ridge you did remember.

Romanoff:  880, we lived in the basement.  That was just before I made the plunge.  I’m not sorry I did it.

Interviewer: Well, that was a big turning point in your life.

Romanoff: Oh yeah, without a doubt.  I got grandchildren coming tomorrow. I do.  I have a grandchild that’s about 16 or 18 months old that dances.  You’d go crazy to see him dance.  My wife sings to him on the telephone.  She says, “I’m going to show you.”  She sings to him and he dances.

Interviewer: Maybe it would be interesting now to talk about what things were like in Bexley, when you were coming along, when you were in school.

Romanoff: I was in school in Bexley, yeah.

Interviewer: You started first grade in Bexley?

Romanoff: No, I lived in Zanesville for a little while, for first grade.  Third grade I started Bexley.

Interviewer: At Cassingham?

Romanoff: Alligator Allison, that was her name.  She’s gone a long time.

Interviewer: Who was that?

Romanoff:  Miss Allison, she was my third grade teacher.  Miss Downs, I think was second grade.

Interviewer:  I had Miss Pitt.

Romanoff:  Was she fifth grade?

Interviewer: Yeah, redhead.

Romanoff: Sixth grade was …  At Bexley high school, I found something that I really loved when I went there.  First of all, I took Spanish and couldn’t do it, could not do it.  I said well maybe I’ll take industrial arts.  I took four years of it.  I got very good grades all four years except the first six weeks.  Duffy told me, he said, “If I came out of Spanish to his class,” he said, “Don’t touch any of the electric tools. You’re ?  You got to get permission.  You got to learn how to use.”  Don’t you know, after I was there for a while, he was there and he cut four fingers off.  Did you know that?

Interviewer:  Yeah, I remember.  That was terrible.

Romanoff:  I did have something to do with it.  I did see some of our students with uniforms on.

(intentionally redacted)

Romanoff:  Anyhow, I wasn’t a great student but I did good the things that I wanted.  I learned to fix a lot of things myself in my store and I still do it.  I got a garage with probably $20,000 worth of tools. I just like tools.  I learned to use them too.  That was also a help. I built a Sukkah years ago at my house.  I had a guy that had a place on Mt. Vernon Ave., a sheet metal shop and also roofing.  He built me a Sukkah two and a half times as big as this room, two and a half times as big, made out of sheet metal.  I said, “Now you should make it so that any dummy could put it together and it’ll stay together.”  I used stainless steel, bolts and screws to hold it together, you know, and made it a room.  I could sit 35 people in the Sukkah.  That’s one of the things I did, not from school, I did it.  Twenty years ago, ? moved to Israel, the guy that built that fancy house on Bexley Park across from the Catholic church, corner Gould, brick house.  Yeah, you know.  He used to have the restaurant in Jay’s building in the basement.  You know Jay has a restaurant in the basement?  He doesn’t have it anymore, but he had it.

Interviewer:  I think he still has one out there now.

Romanoff:  No, no, been closed for a long time, for a year at least.  Anyhow, this was the guy that ran it, big, tall guy, good-looking guy.  Anyhow it’s over.

Interviewer: Right.

Romanoff: Oh, I fell in the swimming pool at the Jewish Center one time and broke my foot, just what I needed.  I found a new love now, Ping Pong.

Interviewer:  Talk about it?

Romanoff:  No, I can’t do that because I’d make the people feel bad that I talk about.

Interviewer:  You don’t have to mention a name.

Romanoff:  No, I play Ping Pong at least twice a week and sometimes three times a week but I’m having trouble with my hip. I’ve got a problem, I’m sure.  I go on the 30th of this month to the doctor, pills, I can only walk up one step.

Interviewer:  How do you play Ping Pong?

Romanoff:  You don’t move hard.

Interviewer:  You let the ball come to you?

Romanoff:  No, it doesn’t always come to you.  You’ve got to go after it sometimes.  It’s a fun game.  You’ve got to learn how to play.

Interviewer:  I do.

Romanoff: When Jack Forman was on crutches after he had Polio, that goes back about, he was 12, 13 maybe that’s all.  He had it the rest of, all his life.  We played in the basement of the Center.  He used to stand and hold his hand on the table.  He was very strong.  His upper body was very strong because of his crutches, so he played okay.  He died.  I went to his funeral.

Interviewer:  I think that David Goldfarb came to a bad end.

(intentionally redacted)

Romanoff:  That’s okay, that’s good.  That’s a brocha for him.  That’s a very special thing.  I lost a guy.  I say kaddish for a guy every day, twice a day.  He only worked for me, a Jewish guy, Russian, but very special guy. His wife was an artist.  You know downtown on Cleveland Ave. they’ve got a great big thing that says ART.  She designed that, his wife.  They lived in Westerville, very good guy.  I miss him too.  You got to do what you got to do.  I got a lot of people like to play Ping Pong.

Interviewer: Who do you play Ping Pong with?

Romanoff:  I play with Marvin Vinar.  You know him?  He walks to synagogue every day, to and from.  He lives on Gould, about six houses down on the east side of the street.  He plays me.  He plays good.  I play him on a regular basis.  I play Rosenstein.  He just gave up his job.  His wife was the one that fell on cement ? and had brain damage.  She was a doctor at Children’s Hospital and I took her for therapy about two and a half years maybe.  Up in Gahanna, the YMCA has got a big out-patient therapy place and I took her there.  Right now I got a car that doesn’t work, how do you like that, the same car I took her in.

Interviewer: Let’s kind of explore Mt. Vernon Avenue again because that’s something that’s intriguing to me.  What were some of the flavors, some of the feel.  What was it like to live there, to be in an almost Black neighborhood, to be white and Jewish?

Romanoff: Well, there was no such thing as, I don’t like the word antisemitism.  Maybe there are people that don’t like Jews but maybe there are some that do like them.  Girls always say, “Get a Jewish husband.”  She’s got to know she’s gonna have some place to eat.  I don’t know, what do I know.  All I know is I never had the problems.  I never had the problems that other people had.

Interviewer: Did they all talk about it?

Romanoff:  I was in my old shop today.  I went in there to see Harlan Siegal. He works for Lev.  In the meantime, a guy walked in.  He said, “Is you Sonny?”  I said, “Yeah, I is.”  He says, “Are you back? Are you gonna be here?”  I see people every place I go that recognize me.  A girl that worked at the bank, I saw her about two weeks ago at Krogers, and she says, “You don’t remember me?”  Beautiful Black girl, beautiful girl.  She had a kid that went to Marburn Academy.  Someone, maybe it was one of my sons, Binjamin went there for a little time.  She says, “I’m Eileen, I worked at the bank.”  She grabbed me and hugged me in front of all those Jewish people there but that’s okay.  That’s part of it.  I didn’t have any problems.

Interviewer:  Did the other people?

Romanoff:  I don’t know.  They only talk about things that happened then, like Carl Brown.  Carl Brown had a grocery store on Mt. Vernon Ave,

Interviewer: Who is Carl Brown?

Romanoff: A Black man, really nice guy.  Anyhow, his boys were bad, different kind of guys.  I don’t know if he got in trouble with food stamps but some of them did and they got slapped on their hands.  I never had any problems.  I ran a legitimate business.  I took in guns in pawn like everybody else took them in.  The lady came from the ATF to check my records.  She said, “I can’t believe that you can do this without a computer.”  I said, “Lady, I don’t need a computer.  When they come in and show me ID, that’s good enough.  When they come back to redeem it, they’ve got to have the same ID.”  You’ve got to always be on the up and up.  I never had any problems.

Interviewer: Did you ever hear of anybody else having any problems?

Romanoff: Yeah.

Interviewer: Not like legal problems, white, black kind of problems.

Romanoff: No.

Interviewer: No, so it was a relatively safe place to work?

Romanoff: I think it was a perfectly safe place.  The only time I was worried about it was when I got up at 3:00 in the morning and met a policeman on the side of the building.  I didn’t like that too well, especially when they walked inside with me and said, “You got any shotguns for sale?”  They wanted to buy some while I was there. I said, ‘’No, I’ll don’t do that.  You come back out when I’m open.”  I also got three brass balls that the guy that had the sheet metal shop that made my Sukkah, he made me three balls and I put them out, hung them on the side of the building and they’re still hanging there.  They are still there.

Interviewer:  So Lev is working out of that building?

Romanoff:  Not Lev, he doesn’t go there himself.  He’s got 30 shops.  He’s a success story.

Interviewer:  That’s a success story.  Here’s a guy, came to this country as an adult.

Romanoff:  What did he do when he came here?  I know.  I want to see what you know.

Interviewer: I don’t know.

Romanoff:  I’m going to give you a little exam.

Interviewer: I don’t know.

Romanoff:  He used to rebuild starters and generators for cars.  He went into the business of refurbishing.

Interviewer: How did he get into the pawn business?

Romanoff:  How did he get out.  I’ll tell you that too.  You tell me.

Interviewer: You tell me.

Romanoff:  He got into the pawn business because of the fact he opened a little store downtown.  I don’t know where it was, some place near Lazarus or one of the places, a little store half as big as this room, maybe smaller.  He put his wife in there to buy gold.  That’s what he did.  He’s okay.  He’s a well-off guy.  He earned every nickel.  (redacted)  He did okay.  He’s got two idiots in my store.  Every time I go into my store, it makes me sick.  They really don’t know anything about it at all.  He took himself in for $75.00 today.  If I’d have given him $25.00, it would have been a lot.  It was a ring that was partially gold but not very much.  ?? taken him.  Anyway I had a good time.  I learned a lot there.   I learned an awful lot there.

Interviewer:  Well, it’s time.  We sorta talked about Mt. Vernon Ave. and most of the Jewish people who lived there.

Romanoff:  There weren’t too many Jews there, I’m telling you, not when I went there.  Before that, I can’t imagine who would even know.

Interviewer: They are probably gone by now.  I do know that at one time Mt. Vernon was a very active (neighborhood).

Romanoff:  It was, there’s no doubt.  When I went there, my father had a store at 909 Mt. Vernon Ave. and I was dying a slow death trying to take care of my grandparents upstairs, paying rent on the building but he said, “Why don’t you come to Mt. Vernon Ave., there’s plenty of business out there.”

Interviewer: Where was that with your grandparents?

Romanoff: They lived at 186 S. Fourth St.  Now it’s a hotel, where they were, across from where East Market used to be.  I’ll tell you who else was there.  Dave Beckman was there, Beckman Poultry.  He used to sell chickens, right next door to me.  I was 186, he was probably 159, just the next room.  He had chickens and he had a three or four car garage back there where he used to kill the chickens, terrible place to kill chickens but that’s what he did.

Interviewer: Were there a lot of pawn shops on Third and Long Streets?

Romanoff:  Yes there were.  I can tell you all those too.

Interviewer: Do you want to do that?

Romanoff: Plotnick was on the corner.  Mrs. Friedman was on the other corner, south corner, next door to him was Chasin.  Irv Chasin was next to Plotnick and there was another one, GMM was another name.  I don’t know the guys who owned it.  Also Rubin was downtown.  If Rubin was alive and those guys were still alive, they could tell you what it was like downtown.  Friedman was across the street, catty corner from Plotnick.  I don’t know how well they did.  They were down there.  I guess they did okay.  The one that was down there, probably was Chick Young.

Interviewer:  He was the Camera Exchange.

Romanoff:  I know.  He was a character.  He was okay.  Yeah I know them all.

Interviewer:  Chick and my uncle were good friends.

Romanoff:   Your uncle, what’s his name?

Interviewer: Sholum, Sam Eisen.

Romanoff: Sam Eisen, he’s the one that drove Cadillacs, didn’t he?

Interviewer: Yeah.

Romanoff: Chick Young, ah, they thought they had a placement to follow.  Chick Young’s son, I think he’s still there.

Interviewer:  I think it’s closed now.  I don’t know.

Romanoff: He had a heartbreak?.  He was crippled, a crippled arm or something

Interviewer:  Chick?

Romanoff:  No, the son.

Interviewer: I don’t know his son.  I knew Chick.

Romanoff:  Did you know Mr. Shearer?  No, how about Mr. Modes?

Interviewer:  Sonia Modes’s father I knew.  Joe Modes, yeah I knew him.

Romanoff:  You know his son?

Interviewer: Yeah.

Romanoff:  He’s my friend.  He’s the one I bought my car from.

Interviewer:  Stuart.

Romanoff:  Yeah, he’s in California now.  He’s on his way out I’m afraid.  I bought my 93 Toyota Camry from him.  He bought it new.  I bought it when it was 29 years old.  That’s okay.

Interviewer: I think we’ve covered the waterfront here.

Romanoff:  I wish I could tell you more about it.  There isn’t much to tell about it.  The people that would have been there, I wouldn’t have known because I came later than they were there.  Charlie Solomon, I’ve seen Sandy Solomon at the Center.  He wants to learn how to play Ping Pong, yeah he does.

Interviewer:  He’s a good athlete.

Romanoff: He was a terrific athlete.  He can’t play Ping Pong very well yet.  I’m going to call him.  He lives in Block’s old house I think.  ? the one that got in trouble, that’s the house he owns.  He lives on the corner of Columbia and Maryland.  That’s where Freddie Luper lives.  He died too.  Where’s the book you had?  I’d like to see it.

Romanoff:  Is this your book?  Those are the people.  That was a whole class so they are not marked who died and who didn’t die.

Interviewer: Yeah, I know.

Romanoff:   Let me see.

Interviewer:  On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, I want to thank you for contributing to the Oral History Project.  This concludes the interview.


Transcribed by Rose Luttinger