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Schmatehs and Cinemas in Brownsville

by Bernard Braginsky, 80

I lived in Brownsville from my birth in 1934 to age 18 in 1953, when my family moved to the tree shaded streets of East Flatbush. Now, at age 80, I think of Brownsville and the people I loved there. My family lived in a railroad apartment in a four story tenement at 175 Osborn Street. Our house was torn down about 1960 to make room for low income projects.

In the 1940s we spent Saturdays and Sundays at the B-picture movie palaces like the Reo on Stone Avenue and the People’s Cinema on Saratoga Avenue. Admission: 9 cents. First run theatres like the Loew’s Pitkin, Loew’s Premiere, and Stadium were beyond our means (and beyond our interest).

My grandfather (zadeh) and father ran a schmateh (rags) business. During World War II, he was buying from peddlers and selling to contractors who in turn sold to the US gov’t. They accumulated a tidy nest egg, all of which evaporated in the late 40s and early 50s with the demise of the used clothing market. During my family’s schmateh days, they stored their inventory in wooden sheds in the backyard of the house we lived in. The sheds had originally been built to hold coal for the stoves replaced long before by steam radiators. After a series of calamities in which my family’s schmateh stock was destroyed by rain and thawing snow leaking through the sheds’ dilapidated roofs, the momentous decision was made to rent a store.

Thus, the business locale was acquired on Powell Street. Here I received my first business experience, going through schmateh pockets to see if a careless seller had forgotten to remove loose change, dollar bills, etc. from them; — in the late 50s, my parents acquired a newsstand, candy, and soda kiosk at the corner of Stone and Belmont. I worked with them on Sunday mornings, arriving at 5 AM to assemble the Daily News, Daily Mirror, Times, Journal American, etc. — also El Diario and the Amsterdam News, in deference to the changing neighborhood. There were a sparse number of Yiddish papers. Standing out in winter’s snow and rain in the predawn dark to assemble the papers, in an increasingly dangerous neighborhood -and with only an empty lot to use as a bathroom — now that’s a memory. As an elementary school kid I started out in PS 84 on Glenmore Avenue, about 3 blocks from home. In September, 1943, my parents enrolled me in Yeshiva Toras Chaim, in East New York, about a 3 mile bus ride from home.

2 thoughts on “Schmatehs and Cinemas in Brownsville”

  1. I recall going to the Loew’s Premiere on Sutter Ave and Loew”s Pitkin in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.
    “High Noon” saw with my mom and step-dad in 1951. “Just like in real life” my mom blurted out. Referring to
    the abandonment, rejection, heartless treatment of Gary Cooper.

  2. Louis (Eliezer) Abramsky

    I lived in Brownsville 1949 – 1967.
    I remember going to the Ambassador Theater 776 Saratoga Avenue just feet from the overhead subway station on Riverdale Avenue ; yet due to excellent sound proofing of the Theatre you really didn’t hear the train. It was a beautiful theater having two levels… the upper level included presidential style box seats. I remember somewhere between 1958 & 1962 the legendary Israeli singer and actress Shoshana Damari sang live on stage after we saw an Israeli black and white movie in the Hebrew language with her in. The audience didn’t understand Hebrew… most were fluent in Yiddish. Anyway everyone got dressed up … many men wore jackets and ties. And everyone was thrilled to see a film produced in Israel and having Shoshana live on stage saying a few words and giving a live singing performance. She looked so pretty and she sang so well to everyone’s delight.
    My wonderful mother who recently died at the age of 99 had told me that during the High Holidays the movie houses closed and became shuls to help hold the very large overflowing crowds from the 182 orthodox shul’s comprising the 110-120 square block area.

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