Editor’s Note: This document was obtained from the Alburg (VT) Library and is used by permission.
Recollections of Paul I. Pearl
Presented At Alburg Library
August 2, 1991
“This is a Horatio Alger story.
Paul I. Pearl was born in Russia in 1892. At the age of thirteen, he emigrated to the United States alone, having escaped from Russia. He arrived on September 6th on his fourteenth birthday.
In 1908 he made his way to Isle La Motte and earned his living by peddling door to door with a pack on his back, traveling through both Isle LaMotte and Alburg. He then bought a horse, cart, and sled, stored his merchandise in the Isle La Motte Railroad Station, and continued to peddle through northern Vermont and New York State.
He lived a Spartan life and saved every penny he could, as he dreamed of someday having a dry goods store in the area. His dream was realized. In 1914 he built a barn in Alburg; and opened store number one there, in the following year, where the municipal building now stands.
In 1918 he enlisted in the navy, but the war was soon over, and he became a civilian again.
In 1921 he married a lovely lady Bertha, (affectionately known as “Birdie” by the family. They had three children: Elliot, Norman, and Goldie; and the family lived in an apartment on the second floor above the store. Bertha was his helpmate, and it was my observation that she was the woman behind the successful man.
By this time, Paul had brought two brothers over from Russia; and he opened a second in Swanton, VT., with his brother Joseph in charge. In 1928 he opened a third store in Rouses Point, N.Y., followed by others in New York State and one in Enosburg Falls, VT., until there was eighteen in all.
The barn at the rear of the Alburg store was used as a warehouse and several men were employed there filling orders from the various stores. These orders were then delivered by truck.
In the fall of 1940, I went to work for Pearl’s Dept. Stores in the office. My job was to bill each store for the merchandise shipped, mail orders to the wholesalers, etc.
By this time, the Pearl family had moved to Mount Vernon, New York; and the local store and warehouse were managed by Isidore Kropsky, who, with his wife Ruth, Paul’s sister, now lived in the second-floor apartment, with their three children.
The Pearls built a summer home on the lakeshore at the south end of the village; and they spent summers there, where Paul loved to work in his garden. This home still stands and is used by members of the family.
In May of 1944 fir broke out in the W. O. Morton garage which was very close to the south side of the store, with just a narrow driveway separating the two properties. The fire quickly spread to the store and warehouse and both were completely destroyed.
The Kropsky family moved into the Pearl camp, and merchandise was moved into the garage at that site, and we sold from there. I worked there until fall when Mr. Pearl rented the east section of the Rutland Railroad station; and we moved in with me in charge. I remember that cigarettes were in short supply due to the war, and I would put them under the counter, and keep the railroad men supplied. Rubber, too, was scarce; and I would take orders for overshoes and rubbers and would save the particular sizes ordered.
A new warehouse was established in Malone, New York; and, in time, the oldest son Elliott became the manager of all the stores and the warehouse. He continued until recent years.
I left the store in 1947; and Howard Berry, who had retired from the YMCA, took over. The store continued in that location for a few years and then was closed when the Rutland Railroad went out of business. The RR station was later torn down.
Paul continued to take an active role in the business, continuing to replace zippers in jeans which came in damaged and to make other repairs for faulty merchandise.
In September of 1952, Paul donated the land on which the store and warehouse had stood in the Village of Alburg. In later years the deed was amended to the Town of Alburg.
In 1961 after much local discussion, a vote was held on building to house the library, town, and village offices. It was passed and plans were begun. When Paul heard of the plans, he felt that the building under consideration would be too small. He submitted plans of his own, attended a few meetings; and the committee in charge went forward with his plan. He made a very generous donation to this project; and our town has always been grateful for his foresight and generosity; and for his ongoing interest in Alburg.
Paul was a modest, unassuming man, industrious, and with an innate sense of good business practice. It is amazing that this man, with the odds against him at age fourteen, built such a successful empire. And all that without an MBA!
He passed away at the ripe old age of 96; and “Birdie”, his wife of sixty-six years, followed two months later. (1987)
I am proud to have been associated with Pearl’s Dept. Stores and have pleasant memories of those early days.”
Betty Honsinger Martin