Rise of the GOLDEN DAWN

by Eric Bombeck

By Eric Bombeck

I recently had a chance to sit down with Lou Epstein, whose grandfather Nathan Rosenblum founded Golden Dawn Foods. Lou resides in Sharon, Pennsylvania, with his wife. This is his family’s story…in search of the American Dream.

Nathan Rosenblum. Came to America from Lithuanian at age 18 in the 1890s, peddled groceries, then founded Golden Dawn Foods.

In the late 1800s, Lithuania was in a time of unrest. The Russian government was impinging on the freedom of the Lithuanian: The Catholic church was under attack and the printing of anything in the Lithuanian language was banned. America, however, was becoming a shining city on a hill. Immigrants flocked into Ellis Island by the millions.

Around 1890 Nathan Rosenblum left Lithuania to come to Sharon. The iron industry in the valley was booming and jobs were plentiful. Nathan soon realized that there were small food markets all over town, but what about the people who were too far away to walk to them? There were no limitations on what you could do in America and Nathan decided he would be a peddler.

Starting with a horse and cart he would go to outlying areas of Sharon to sell fruit and other groceries and dry goods. About this time, he married Cecilia Kamenofsky and together they opened a small store on Shenango Street downtown. He would peddle while she ran the store.

Louis Rosenblum (holding reins) and David Rosenblum, Nathan’s sons, peddling groceries before Golden Dawn Groceries was established. [Source: Tri-State Food News, Pittsburgh]

Business was great and Sharon continued to grow. Then came those fateful nights in March of 1913. The river began to rise on March 24th and didn’t reach its maximum height of almost 17 feet until March 27th. The water battered the Rosenblum’s store. Nathan and his bride lost half their merchandise and watched as the Shenango River swept their piano away.

Undeterred Nathan began to wholesale foods to small local shops and markets. By 1920 he had a four-story warehouse on Silver Street, Nathan and Cecilia had 5 children and Nathan Rosenblum and Company had a bright future.

[Click on image to enlarge.]

In 1931 Nathan passed away and the wholesaler business he built was passed down to the kids. The trio of H. David Rosenblum, Oscar Ben (Cutter) Rosenblum and Sam Epstein (their brother-in-law) were to be the senior management team. In the 1930s they began to look for a new name for the business. There was a brand of flour then named Golden Dawn and it sounded like a great name. They asked permission from the company and officially changed the name from Nathan Rosenblum and Company to Golden Dawn.

After the war, in 1946, the foundation was laid for a new warehouse on Shenango Street. (In 1960 it was expanded to 40,000 square feet.) The next big step was franchising. There were many advantages to being a franchise. Stores could get the Golden Dawn brand-name food as well share the advertising in the local paper or on the radio. (Golden Dawn was one of the first advertisers on WPIC which began airing in 1938.)

Click on image to enlarge.

Franchises were a fairly new concept but Golden Dawn did it right. They had their own meat department and their own advertising department where they printed ads or anything the stores needed. There was an accounting department and later in the 1960s they kept track of it all with an IBM department. They even built their own displays and racks. The first Golden Dawn was located where the Sharon News Agency is now, across from Daffin’s Candies. Magnatto’s and Donofrio’s were two of the earliest franchises enlisted.

There were 135 stores in the Golden Dawn family at its peak. The store owners that hit their numbers could go on trips that included Paris, Monte Carlo and Acapulco.

Shenango Valley Golden Dawn locations as of 1978. [Source: The Sharon Herald]

In the very early 80s Golden Dawn was bought out by PJ Schmitt out of Buffalo. Lou Epstein was hired on by them and worked many years after for them. Then in the early 90s they went into bankruptcy and took the Golden Dawn name with them. Many stores weren’t sure if they could legally keep the name on the front of their stores so they took down the Golden Dawn signs. Today there are ten remaining stores left from the once great Golden Dawn empire: Farrell Golden Dawn, Walt’s in Mercer, Shawkey’s in Jamestown, Zatsick’s in Conneaut Lake, all in Pennsylvania. Orlando’s has 3 up on the lake in Ohio: in Jefferson and Orwell, Ohio, and in New Kensington, Pennsylvania.

Businesses like empires rise and fall. But only in a democracy like ours could a Jewish-Russian immigrant, selling fruit from a cart door-to-door, build a business that would grow into a 135-store franchise. One day the sun will set on the last Golden Dawn store, but it will continue to be true that anything is possible in this great land we live in.

— Eric Bombeck (SHS 1979),
South Pymatuning, PA, May 2019

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