Charles Ginsberg (formerly Ginzburg), our progenitor, arrived in New York harbor as a 14 year old from Russia with experience and savvy in repairing clocks. Written his Charles’ hand on this postcard: “1888. I was 15 years old. 15. Years old. In 4 years I saved $400.00 in the bank. I trade goods for this picture. 6 pictures.” Printed at the bottom: Picture by Nowack Bros & Berry Floating Gallery, Hudson, Wis. 1888. Family lore has it that he walked from New York to Minneapolis to connect with distant relatives (now long forgotten). His son Isadore recalls hearing stories of Indians and dangerous conditions over the 1,000 mile trek. Charles united with his relatives and shortly thereafter began peddling his wares and services door to door and town to town, making his way down the Missouri River to Council Bluffs, Iowa.One family account is told of Charles actually immigrating to America as a 4 year old with his father. Perhaps the idea was to send for the rest of the family after finding work and settling down. But Charles’ father remarried and started a new family. Hold on, we know what you’re thinking. But just image this scenario in 1878: Single father; doesn’t speak the language; needs work to support himself and his toddler; needs time in the day to work; needs a woman—a mother figure—to look after his son; letters to his family in Russia never get through; loses all communication with the family in Russia; he is probably twice as wound-up as his son will be; etc, etc. It’s probably happened a million times. And somewhere along the way, the spelling of our last name changed between the two World Wars to make it seem less Germanic.
Charles Ginsberg traveled the upper Midwest heading south by river boat and worked his way down the wide Missouri River where he found steady work in Council Bluffs, Iowa and boarding in the home of a family. It was there he met his future wife, Sarah Stein , who had recently been brought to the US from Romania by this same family to be their live-in maid.
Charles Ginsberg and married Sarah Stein in 1897 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. They created a family of their own with Isadore (Izzy) b. 1898, Thelma b. 1903, Elliott b. 1908, and Annette b. 1913.
Charles Ginsberg opened his first storefront business in Leavenworth, KS approx. 1900. Soon after, he realized that Kansas City was a much more prosperous and commercially active town, so he moved his family and store there. Charles was a short, impatient man with more stamina than someone half his age. Standing only 5-ft tall with a trim build, he was always pictured snappily dressed in the fashion of the day, and usually carrying a walking stick or cane.
Isadore Ginsberg was the first-born son in 1898 to Charles and Sarah. Isadore, or Izzy as he was later known, stayed in school until completing 6th grade. Charles then needed his help to support the family. One of his early jobs was in a drug store in Kansas City owned by a widow. Izzy remembers they had cocaine in a barrel and sold it by the spoonful. The owner traveled a lot and always sent post-cards to her employees in the store. Izzy recalls a day in 1913 peeking over the shoulders of his fellow workers as they read a newly arrived postcard sent during a European trip. “It looks like the war clouds are hovering over Europe.” Izzy told that story—and many others—as often as he could to his grandchildren. This was his witness to history.
Isadore Ginsberg worked many jobs to help his family, most notably working on the section of the KATY—Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad line—that traveled between Kansas City and St. Louis. This job excited Izzy because it took him outside of his childhood surroundings, working on the railroad line from Kansas City to St. Louis. He sold anything there was to sell to passengers on the train: peanuts; popcorn; newspapers; and cigars.The midway stop on the line was Sedalia, Missouri, about 65 miles west of Kansas City. It was a vibrant town bustling with activity. Izzy was always thrilled to see this energy from the depot. Sedalia was one of the largest railroad intersections in the Midwest at that time.Izzy vowed to one day open a pawn shop in this town. When Izzy came of age, and his parents Charles and Sarah were no longer dependent on his financial share for the family household, Izzy indeed took off for that bustling town of Sedalia. Izzy achieved his dream after all, and he soon realized that the vibrancy of this town was a result of not only being the home of Scott Joplin and the Missouri State Fair, but also the largest “red-light” district of all the railroad lines in Missouri.
Isadore Ginsberg opened his first store-front business in Sedalia, MO, a pawn shop, in 1920, first on Broadway and then moving to 112 E. Ohio St. His retail storefront business attracted many salesmen who got to know him well. Historically, as merchants left large cities and discovered small town America, they looked after one another, and would often exchange social and cultural news from their communities via traveling salesmen. Several salesmen had the same idea of introducing Izzy to one particular young woman working as a bank teller in Kansas City. After hearing about this young woman from several salesmen, Izzy decided to meet her.
Rose Alport was indeed an appealing and intelligent young woman, and fell equally in love with Izzy, as he would travel often from Sedalia to Kansas City to court her. Rose’s family had immigrated to the US from Romania. As fresh immigrants, her family had suffered under horrible conditions in the pre-union sweatshops in Brooklyn, NY at the beginning of the 20th century. Rose’s father, Louis Aloprt, was in fact a whistle-blower in the sweatshops. He “blew his whistle” once too often, and had to rouse his family and leave New York by the cover of night for fear of deadly reprisals from sweatshop thugs. They fled west, finally stopping at Coffeeville, KS where they settled far away from the threats of industrial corruption.
Rose and Isadore Ginsberg married in 1925 and settled down in Sedalia, MO. They had three sons: Herman b. 1926; Louis b. 1927, d. 1984; and Stanley b. 1930. We were just getting started with the 3rd generation of Ginsberg Jewelers, as Charles was still running his business in Kansas City. In the late 1920’s, Izzy brought his brother Elliott David Ginsberg into the business in Sedalia. Elliott was fresh and eager to become partners with his older brother.
In 1930 or 1933, through the usual information-mill of traveling salesmen, Isadore Ginsberg and his brother Elliott Ginsberg learned of a recent widow seeking a buyer of inventory at her pawn shop up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Inserted here is another version of the Cedar Rapids discovery: Elliott loved traveling and did much of it in the Midwest area on behalf of their business. He would pack the car with wares from the pawn shop and sell directly to other businesses and consumers in small towns. This alternate version continues that Elliott—not a traveling salesman—came to Cedar Rapids on his own accord and discovered Rozen’s Pawn Shop for sale by the recently widowed owner. Elliott informed Izzy of his find and desire to stay, but Izzy convinced Elliott that he—Izzy—should be in Cedar Rapids rather than Elliott. Cedar Rapids was a larger town with a more active business center, and Izzy had a family to feed. Elliott was still a single man with no family to look after. So, Izzy asked that Elliott should to get his tuchus back to little ol’ Sedalia and mind the store there. It is here that the two alternate versions of the discovery of Cedar Rapids merge into the agreed-upon fact that Elliott stayed in Sedalia and Izzy went to Cedar Rapids.
On with the first version of the discovery of Cedar Rapids… Isadore Ginsberg didn’t like driving long distances, so he hired a driver to travel to Cedar Rapids to check it out for himself. The driver happened to be African American. Izzy recalled decades later how motels and restaurants would not serve the driver. He slept in the car and Izzy would have to bring meals out to him. Before leaving Sedalia, Izzy met with his local bank to prepare a letter of credit for $2,500 to use for the potential purchase. When Izzy arrived in Cedar Rapids, he thought he “was in Paris compared to Sedalia.” During this initial visit to Cedar Rapids, Izzy toured the town and was impressed to find not only a more thriving business and retail center than Sedalia would ever be, but a much larger Jewish population as well. It wasn’t until he actually moved to Cedar Rapids that Izzy discovered most of the “Jewish” names in town were actually of Czech heritage. Insert cartoon sound effect here… “whah, whah, whah”. Izzy visited Rozen’s Pawn Shop and learned from the owner that she wanted to sell the entire business, not just the inventory. Herman surmised years later that she somehow discovered the content of the letter of credit from Izzy’s bank, because she asked for that exact amount of $2,500 for the sale of her business. Izzy contemplated this purchase. He visited People’s Bank on the west side of the Cedar River to confirm acceptance of his bank’s letter of credit.
Family lore has it that a major factor in Izzy’s decision to buy Rozen’s pawn shop occurred when he noticed a loud and large crowd of people on the street in downtown Cedar Rapids. He followed this throng as it moved as a single entity down the street and into a department store. As he followed that crowd reaching to the 3rd floor toy department, Izzy realized that this throng was comprised of reporters and audience-members from one of the Vaudeville houses downtown. They were surrounding a 10-year-old boy who had been performing under the name Billy The Wonder Boy, a predictor of events, traveling on the Orpheum & Albee circuit, who was playing Cedar Rapids at the time. Appeals for predictions were shouted from the crowd to the young boy, who was attempting to enjoy some offstage down-time between performances. Though his interest was captured only by the toy trucks on the shelves, he occasionally appeased the crowd with a response or two. Izzy decided to join the fray, pushing his way to the center of the tempest and shouting “Should I buy it?” “Buy it, buy it!” was the response from Billy The Wonder Boy. When Izzy replied, “Buy what?” Billy answered back, “Hock-shop, hock-shop, where you take your watch.” Now, we don’t know if there were any “oo’s” and “ahh’s” from the crowd, but that esoteric response from “Billy” was enough for Izzy to finalize his decision to buy Rozen’s Pawn Shop. It’s not clear how long Izzy was in Cedar Rapids before sending for Rose and the boys, but they were reunited later that same year.
Isadore Ginsberg moved his 2nd storefront around the corner and became a marketing genius. He created the “Amateur Hour” complete with live band in the back of the store, forcing spectators and participants by all of the merchandise as they were coming in and out of the store. Farmers with mouth-harps and guitars would file into the store for the daily live noon broadcast. Izzy had a gong at the ready if an act wasn’t allowed to finish. At this time, Ginsberg’s was a combination pawn shop, jewelry store and department store, selling many different items, appealing to a large consumer base and audience.
Herman Ginsberg grew up in the business. He remembers being at the store at noon just in time to be recruited to don an accordion for Izzy’s daily radio broadcast from the back of the store for amateur hour sponsored by Ginsberg’s Jewelry & Loan. Isadore (Izzy) Ginsberg would always begin the broadcast with “Hello everybody, this is Izzy Ginsberg!”
Isadore (Izzy) Ginsberg’s daily noon broadcasts of Amateur Hour from the back of his store couldn’t have happened without the professional prowess of Al Gerardi conducting the band, and Bert Puckett announcing live to the radio audience listening in to the contest. Puckett was a regular at WMT-Radio in Cedar Rapids, a job he would hold until later moving to the biggest station in Chicago, changing his professional name to Bert Wilson, and becoming the permanent announcer of the Chicago Cubs from 1944-1955, predating Harry Carey by nearly three decades.
During World War II, Izzy moved into his 3rd location and called it Ginsberg’s Jewel Box. For some reason the neon sign on the storefront was on two separate electrical circuits. The one circuit for “Ginsberg’s” and “el” would frequently blow out, but no one would notice until nightfall. Herman remembers the family taking leisurely drives at night, passing the store along the way, and his mother Rose pleading to Izzy in embarrassment to get the sign fixed, as it blazed “Jew Box”.
Herman Ginsberg couldn’t wait to enlist in the Army Air Corps right after high school graduation in 1943. And immediately after enlistment, he couldn’t wait to get out of the service. He served a tough two years in New Mexico and Texas. The closest he ever got to a cockpit was hosing out the vomit from bombardier’s & gunner’s turrets on the B-17’s and B-24’s. However, the G.I. Bill saved the day, and Herman was the first of the Ginsberg family to attend college. Herman remembers a time during his first year at the State University of Iowa (now University of Iowa) that a huddle of students was surrounding an old man in front of his dormitory. This “old man” was his grandfather Charles, who was asking all the students about their books, as he was eagerly waiting to see the first of his family to attend college. Herman’s graduation ceremony occurred on a rainy Saturday morning in June 1948. As Herman recalls, “we drove back up to Cedar Rapids that afternoon, I went in to the store, and I haven’t left since.
Herman Ginsberg’s brothers Lou and Stanley soon followed into the business. In 1952, Herman and his brother Louis Ginsberg conceived the idea of an addition to the business by starting H & L Stanley Co, a wholesale diamond wedding & engagement ring business using a long associated diamond supplier in New York and various ring manufacturers for the blanks. H & L Stanley Co. (HLS) stood for Herman, Louis and Stanley, the three brothers of the 3rd generation. Stanley was serving in the Korean War at the time. Herman & Lou would sell to jewelry stores in small towns thinking stores in bigger towns were too sophisticated to buy from this start-up wholesaler. Lou called on jewelry stores in Iowa and north. Herman traveled Missouri, Kansas & south. They alternated weeks on the road and every night would call home collect and ask for “apartment #_”, using a number that indicated the $-dollar amount of sales they did that day.
In 1957 Herman Ginsberg went on a blind date in Chicago, set up by a friend from Cedar Rapids then living in the Chicago suburbs. Little did Herman know then that that elementary school teacher named Phyllis Bermann would be his wife six months later. They had three children, Julie b. 1959, Steven b. 1960 and Thomas b. 1961. It all happened so fast, that Phyllis couldn’t stop crying because she was pregnant for three years straight, and Herman had to quit playing hand-ball with the boys every evening after store closed.
During the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, Herman, Lou & Stanley Ginsberg not only maintained what Charles started, but they expanded Ginsberg Jewelers into a five-store chain, with two stores in Cedar Rapids, one store in Iowa City’s Sycamore Mall, and two store in Des Moines. They also replaced the pawn shop fare with fine jewelry, crystal, silver, and Swiss time pieces.
1971 was an important move for Ginsberg Jewelers, as we shed the pawn shop fare for strictly fine jewelry, china, silver patterns, and Swiss watches. We also hired a professional designer for the interior and exterior of the store.
In 1984 the five store chain disjoined into three separate entities with the death of Lou Ginsberg. Lou’s oldest son Mark acquired ownership of the Iowa City store, Stanley in Des Moines, and Herman retained the flagship store in downtown Cedar Rapids.
Herman’s son Steven Ginsberg joined the business in 1993, after a career at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in New York as a diamond grader and supervisor of client relations at GIA’s Gem Trade Laboratory Inc. It was there that Steven analyzed some of the world’s top-quality diamonds and worked with some of the most influential and reputable people in the diamond and jewelry industry. Steven holds the GIA’s Graduate Gemologist (GG) diploma, as well as an industry distinction from the American Gem Society (AGS) of Certified Gemologist (CG), and AGS Registered Firm.
Aside from the jewelry industry, Steven Ginsberg’s hobby of choice is theatre, which is what originally took him to New York in 1981. But it was theatre in Cedar Rapids—not New York—where Steven met Megan Turner Bartelme. They married in 1996 and have three sons, Jackson, Lincoln and Harrison.
Watershed to Silver Lining to Cause Celébre After the 2008 flood and the declining retail traffic downtown, Ginsberg’s decided not to return to the city’s center, but instead to capture a piece of the city’s retail center in this vibrant area surrounding Lindale Mall, near the intersection of 1st Ave and Collins Rd/Hwy 100. After the 2008 flood and the declining retail traffic downtown, Ginsberg’s decided not to return to the city’s center where it had been since 1933, but instead to capture a piece of the city’s retail center in this vibrant area surrounding Lindale Mall, near the intersection of 1st Aveune and Collins Road/Highway 100. In a beautiful free-standing building, Ginsberg Jewelers has a classic residential atmosphere with state of the art industry tools to carry our customers well into the 21st Century and beyond.Ginsberg’s floor plan and showcases were designed and fabricated by ARTCO Group Designers of Miami. Mickey, Ana, Luis, Jesus, and Angel, all masters in their industry, were part of the Artco team for Ginsberg’s. The interior elements of our store were designed and provided by Phelan’s Interiors of Cedar Rapids. Paul, Kim & their support team are well respected in their industry, and put us on the right footing to begin a new era.
Herman’s experience and Steven’s credentials and expertise make Ginsberg Jewelers a premiere source of better jewelry for personal enjoyment and heirloom significance. Welcome to a proud past and passionate future. Our home is at the Marketplace on 1st shopping center, on First Avenue in Cedar Rapids, Iowa across from Lindale Mall. Our home is inviting and comfortable. Come in and have a seat, relax by our fireplace, and take the opportunity to make someone happy with jewelry. However, it’s quite possible that your home is equally inviting and comfortable. If that’s so, then stay where you are, remain seated and relaxed at your computer, and take this opportunity to make someone happy with jewelry… by contacting us!