Wednesday, January 16th, 2008...12:47 am
I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandfather (Poppy) lately. I think I miss him. He passed away five years ago this month. I just want to be able to share the sofa and listen to him tell me stories about his life again.
I knew Poppy as a warm and loving grandpa who spoiled his only grandson with attention and gifts. Heck, he once surprised me for my birthday with the GI Joe Aircraft Carrier – the coolest toy to ever be invented! The other day I told a guy in my office that I had the Aircraft Carrier when I was little and he said I was the luckiest kid in the world. Maybe I was, and maybe it doesn’t have much to do with the carrier. More than gifts though, Poppy made me feel special and told me I could achieve anything. He didn’t need to say it in words though because he proved it in his own life. I gave a speech about Poppy freshman year in college for a public speaking class. The assignment was to present a person that you admired. I have a friend now who was in the class and he still reminds me about the speech. I like how he remembers it.
I googled Saul Litvack the other day and all I found were obituaries from the New York Times and Footwear News. It’s struck me that the Internet doesn’t have much of a memory before the mid 1990′s. Maybe some things are better left as memories but I’m afraid that a lot also seems to be forgotten. A few years ago I found a photocopied article about my Poppy and his career in my grandparent’s house in Florida. I asked if I could keep it. My guess is that it is from Footwear News (a shoe industry trade magazine) and it was published in the early 1960′s but I’m not sure. Anyway, I don’t want this article to be forgotten so I am retyping it below (and hopefully it will soon be indexed by Google!)
The quick summary is that Saul Litvack came to America from Russia as a seven-year-old Jewish orphan. His older brother, who had immigrated years earlier, saved enough money to pay for his passage. Poppy entered the Shoe Business as a teenager. Decades later he would have his own successful shoe business that he named Erica (in honor of America). He brought my father into the business who also had a successful and satisfying career in the shoe business. A stern and intense man most of his life, Poppy mellowed to enjoy his retirement with my nana (his wife for over 50 years) and loved nothing more than spending time with his family. I like this story. I like what it represents about my family and I like what is says about America. All too often we are quick to point out what ails our nation. We are in the middle of a presidential election where the biggest buzzwords are “change” and “reform” and everybody wants to fix everything. There is no question our country has some warts. But when I think about my grandpa and my family it seems like there’s an awful lot of opportunity and beauty in this country. In the last paragraph Poppy says “It’s a wonderful life, a far distance for the seven-year-old orphan who came to this country from Eastern Europe back in 1921.” I’m not sure if the next line was said by my grandpa or written by the author but it is that his story “exemplifies the opportunities, freedom of enterprise, freedom of expression in the U.S. All the more reason why we must rebuild our own frontiers…not just in politics but in every endeavor.”
Here is the article about Saul Litvack….
- “Quality is our most important product”
“The singular look of quality is something separate and apart from the single look of fashion,” says Saul Litvack of Erica Shoes. “In the one case, it is the epitome, the essence of expression. In the other, a lack of imagination and courage to venture. I firmly believe that in order to complete profitably, the quality shoe business must offer its customers a variety of fashion…lasts that are long and pointed; lasts that are not so long…squares, ovals…in many heel hights and shapes. In our blueprint for building a quality product, we must also plan to do more to make the consumer aware of the necessity for and availability of a diversified wardrobe of shoes to serve her best for the wide range of activities and occasions in today’s pattern of living.”
Although Erica shoes has only been in operation since October 1957, Saul Litvack has had a close kinship with shoe retailers throughout the U.S. for a long time. It goes back to 1938, when he went to work at the Tupper Shoe Company. He wanted to learn everything about the shoe business, inside and out. He sure did.
Then came the war. Saul’s stink in the service was not long. He was discharged after a kidney attack and subsequent operation. He went back to Tupper. The year, 1942 and shoe rationing…a time for Saul of service beyond the call of duty…to his fellow man. Retailers came to the office and whether they wanted slippers or hotel reservations (both equally scarce), Saul was ready to help. He claims he got the equivalent of a college education, at least, in human relations and understanding, during this time.
At the war’s end, and for ten years thereafter, Saul worked at Tupper’s, styling, selling, merchandising the entire operation. He was astute enough to sense that the shoe business was moving away from the open shoes (that Tupper was known for) toward closed shoes. He suggested to Mr. Tupper that they move along with the times; and when he realized that this was not going to be accomplished, he handed in his resignation…effective one year later.
During those twelve months, he was germinating the idea of going into a business on his own. As soon as his resignation became effective, he made a cross-country trop. Visited retailers he knew. Talked with people about his plans. Although some of them thought he was “nuts” to embark on a manufacturing venture in a diminishing market, there were important and salutary advantages. “I had studied this market for several years,” Saul said. “Analyzed line by line what it was producing. I felt that, with proper organization, a definite plan and the cooperation of a few independent retailers, there was a reason for being, a good chance to accomplish what I wanted to do, e.g., produce a quality product at a price just under $30, that would serve the specific needs of retailers.
“The strongest contributing factor to this confidence in the future was the fact that I was going to have Sidney Seidner as a partner. He has had a lifetime in shoes…20 years with La Valle and then in business for himself under the name of DeMarco Shoe Company. He and I have been friends for many years and we always had an ambition to work together. This was it! He has been with me at Erica since the first day. He runs the plant and designs the line. I take care of selling, styling and the administrative end of the business. After researching the fashion picture, I outline it to Sid and he comes up with sketches. Makes improvements and improvisations. Then I take over, for detailing, colors, types, shapes. He is creative, has a feeling for quality and is one of the most able shoe men in the industry. We both believe quality is our most important product.”
A fast recapitulation of influences favorable to Erica Shoes: (1) The retailers. (2) Sid Seidner. (3) New York Boot and Shoe Workers Union…this last adds an unusual flavor. Usually, manufacturers complain about the problems they have with the union. Here was the reverse. Shortly after Saul resigned, Tupper shoes went out of business. This left many unemployed shoe workers and the union encouraged Saul to start his own factory, to absorb some of them. They promised full cooperation and it has been a most amicable relationship. “We were able to create an organization,” says Saul, “that makes quality our most important product. We have 75 employees (many of them from Tupper), produce about 325 pairs a day and number as our accounts top stores from coast to coast. We’ve been making progress every year.”
Erica Shoes is a member of the Designers Shoe Guild and the National Shoe Retailers Association. “Yes, the N.S.R.A.,” Saul indicated. “I want to be closer to the retailers’ group, since they are our customers…the people we serve.”
Any spare time, after shoe business, Saul devotes to his family…Mrs. Litvack, and their three children, ranging in age from 16 to 10. “It’s a wonderful life,” he says, “a far distance for the seven-year-old orphan who came to this country from Eastern Europe back in 1921. It exemplifies the opportunities, freedom of enterprise, freedom of expression in the U.S. All the more reason why we must rebuild our own frontiers…not just in politics but in every endeavor.