Monday, July 28, 2014

Uncle Erich (Erich E. Salomon), 1919-2014

Here's a picture of Uncle Erich (right), Aunt Lucy (with whom he recently celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary), and their son Erich Salomon II (Rick).

Here's a newspaper article that was written in 1990 about their family business in Allentown. (I'm going to paste it here in case it disappears from the website.)

Brothers' Careers Mark Changing Times In L.v. Remembering

January 18, 1990|by DICK COWEN, The Morning Call

Erich E. Salomon, 70, is a watchmaker and clockmaker in that order.

His brother Gerhard, 64, is a clockmaker and watchmaker, with his skills in clocks.

"I make house calls," Gerhard says, "for grandfather clocks."

In their father's day, these were jobs in which the master craftsman actually made the watch and the clock. Today, they mean repair and restoration, which sometimes includes making parts.

"We get some basket cases," Erich notes.

Both men have been in these crafts for more than half a century in downtown Allentown. And both lament they are in dying trades.

Erich digs out a trade magazine to show a help-wanted ad for a watchmaker at up to $1,000 a week.

To further prove the point, the Salomon brothers note that Erich's son Rick at 32 is one of the youngest watchmakers in Pennsylvania.

When Rick trained in the mid-1970s at Bowman Technical School, Lancaster, the oldest watchmaking school in the country, there were 25 in the program. The latest class had three.
Gerhard's three sons didn't want to go into this work.

For the Salomons, the family business started with Ernest Salomon, Erich and Gerhard's father, in Germany. Ernest was a master clockmaker and watchmaker, going through a four-year apprentice program and building a clock from scratch to complete the training.

That clock still hangs in the shop.

Ernest had his own jewelry store for 17 years in Germany. Then, he and his wife, Emma, and their two young sons came to America and to Allentown in 1928.

For a brief time, they lived near the top of the Lehigh Street hill. Then, the Salomons moved into the third floor of 606 Hamilton St. The Ebbecke Hardware Store was on the first floor.

Ernest worked for three years for Faust & Landes Jewelry Store, 728 Hamilton St., Allentown, until he was cut to one day a week because of the Depression.

He told landlord John Ebbecke that he was going to move because he couldn't afford to pay the rent.
Ebbecke said, "I don't want you to move. Start in business for yourself. I'll see that all my friends will give you work."

So in May 1931, Ernest Salomon opened his shop on the second floor at a workbench he brought from Germany, the same one Erich uses today.

"There was no lease. It was just one of those gentlemen things," Erich says. "When we could afford to, we started to pay."

Erich, then about 12, served as a translator for his father with the customers. He wrote orders. He learned the trade -- at no pay -- as did Gerhard a few years later.

Gerhard laughs, "When you worked at home, you didn't get paid."

For money, Erich at 14 got a job Saturdays at Allentown's Center Square Market, selling butter, eggs and cheese.

"I didn't ask the pay," he remembers. "I worked from 5:45 a.m. till 9 p.m. and got the magnificent sum of $2. I worked there until I was almost 20."

Gerhard delivered newspapers and worked for a news dealer at 7th and Hamilton streets in Allentown. He made $25 one summer in the late 1930s.

"I thought I was rich," he says.

Their father died in 1940, with $35 in the kitty. They decided to continue the business. Their mother, a seamstress, pretty well controlled the purse strings.

"I saved some money and bought some watches," Erich says. "Little by little, the business grew."

The partnership worked. And after each married, the spouses also became a part of the business -- Erich's wife, Lucy, working behind the counter and Gerhard's wife, Dolores, serving as bookkeeper.
Ebbecke died in the early 1940s. But his hardware business continued until October 1966. Then, the Salomons moved to the first floor.

"We were here six months before we signed a lease," Gerhard says.

Ebbecke's son-in-law, attorney Charles Helwig, told the Salomons he wanted them to have the building. In 1974, just before Helwig died, the sale was completed.

The store has 150 working clocks, including 25 grandfather and 40 cuckoo. The striking of noon is a noisome event.

Rick and Gerhard are the partners now. Erich had to step aside at 65 so he could collect Social Security. So his son is now his boss.

Rick says many old family jewelers have done so well that they've educated their children out of the business -- to be doctors and lawyers.

But he says there's a real satisfaction in this craft, despite the long hours, especially in fixing a watch or clock after a customer comes in and says, "I've had this all over the place, and no one wants to touch it."

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