From Hardware to Linens
During the rapid growth of the boom years, many kinds of work occupied people in all parts of Palm Beach County, from farming to retail stores to personal services; some are still around in some form.
Austrian immigrant Max Greenberg opened Pioneer Hardware in Lake Worth in 1912, half a
block south of Lake Avenue on Dixie Highway, and by 1920 moved it to a new building on Lake Avenue. According to his son, George, it was considered a very modern store for the times, and sold everything needed to get a new town started: dynamite to blow up old tree stumps, screens, glass, and building supplies. Pioneer Hardware also sold bamboo rods for fishing, guns and ammunition, and paint.
Greenberg added a second store with furniture and appliances, and changed his business to Pioneer Hardware and Furniture. Since all his merchandise arrived by train, he built a furniture warehouse next to the railroad tracks. Greenberg prospered by stocking what people needed for their homes.
In August 1925, the Florida East Coast Railway placed an embargo on non-perishable goods. The 1926 hurricane put a stop to the business of the boom era. Then the 1928 hurricane took the second floor off the Greenberg home and demolished their business; there was no insurance. Lake Worth had not developed the way Greenberg had expected, and the rest of Palm Beach County was not as far along, so Greenberg started over on Clematis Street, West Palm Beach.
By 1930, the Depression had set in and people could not afford furniture, so Max changed the store’s product to linens. Son George, after running the business for over 60 years, said in a 2006 oral history interview:
How he did it, I don’t know, but apparently he had a good name in the market, and he was able to get merchandise to sell. And I remember that my mother had accumulated quite a collection of fine records—Enrico Caruso records. … [T]hey took those records to the store and they sold them for ten cents a piece. … But eventuallu my father recovered his business and prospered.
In 1925 Burdines came to Clematis Street, followed by more national chains through the early 1940s. At least three—Woolworth, Kress, and McCrory’s—were “five-and-ten-cent stores,” recalled George Greenberg: “They sold things for five cents, ten cents; eventually, they got up to a dollar. All three of them, I believe, had lunch counters. … You’d get a sandwich for ten cents and you’d get a drink for a nickel; you’d get a piece of pie for ten cents. They always had good pies.”