“I asked the customer if she could be more specific,” Hunt remembers. “She said the candles dripped and wouldn’t stay lit so she wanted a store credit.”
Over the course of the conversation, Hunt came to realize the candelabra had been used near an open window.
“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, when you have a window open, the candles are going to blow out,” Hunt laughs.
But she granted the request. As they were ending the transaction, the woman asked what would become of the candles.
“I told her I wouldn’t be able to resell them since they’d been used. I’d have to throw them away,” Hunt remembers. “She asked if she could have them, since I was going to throw them away anyway.”
With her father’s approval, Hunt handed over the candles, and the woman walked away, a satisfied shopper.
“We were trained that the customer was always right,” Hunt says. “No matter what. That’s how my father and grandfather did business. And it worked,” Hunt says. “We had very loyal customers. Our store had more than 50,000 active charge accounts.”
Hunt is the fourth and final generation of the Wooster Freedlanders, one of Harold Freedlander’s two daughters. Her great-grandfather, David Freedlander, emigrated from East Prussia to Buffalo, N.Y. and traveled as a pack peddler, Wooster being part of his territory.
“Dad used to say the horse died when he got here,” Hunt laughs. But the truth is, David Freedlander loved the area and made it his home. He opened his business in 1884, where the City Square Steakhouse now stands, and eventually moved to the corner of Walnut and Liberty before selling the store in 1990. The Freedlander’s building is gone now, having made way for the new Merchants Block redevelopment project, but the memories of the store remain. Many of those memories have been compiled into a new book by Hunt, Gone But Not Forgotten, a Freedlander Legacy, which chronicles 105 years of the department store’s history, from 1884 to 1989.
“When they announced the store was going to be torn down, everyone asked if I knew why,” Hunt says. “I had no idea. People were absolutely devastated knowing that was going to happen. I felt I needed to do something to make things better, but I didn’t know what.”
Hunt had always wanted to write, but had never known what to write about. The Freedlander story, she decided, would be her subject. She spent two-and-a-half years collecting and compiling people’s stories and photos, resulting in more than 100 contributions and photos from different eras of the independent, family-owned store, known for personal service and quality merchandise in all of its 15 departments, from the Toyland to the Bargain Basement. It also looks at how fashions changed and major events impacted the store.
The store sold everything but large furniture and large appliances, Hunt says. And if you weren’t satisfied with your purchase, just like the candle customer, you could always bring it back.
Hunt tells another story of a customer with an unusual return, as told to her by Deedee Carlisle, whose husband, Glen, was a Freedlander’s merchandise manager.
“A woman brought back an old, yellow, cracked Playtex girdle she’d worn for years,” Hunt says. “It was falling apart and she wanted to return it for a refund, but the third floor merchandise manager wouldn’t take it back.”
The customer knew where she could be heard, so she found Herman Freedlander, Hunt’s grandfather, who gave her the refund and, most likely, a new girdle as well.
“That’s the way he did things,” Hunt says. “And that’s the way my dad did things. And when you do business like that, word spreads.”
Hunt will be presenting the first of more than two dozen book-signings at the Parlor Restaurant, 203 West Liberty St. in Wooster, on Friday, Sept. 28, from 4-5 p.m. Other signings will take place in Medina, Wadsworth, Ashland, Wooster and Orrville. She will also sign at the Wayne Center for the Arts on Thursday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m., and at the Wayne County Library on Tuesday, Oct. 9, from 2-4 p.m.
The book can be purchased locally at Dee’s Hallmark, the Gallery in the Vault, Farmer Boy Restaurant, Green Thumb Floral, Matsos Family Restaurant, Coccia House Pizza, the Florence Wilson Bookstore at The College of Wooster, and the Manor Gift Shop at Manor Nursing Home. It will also be available at Buehler’s Fresh Foods beginning in early fall.
In addition to Hunt’s book, other treasures of the former store still remain. Architectural elements can be found in local businesses, like Somar Wine Cellars and St. Paul Hotel.
“They have two of the fire doors,” Hunt says. “It was wonderful to see those saved. They’re just beautiful. I cried when I saw them.”
Now that Hunt has finished this project, she plans to take a break from research and writing to focus on her business, LegalShield.
“I need a breather. And besides,” Hunt laughs, “I don’t know what else I would write about.”
For more information about Gone But Not Forgotten, a Freedlander Legacy, call 330-466-3528 or visit the book’s Facebook page.
Published: September 30, 2012