Photo courtesy of the Coplan family
Profiles: Saul Coplan
Saturday, December 24th, 2011
His father lost his furniture store when the bank called his note in late 1928. Coplan remembers his father describing the experience.
After he left the bank that same day, he started walking. His mind was numb. And he said when he stopped walking, he was standing in the middle of the Delaware River bridge, which was about a 10-mile walk. Looking down, and he said, ‘No, I’m not going to jump.’ Because people were jumping out of windows. He turned around, walked back, he said ‘I had $300 in cash, that was all I had in the world.’
He had $300 in his pocket, and he knew he could sell, and so he went down to the wholesale district in Philly. And started buying small items, like pots and pans and dish sets and towels and sheets and pillowcases, that he could put in the car. And he went around to people that he had originally delivered orders to from his father’s store. And knocked on doors and said ‘You know me, I was in the furniture store. But that’s closed, and I can sell you, if you need some of these towels and so on, and you can pay me a nickel a week, a dime a week.’ Because that’s all what people could afford — they couldn’t afford to buy a whole this or a whole that. And that was called the installment business. He started in the installment business.
Coplan remembers long deliberations at the penny candy counter.
Back in those days, elementary school, I was getting a nickel a week allowance. And a penny went far.
There was a little tin can, like a tin plate, that looked like icing, it was a little thicker than icing, and it came with a little tin spoon. That was a penny. The stuff inside was usually pink, and it was all sugar. Jawbreakers, they were a penny apiece. Bolsters, they were a penny. They were little, maybe an inch and a half long, half-inch wide. They were hard peanut butter, dried peanut butter wrapped in chocolate. You got two for a penny. I loved those. I haven’t seen them in years and years and years.
We would line up in front of this candy counter, inside the store. And the poor store owner would stand behind there, and he would look mean. His face was drawn. Why? Because each kid would come up to the corner, and say ‘Maybe I should get this, no, maybe I should get this, no…' And he had to stand there. And years later I realized — then, I just thought that was normal, but years later I realized — why he looked so mad. He was living off those pennies, and it took us so long for these kids to make up their minds. I’m sure he wanted to smack us on the behind and say, ‘Buy something. Get out of here quick.’ But he couldn’t do that because he was afraid he was going to lose business. Believe me, every penny counted.
Interview by Kat Aaron
This profile was produced with help from sources in the Public Insight Network from American Public Media.