A Century Ago, Kind Merchant was First Glens Falls Kiwanis Club President

Charles Gelman, a long-time downtown Glens Falls dry goods merchant, used to tell a story about when he was a boy growing up poor in Hungary.

He longed for a luscious apple from a display at a fruit stand, but he didn’t have a penny to buy one.

A smiling stranger noticed Gelman, and offered to buy the child an apple if he would eat it.

“We only partly believe the legend,” a Post-Star editorial quipped at the time of Gelman’s death in 1941. “Left to his own resources, he would have somehow earned the penny to buy the apple.”

 
Merkel & Gelman - Glen Street, Glens Falls. Photo courtesy of    The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library   .

Merkel & Gelman - Glen Street, Glens Falls. Photo courtesy of The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library.

 

Gelman had built up a reputation for service and kindness in a quarter-of-a-century on the Glens Falls business scene, holding leadership positions at various times in about a dozen service, religious and philanthropic organizations.

“There was in the essence of his spirit the quiet, persistent urge to convert life, rather than be converted by it, to mold the years into kindness, considerateness and generosity, into the love of mankind and the will behind mankind,” the editorial stated.

A century ago, Gelman was the first president of the Glens Falls Kiwanis Club.

Max Stein, a national Kiwanis Club organizer, came to Glens Falls in August 1919, staying at the Rialto Apartments on Warren Street and setting up shop at the Elks Lodge at the corner of Glen and Ridge streets.

“It is a personal acquaintance, a friendly handshake, the weekly meetings which cause us to learn the qualities of heart and mind of our fellow members.”

It would seem these ideals fit with Gelman’s business slogan: “the store of cheerful service.”

Kiwanis, started in Detroit, had 179 clubs in United States and Canada, at the time, including clubs in Albany, Schenectady, Syracuse, Utica, Rochester and Buffalo.

Stein, the organizer, suggested a Kiwanis Club would give Glens Falls prominence.

“It is the purpose of this club to develop such a high standard of business certainty, integrity, probity (strong moral principles) that the fact that one is a member will be a badge of honor.”

By Aug. 29, Stein had recruited 18 prospective members, and he was confident of soon reaching the 50 members needed for a charter.

The current Glens Falls Kiwanis Club charter dates back to 1925.

Either the club disbanded and reorganized, or it took longer than expected to reach the 50-member mark.

On Sept. 29, 1919, the club met to elect officers and plan an initial social gathering for Oct. 2.

Gelman was elected president, Walter Shaw vice president, Fred N. Pulver, business manager of The Saratoga Sun, as secretary, and Dr. A. F. Mosher, a local physician, as treasurer.

The club held its first dinner meeting at Church of Messiah Parish Hall on Oct. 9, with Edward F. Kelly, secretary of the Schenectady Kiwanis Club, and Glens Falls acting Mayor Julius Jacobson as speakers.

“Kiwanians of the local club enjoyed a fine dinner. … It was a big gathering of good fellows and progressive business men at which there was nothing lacking in the way of enthusiasm,” The Post-Star reported.

Speakers at early luncheon meetings at the Glens Falls Y.M.C.A. on Glen Street, in the building that now houses Spot Coffee, included Rev. Charles O. Judkins, pastor of Christ Church Methodist, Rev. David Solly, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, and J. Edward Singleton, a local lawyer.

Gelman, the first president, came to Glens Falls from Troy to partner with Louis Kempner and David Merkel of Plattsburgh to purchase Goodson’s, a long-standing dry goods and clothing store in downtown Glens Falls.

 
Merkel & Gelman - Glen Street, Glens Falls. Photo courtesy of    The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library   .

Merkel & Gelman - Glen Street, Glens Falls. Photo courtesy of The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library.

 

“They are energetic and progressive business men with years of experience in the dry goods business,” The Post-Star reported at the time. “They believe they can make many innovations in the city which are sure to prove popular with local shoppers.”

A few years later Gelman purchased Kempner’s interest in the business, and in 1921 the name was changed to Merkel & Gelman.

In 1919, when Gelman was Kiwanis Club president, the partners had five stores in Glens Falls, Plattsburgh, Lake George, Troy and Wilmington, Del., and later grew to a chain of nine stores.

The Glens Falls store closed in 1982.

Sources: The Post-Star Feb. 10, March 5, 1917; July 23, Aug. 16, 22, Sept. 29, 30, Oct. 10, 16, 1919; April 19, 1941; Dec. 15, 2006.

Speaking of Kiwanis, their 29th annual Duck Race and Family Fun Day is coming up on July 27 - get the details here.

 
Glens Falls NY
 
 
Maury Thompson
 

Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star for 21 years before he retired in 2017. He now is a freelance writer and documentary film producer specializing in regional history. Thompson is collaborating with Snarky Aardvark Films to produce a documentary about Charles Evans Hughes and the Adirondacks, which is expected to release in 2020. See the trailer here.

Maury Thompson

Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star for 21 years before he retired in 2017. He now is a freelance writer and documentary film producer specializing in regional history.