Ferdman’s Bargain Store: A Jewish Shop Owner in Shakopee 1934

By David Schleper

The Ferdman’s Bargain Store was located on the South side of First Street. The Ferdman’s lived upstairs in an apartment. Samuel Ferdman, his wife, Anna, and their two children, Lucille and Max, lived there. This was probably one of the first Jewish families in Shakopee.

On Sunday, September 1933, a low explosion, followed by a roar of fire shattered the Ferdman Bargain Store at 3 a.m. The fire siren wailed, and the roused people of Shakopee stared at the mounting flames. They hurriedly rushed to the scene in various stages of dress and undress.

The Ferdman family, including Sam, his wife, Anna, and their children Max and Lucille, who occupied an apartment above the store, barely escaped with their lives. Also in the apartment was Sam’s aged mother, Mrs. Rebecca Sherrin, and Miss Gladys Price who had to escape quickly with only their night clothes on. Miss Price was the one who aroused the other people in the house, and they left the building though the First Street entrance. The fire had already made great headway in the store room at the south end of the building, and filled the entire rear of the brick structure with flames. The area inside stairs leading to the Ferdman apartment on the second floor was ablaze before the family was awakened by the dense smoke. They exited the store on First Street, almost cut off by roaring fire and acrid smoke.

Apparently, the fire started in the storeroom. There was a stock of rubbers, socks, gloves, woolen goods, groceries, flour, and bulk food stuff which all started burning, and then it spread rapidly to the second story and over the first floor. According to the Argus-Tribune on October 4, 1934, “Windows burst from the building and the liberated flames leaped up the walls sending pillars of smoke and sparks towering skyward. The tin roof, which covered the structure, made it a veritable furnace.”

“Power wires leading to the building caught fire and stretched glowing streaks across the smoke-heavy sky. Fallen wires endangered firemen and hundreds of spectators.”

“Three streams of water were played on the fire from as many fire pumps. Immediately realizing the difficulties and dangers the blaze offered, Leo Siebenaler, Shakopee fire chief, summoned the Chaska fire department. From 3 o-clock until 6 the departments fought the blaze. Their job was a big one, and the manner in which they handled it won nothing but praise. The prompt response and efficient work of the Chaska department earned for its members no small amount of compliments. This is little doubt that it was the thoroughness of both departments that kept the fire from becoming a more devastating configuration.”

It was not until the Eastern sky reddened with the dawn before the fire got under control. By that time, the Ferdman building was burned out, and the adjacent store of R.C. Kline was damaged.

A few decades earlier, in 1903, the disastrous Grafenstatte fire happened at the same place, and on Sunday morning. The fire bell rang, and Mayor McHale called the St. Paul fire department for help. Some of the capital city’s best fire fighting equipment was on the way to Shakopee by special train on the Omaha Railroad. The fire was thus brought under control, but the store was completely gutted. The bowling alley, photograph gallery, and office of adjoining buildings were badly damaged.

Samuel Ferdman’s loss was estimated at $20,000. It was partly covered by insurance. Damage of the building was estimated at $6,000. The building was owned by James Condon of Minneapolis.

Before bed, Samuel placed a roll of bills in his trouser pocket before retired Saturday night for bed. After the fire, he went with the fire department into the building to search for his glasses. No trace of the spectacles was found. But a small portion of the trousers, containing the pocket and the money was found!

(Some information from The Shakopee Story by Julius A. Coller, II; Blaze Demolishes S. Ferdman Store, Argus-Tribune, October 4, 1934.)

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