Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: The North Street store that lured 1,000 men in one night


In the 1950s and 1960s, most North Street stores in Pittsfield were rarely open beyond 5 or 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and were never open on Sundays.

The one exception was on Thursday nights when stores were open until 9. This tradition began many years earlier when the General Electric's payday was on Thursdays. North Street was bustling with activity on Thursday nights, especially in December before the holidays.

Stores competed cleverly to attract shoppers. One of the most frequented women's department stores, Textile, was known for its innovations in marketing and once staged a "men's night" on a Thursday before Christmas with a "fashion show" and refreshments. The goal was to entice male shoppers to buy their loved ones gifts of clothing or accessories, and it was highly successful, drawing an estimated 1,000 male shoppers.

Textile, with its four floors of women's clothes, was as popular, if not more so, for fashions as England Brothers, Holden and Stone, the Lincoln Store, M. Solomon's and a score of smaller specialty stores. Like many of the North Street stores, Textile was locally owned and started on a much smaller scale.

Brothers Benjamin and David Knopky, who came from Bridgeport, Conn., opened the store in 1922. Previously, Benjamin had managed the Wallace Department Store on North Street for nine years and thought Pittsfield would be a good place to open a shop for cloth and fabrics.

The Knopkys named it Textile for the dry goods they would sell. The store, at 173 North St., was just a "hole in the wall," no more than 8 feet by 30 feet. Nine successful years after opening, the brothers took over the whole first floor of the Hull-Morton Building (173-183 North St.) and decided to expand and specialize in women's clothing.

They kept the Textile name, but they did change their last name to Kay, which was much easier to pronounce and to remember.

As the business grew, Textile became the largest women's clothing store in Pittsfield. The lower level, or basement, was opened in 1936 and the second floor was taken over in 1947. A year later, the third floor was opened. In 1950, the Kays did a $100,000 modernization and refurbished all four floors of the Textile store.

Benjamin's daughter, Mildred Covel Schultz, a very active and spry 97-year-old, recently shared with me that the two brothers and their families were very close at home as well as in business. She also related how her Uncle David was an avid fisherman who would catch fish on Sundays and donate them to the Sisters at St. Luke's Hospital. The Kay families were known to be very generous and benevolent to the community.

Benjamin retired to Florida in 1951 and David eventually became sole owner of Textile.

In 1970, the city of Pittsfield determined that the store's building would be part of urban renewal plans and would have to be razed.

David, who was in his 80s, and his sons, Marvin and Sanford, bought the former Grants store at 141 North St. and opened a 22,000-square-foot enterprise and named it Kay's. In August 1970, they had a grand opening of the new store, which was stocked with nationally known brands of women's, teenagers' and children's fashion apparel and shoes.

In 1973, David moved to Florida and his son, Sanford, took over reins. As Pittsfield's economy changed and North Street's shopping declined, Kay's closed its doors in 1976 after 54 years of the family being in business downtown. Textile's original location is a part of what is now the Liberty Mall at Columbus Avenue.

The store, long gone, will be remembered by many on how it enticed 1,000 men into a women's store on a Thursday shopping night. Fun memories!

Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native, is the founder of the Berkshire Carousel and author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." For more information on the project and books (Volume I. and II.), go to berkshirecarousel.com.


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