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Berlins provided ‘just the right fit’ for Cropper

Berlins provided ‘just the right fit’ for Cropper Berlins provided ‘just the right fit’ for Cropper

Last week, I left Charlie Cropper selling Weejuns and saddle oxfords in his shoe department off the Chestnut Street entrance of Berlin’s. Arthur Berlin was his boss and let him run that shoe department as Cropper saw fit.
‘There was only one time he overruled my position,’ Charlie remembered. ‘I let him know about it, and he apologized and never did it again for 27 years.
‘He even wrote a letter once to let a customer know that Mr. Cropper had the last say about a deal and that was it. You couldn’t ask for a better boss,’ he said.
Berlin’s was a clothing store that opened in Corydon in 1929 selling both men’s and women’s clothing, shoes and sewing material on the top floor of three levels. Art (Ott) Berlin had three brothers, Mickey, Frank and Isidore who all owned clothing stores in Paoli, Louisville and Jeffersonville, respectively. These boys got their start by reaping the benefits of their hard-working father who walked across the South with his wares flung over his back until he made enough to get all four sons started in business. Cropper remembers that Art Berlin always said his mother was the real force in the businesses. Her advice was, ‘Boys, watch those pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.’
Mickey Berlin died in World War II but the other three carried on and were successful on all three fronts. Charlie Cropper remembers lsidore in Jeffersonville was the most easy going. An expensive Northerner insulated boot was stolen out of the display case one day and Isidore loved joking about the one-legged robber! When the companion boot was placed in the window and then stolen too, Isidore thought it was all very funny, even though he had been the dupe of a pretty clever thief.
‘Arthur always told us that any person who walked through those doors was doing us a favor,’ Cropper said. ‘They were giving us an opportunity to serve them.’
Cropper has lots of stories about Art Berlin and his drawer of unpaid accounts that went uncollected.
‘One time a woman came in who had left Berlin’s unpaid more than once and she was desperate,’ he said. ‘Funeral clothes were needed for the whole family and she was in a state.’
Cropper said Berlin gave her what she needed knowing that Cropper was watching from the side.
‘He looked at me when she left, shrugged with his hands up and said, ‘What are you gonna do?’ ‘ he said.
Berlin ran a business where the employees were family and turnover was low or nonexistent. He didn’t allow discussion of his good works as he considered that bad form.
Cropper said, ‘He never allowed us to talk about things like that before, but I am talking now. He did a lot of good in Corydon, and he was a good friend to me.’
The last Berlin brother died this past spring. Frank’s wife, Freda, surprised Cropper by visiting him in Jewish Hospital in Louisville when he was so sick this past summer.
‘She was always a wonderful person, and there she was saying hi to me,’ Cropper said. ‘It was a good surprise.’
Cropper carries a lot of Art and Lois Berlin with him: their religion, which was Jewish; their generosity and kindness; their humor and integrity. The Berlins loved Corydon and provided Cropper with not only a livelihood selling shoes but a way for him to find ‘just the right fit’ for his family and life in our small town.
Leah Porter is at the Harrison County Public Library in Corydon on the first and third Saturdays of the month from 1 to 3 p.m.