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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives


                                    RICHARD PIZITZ

                                    SOL KIMERLING


DATE:                            JANUARY 19, 2012


Transcript (PDF)


Richard Pizitz and Michael Pizitz were the sons of Isadore Pizitz and Hortense Hirsch Pizitz. Richard and Michael were born in Birmingham, Alabama, where their grandfather Louis Pizitz founded the Pizitz retail store chain. Richard, Michael, and their brother Merritt succeeded their father Isadore as managers in the family business. When the Pizitz retail chain was sold, they remained in the retail business, acquiring and operating upscale apparel, cookies, and frozen yogurt stores.

Scope of Interview:

Richard and Michael talk about their grandfather Louis Pizitz, who founded Pizitz, a department store in Birmingham, Alabama. They discuss their grandfather’s origins and his immigration from Bialystock, Poland to the United States. They tell how he and their grandmother Minnie Smolian Pizitz arrived in Birmingham and how he built the Pizitz store in downtown Birmingham. They discuss his philanthropic and civic activities such as his membership in three synagogues in Birmingham—Temple Beth-El, Temple Emanu-El, and Knesseth Israel—and his support for the YMHA in Birmingham.

Richard and Michael discuss their childhood in Mountain Brook, a suburb of Birmingham. They explain their family’s affiliation with Temple Emanu-El as the reason Richard did not have a bar mitzvah.

They describe the desegregation of Pizitz during the Civil Rights era. They tell about boycotts by blacks and how the five department downtown department stores responded. They explain how Pizitz ended the segregated restrooms, drinking fountains, and restaurant, and segregated employment in its store. They describe the demonstrations and bomb threats by whites when the store desegregated. They compare the cities of Birmingham and Atlanta, Georgia during the Civil Rights era. They compare Birmingham’s civic, business, and religious leaders to Atlanta’s leaders and the Birmingham News to the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution.

They talk about the success of Pizitz and its survival during the Great Depression. They recall how Pizitz had only one store until 1957 and how it expanded to 13 stores after they and their brother Merritt joined the family business. They discuss the decline of downtown retail stores with the expansion of suburban malls, the advent of big box retailers, and the consolidation of department store chains. They tell about selling all of the Pizitz stores and remaining in the retail industry with upscale apparel, cookie, and yogurt stores. They touch upon Birmingham’s future as a city and the problem of leadership living outside of the city’s borders.

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