The Kanter Connection
by Cate Murway
Small towns are built on small business and entrepreneurial ventures continue to be the positive trend strategy. Mill Street has always had the “first to market” mindset, devoted to small retail shops that have reaped substantial rewards. Mom-and-Pops have always made up the little town center.
Growth explosion continues to happen, not due to an absence of competition, but quite the opposite, it happens because of the intense competition.
Russian born Morris Kanter and his wife, Fannie relocated from Bordentown, founding the dry goods store on 400-402 Mill Street in 1929, selling mostly clothing and soap. Their sons, the late Leon and Isadore, who played baseball and softball for the Mill Street Business Association teams, took over the proprietorship of Kanter’s Department Store on the corner of Mill and Pond Streets in the late 1940’s.
An advertisement from the Bristol Courier, February 1954 announced a “Special Dress Sale! First Quality. Fruit of the Loom. Street and House Dresses Sanforized - - Fast Colors. Regular Price -$2.98. Special Below-Cost Sale Price - $1.99.”
“You could buy just about anything there. They even had stamps”, shared Elizabeth J. “Betty” Rodgers, widow of the late Mayor/State Representative John M. Rodgers.
The Kanters ran a small post office inside their store and sold costume jewelry as well.
According to the Bristol Courier, October 9, 1957, Kanter’s opened expanded facilities after 28 years of operation and they celebrated with a gala open house dedicating the newly-completed addition that more than doubled their selling space. The ribbon cutting ceremony was attended by Burgess Anthony R. Niccol and the founder, Morris Kanter, who had retired ten years before, returned for this occasion.
The Kanters filled the shop with “never avant-garde, but good value”. For couture allure, their new “high style brands” of women's wear included famous names as Henry Rosenfeld “Christian Dior from the Bronx”, who made it chic for rich women to wear inexpensive clothes; ready-to-wear apparel by Jerry Gilden; and moderately-priced Kay Windsor selections.
The show windows in both the old and new sections of the Mill Street store were done in Colonial décor, in keeping with the almost 300 year tradition of the famed street.
Football/baseball/basketball athlete Isadore Kanter attended Rutgers and graduated from Rider and his wife, Judith [Kamen] was a Trenton State grad with a teaching degree. Their four sons, Frederick Scott “Fred”, a retired psychiatrist; Elliott N., Esq. who currently resides in San Diego; psychologist Kermit Eric “Eric”; and R.I. resident, Mark Franklin, a Continuous Process Improvement leader for the US Navy, all worked in the store. Mrs. Kanter also worked in the store throughout the mid 60’s before she began teaching in Bristol Township but continued to work during holidays and always as needed. She became an avid runner and she competed and won the senior women's portion of a 1979 Bristol Run.
The family would keep the store open on Christmas Eve until their very last customer left.
Part of the Kanter’s 6,500 square feet of selling space was leased to Leonard Schwartz for his boys and men’s clothing inventory, from 1968 until 1974.
In 1983, after 53 years, Kanter’s closed their retail home on Mill Street.
Isadore “Izzy” [1908-1993] and Judith Kanter [1925-2009] raised their four sons in their 6400 Radcliffe Street home in Edgely. They first met at a farm in Hightstown where Izzy and his family would stay in one of the bungalows, and they were married at the Willow’s Hotel in Lakewood, NJ.
Their youngest, Mark, Woodrow Wilson H.S. ’74/PSU, is an industrial engineer with a Masters degree from UMASS. Their home was “very unusual”, he claims. “In 1972, Hurricane Agnes blew all the stuff that came from the Delaware River into our yard.” Many family parties and celebrations, including Thanksgiving and political funraisers, were hosted in their home. His parents loved to attend parties, dress-to-the-nines, and travel but their high priority was that each of the boys receives the education they wanted and needed.
Mark fondly remembers going to the films with his older brothers and especially enjoying the giant Hershey bars that cost only a nickel. Leon Plavin’s Auto Boys, Norman’s Stationery, Ballow’s and Popkin’s Shoes, and Dr. Goldfarb’s office were all nearby. Cesare’s Italian Specialties Ristorante was always their stop for the best cheesesteaks and pizza.
Mark played ball in the Little League and pickup games and grew to become a life-long Philadelphia Phillies fan. “I got the itch while watching the last few outs of Jim Bunning's perfect game on Father's Day in 1964. As a baseball fan, I distinctly remember travelling to Yankee Stadium during Passover in 1968 to watch a game. Our father, Izzy, took Elliott, Eric and me to the game.”
As a youth, he also tried out the clarinet. “I was not that good.”
He recalls riding his bike to the library “a lot on Saturdays” and always loving history, especially now, researching baseball history and statistics.
Mark continues to be a baseball fanatic. He has written several articles for the SABR's [Society for American Baseball Research] Baseball Research Journal and was the editor for Boston SABR 2002 Convention Publication and he has also won a number of National SABR trivia contests since 1997. Mark and his yoga instructor wife, Lynne, who is also a great baseball fan in her own right, live in the idyllic seaside community of Portsmouth, RI.
He was dubbed “StratoMark” for the Strat-O-Matic tabletop baseball game, a sports simulation game and he continues to claim that childhood moniker in some instances.
Mark’s current athletic endeavor is bowling and he can boast a more than decent 170 average.
To “canter” is a controlled, three-beat gait. They were always determined trendsetters, those Kanters.
Kanter's was among the first stores on Mill Street to restore its old Colonial face when the merchants resolved to revive the picturesque past. The interiors of the show windows were redone in attractive cypress and the revamped store had new modern fixtures throughout.
Historic Bristol Borough, pioneered by the early entrepreneurs, continues to prepare for the future, while respecting its past.
Come visit Historic Bristol on the Delaware for another healthy dose of small town America.
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