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Sylvia’s World – Part 1

March 9, 2022

When you are a young woman who just graduated high school 1932, while America is still deep in the Great Depression, you might be able to write a novel about all the jobs you’ve started and lost or had to leave because there weren’t enough hours. This surely was Sylvia Dichner’s experience, and she passed through much of downtown Indianapolis’s retail sector – Block’s Department Store, Avon Theatre, Morrison’s, and Grant’s stores, trying to cobble together enough hours bring in some income for her family. As the oldest child of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Hungary, she felt an obligation to contribute to the household financially.

Sylvia Dichner in 1934. Isadore and Sylvia Dichner Weiss Collection. Indiana Historical Society.

After spending more than a year moonlighting at sales counters around Indianapolis, she finally landed a permanent full time job with Mr. Lipot Frankovitz at the Frankovitz Market.

Ad for Frankovitz Market showing the exterior of the building. Indianapolis Star, 20 September 1935

Stuck on the second shift, Sylvia would ride a streetcar most of the way to work from her family home at 1409 S. Union Street in the Old Southside neighborhood in the afternoon after sleeping in, maybe taking some time to read a book or to write a letter to her long-distance boyfriend Izzy, or tidying up after her younger siblings, Goldie and Manny, left for school.

Indianapolis streetcar, 1933. Walter N. Carpenter Family Photographs, Indiana Historical Society.

Once at the store, she would encounter a variety of characters, including Mr. Frankovitz himself, who she described as a stressed out, mercurial man, the stock boys who teased her about Izzy, and of course the clientele. On warm days, in order to get some air in the small store, Sylvia and her fellow cashier might move the register outside to try and at least catch a breeze.

Most of the time, Sylvia worked a six-day week and didn’t make it home at night until around 1 a.m. She had little down time, but there was time for Sunday night movies, perhaps at the Oriental Theater, just a few blocks from her home at 1105 S. Meridian Street. Sylvia was particularly enamored with the film, The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) starring Norma Shearer, as she drew parallels between the romance in the film to her own with Izzy.

Oriental Theater Building. Larry Foster Collection, Indiana Historical Society

Sylvia could also be found around the Old Southside at the Communal building at 17 W. Morris Street or meeting with fellow members of Reus, a club for the young people of the United Hebrew Congregation, whose building was located at Madison and Union Streets.

The interior of the Communal Building during storytime. Jewish Welfare Federation Photographs, Indiana Historical Society.

Sylvia worked at Mr. Frankovitz’s market until she married Isadore “Izzy” Weiss in October 1935, and the couple settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sylvia went on to become the mother of four children and a town councilwoman in East Windsor, New Jersey. Mr. Frankovitz, along with his wife Esther and brother-in-law Leon Frisch, ended up opening more markets, which became the Stop n’ Shop supermarket chain, eventually expanding to 18 stores in Indianapolis and Kentucky.

Interested in learning more about the experiences of a young Jewish couple as they navigate relationships, social and familial ties, the Great Depression, rising anti-Semitism in Europe and at home, and their hopes for the future? Stay tuned for more glimpses into Sylvia’s World on future blog posts, and the forthcoming Isadore and Sylvia Weiss Collection at the William H. Smith Memorial Library at the Indiana Historical Society.

Maire Gurevitz is an archivist at IHS. In her free time, she can be found at the yoga studio or working on her Hoosier themed romance novel.

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