10 January 2008

History in a Starbucks: 164 Smith

This, the first Starbucks to blight Smith Street in Brooklyn, was once the site of Whalen Brothers, "The Universal Home Providers," "The Big Credit Store." (You can see it back there on the left side of the picture.) You could get furniture, clothing, carpets, everything here. And all goods would be "delivered in unmarked wagons!" Hot-diggety! They were also known for their "extraordinary" $3.95 Parlor Suit Sale. (What's a Parlor Suit?)

The Whalens weren't so nice, it seems. There was a sensational case back in 1885 where a washerwoman named Anna McAuliffe bought a set of furniture, valued at $80, on the installment plan. (Whalen heavily advertised these plans, which let you put $5 down on $100 worth of goods.) She paid all of it except $9, but since that portion was late, four burly men from the store came to her home to collect the goods. Mrs. McAuliffe, with her children present, began to fight over a chair a man was removing. The man called his buddies and they had a little fun by using the chair to pin the woman against the wall, laughing while they did it. Mrs. McAuliffe screamed, gave them a dollar and promised to pay the balance on Monday, and they desisted. But the lady felt pains in her abdomen. After being examined by a doctor, she (Jesus Christ!) died.

The men told police they had been "gentle." Both Whalen Brothers proved to be "out of town." There was a trial in 1886, but I couldn't discover the outcome.

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