In honor of Weingarten turning 70 years old, we will be featuring a four part series sharing the rich history of the Weingarten Story. In Part One, we begin where no other credible story about Weingarten could…with the patriarch, Harris Weingarten. For if it were not for his incredible journey, there would be no 70th Anniversary.
The Weingarten Story began in 1854, with the birth of Hersch Harris Weingarten in the poor community of Lancut, Poland (what was then the Austrian Monarchy). As a young man, Harris worked in the paraffin wax mines, the village’s most lucrative industry.
He married Beile Weidinger and they had two children: a daughter (who died in infancy) and a son named Joe.
In the 1880’s, Harris left Polandon his own to seek new opportunities in America. He traveled by steamship to Ellis Island in New York City and found menial work selling matches on the congested city streets.
Barely surviving, Harris grew frustrated and took a boat to Galveston, Texas, to find success. He settled just outside the city of Houston, in the Richmond-Rosenberg area. He purchased some merchandise on credit and peddled the wares until he opened a commissary on one of the area’s largest plantations. Finding some success, Harris saved enough money to send for his wife and four-year-old son to join him in America.
He also saved enough to open his own general store on Railroad Avenue in Richmond, Texas. He soon realized he needed a larger customer base and moved to Houston in 1895. With a few thousand dollars and a fortunate partnership, Harris opened The Cent Store, a general dry-goods store in the Rice Hotel Annex. The business did well and soon moved into its own building just five blocks away, where it prospered for several years until the economy turned and Harris lost everything.
Fortunately, Harris and his wife had a savings of $300, which they used to start yet another business. Together with 14-year old Joe (whom Harris took out of school), the growing family opened their first grocery store in 1901, at the corner of Congress and Crawford in downtown Houston.
In 1909, Harris moved the store to a larger space on McKinney and LaBranch. In 1914, the store moved to a brand new facility. Harris and his three sons (Joe, Abe, and Sol) incorporated the grocery store, and the business became J. Weingarten Incorporated. Harris’ only daughter, Anne, also worked in the family business.
Despite their many setbacks, the Weingarten family persevered and also pioneered in the grocery store business. In 1920, they became one of the first grocery stores to operate on the self-service/cash-and-carry business model, advertising “Better Food for Less.
Then in 1927, pharmacist Irving Alexander (Anne’s husband and Harris’ son-in-law) joined the family business and brought health and beauty products to the six stores—an idea that he was later honored for having conceived.
Having surmounted all obstacles to achieve great personal and professional success in life, Harris Weingarten passed away in 1934 at the ripe old age of eighty. He left to his family a legacy of entrepreneurship and steadfastness, which they embraced to the fullest.
Thank you, Harris.
Go to http://www.weingarten.com/about/ to see what the company is today.