Well-known local Jewish business, Freeds of Windsor, is celebrating its 90th anniversary.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Holtzman family and their 100-year-old business, City Club Apartments. This year is also an important anniversary for another well-known local Jewish business. While it is not in Metro Detroit or Michigan, in my mind, it is still “local.” Freeds of Windsor, Ontario, is just across the Detroit River, and it is celebrating its 90th anniversary.
The story of Freeds is a wonderful history of three generations of Canadian Jews owning and managing what is now the largest in—dependent clothing store in Canada (a fourth generation now is working there). Freeds has been a favorite shopping place not only for the Jewish community in Windsor, but for generations of Jewish Detroiters as well.
As you might suspect, I found lots of pages citing “Freeds” in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. There were plenty of advertisements and other related stories. A particularly good feature article about Freeds and the Freed family by Bill Carroll that ran in the Dec. 1, 2005, issue of the JN is recommended reading.
Sam Freed, a Russian immigrant along with his wife, Jane, was a religious school teacher until he began work at “Harry’s Place,” a clothing and shoe store in Windsor. Three years later, in 1929, he bought the store on Ottawa Street and renamed it “Sam’s Department Store,” just 45 days before the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began.
Freed weathered the tough times. Sam’s Department Store grew from 1,200 square feet in 1929 to its current size of more than 50,000 square feet — all on the same Ottawa Street location.
Sam Freed was still an impeccably dressed fixture at his store until his death at 91 on March 25, 1996; but, by this time, the second generation was now in charge. Sam’s son, Gerald Freed, began his career at Freeds by sweeping floors when he was in elementary school. At age 15, Gerald was a full-fledged salesman. Just as he graduated with a degree in economics from Assumption College (now part of the University of Windsor), the general manager of Freeds quit and Gerald took his position. He became president in 1971. Freed’s brother-in-law, Alan Orman, became his partner in the 1950s.
Today, Gerald’s son, Ari Freed, and Alan’s son, Dan Orman, are the third generation to operate Freeds, now a Windsor landmark. This June, Ari and Dan were also honored at the Jewish National Fund of Windsor’s annual Negev Dinner for their contributions to the city and the State of Israel. This speaks to another attribute of the Freed and the Orman families. Beyond their business acumen, over the past 90 years, they have all been keen supporters of the Windsor and Canadian Jewish communities and Israel.
There is also significant evidence in the Davidson Archive to suggest that the Freed family did their best to promote good U.S.-Canadian diplomacy. For example, on page 69 of the Aug. 4, 1989, issue of the JN, I found an announcement that Ari Freed of Windsor would marry Pamela Jacobs of West Bloomfield. In the Aug. 18, 1988, issue of the JN, there was an engagement announcement for Gerald’s daughter, Natalie Freed, and William Newman of Bloomfield Hills. I ask you — how much more of a commitment to good international relations can one family make?
It also appears that the family legacy will continue. On the store’s website, one can see a photo of Derek Freed, a men’s formal wear specialist, and the fourth generation of Freeds to work at the family store.
So, best wishes to Freeds of Windsor. May it reach more milestones.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.