Everywhere I looked there was mostly fun early to mid 1960's. I was full of creative delight being a full-schedule Art Major at San Jose State and I was delighted with my ¨part time¨ job at L. Hart and Son department store, downtown San Jose, main branch. My parents paid for ALL of my college expenses, all of them plus a weekly check would arrive for incidentals. My ¨incidentals¨ were growing into weekly trips to San Francisco, bar bills, clothes, parties and restaurants. I used the extra money earned at Hart's to pay for my ¨entertainment¨ which was a never-ending event. How many young, teen into early twenties, Gay men have their first dating experiences while making new friends and finding their way into learning how ¨to be¨ included in Gay and Heterosexual society? I was lucky, I was given the gift of meeting people who added much to my school, work, social life...IMMEDIATELY! New friends, just like me, seemed to be emerging all around me. Friendships flurished as people ¨came out¨ to one another, sometimes openly and sometimes secretly, but there we were, TOGETHER! A huge new dimension of fellowship layered on in my life. I would later know, throughout my life I have had both ¨straight¨ and ¨gay¨ dear friends. I am mixed socially and emotionally. I like being part of being integrated with everyone...but, it's true, LGBTI people are greatly admired by me. We are quite the brave lot, we have positive tenacity and strive to survive ourselves and others (we always have).
Immediately I wanted to do a great job working at Hart's. I liked retail. I liked waiting on customers and I was a good salesperson, stock person and make-shift display person too (we set up sales and rearranged/merchandised the floor continously with ¨best sellers¨ or featured ¨new¨ merchandise). The Divisional Mens Merchandise Manager was a seasoned New York/NYC department store executive, Harry Schlisky. He was brilliant stock/sales planner/lead buyer and his wife, Vivian, was a ¨pottery maker¨ who was lovely, funny and a fully active artist. Some of us younger/student coworkers were invited to their home for meals and parties and they were gracious, ¨with it¨ and FUN! The Men's Furnishings Buyer was also a married man who I really liked working with. Nick Marafino was a tall and dashing Italian-American who was loaded with merchandising talent and energy...lot's of wholesome energy. My job was originally working part time in the Mens's Furnishings Department, Fall into Christmas Season 1962. I worked 20+ hours a week and I worked extra hard because I wanted management to keep me on after the Christmas rush. They did.
BUSY/BUSY it was as Hart's Department Store as it was quite the volume operation and the weekly sales, door busters and moonlight madness, White Sales, Beauty Salon sales, Cosmetic Guest Stylists (Charles of the Ritz, Helena Rubenstein, Elizabeth Arden N.Y. salon representatives) and special openings/etc., were wildly successful in this famous old downtown San Jose department store. We, all of us, sometimes could only keep selling and we didn't have time to replenish the stock. L. Hart and Son gave away S & H Green Stamps too. There were endless lines everywhere. The Giftwrapping department, Green Stamp redemption, downstairs restaurant...the place was a merchants delight. Customers quite literally were backed up and waiting at the doors to enter most mornings. Hart's was the #1 advertiser, always FULL Page Three, in the San Jose Mercury News (a Ritter Newspaper). Customers raced accross the Main Floor after the BELL rang! Then, down the central staircase to the Home Furnishings, Gifts and Housewares and/or ¨Budget¨ Departments and U.S. Post Office branch or over to the bank of elevators that would take them up/down all three floors (and to a walk-up 3rd floor mezzanine too). The place was like New York department stores on Herald Square...Macy's and Gimbels, but smaller.
Mr. Alex Hart, grandson of founder, Leopold Hart, was President of L. Hart and Sons. He was a dignified, attractive and generous man. He was our leader, a civic leader, we loved him and I think everyone did. He had many good and innovative merchandise ideas regularly. I learned, I experimented and our sales went sky-high...profits too. Mr. Hart was a teacher to the young assistant buyers and held a weekly class in his stunning office (framed/signed and very personally dedicated photos from the STARS and a Zebra print sofa too)! I was dazzled. He took us every week to the Garden City Hofbrau for lunch after our training session..delicious and just accross Market street.
A.J. Hart II was one of the children of several generations of HART notable citizens who were admired for their hard work and generous donations as they helped build the thriving community of San Jose, Santa Clara county. Hart's was the biggest (and highest volumne) department store between San Francisco and Los Angeles!
Mr. Harts brother, Brooke Hart, had been the victim of murderous kidnappers years earlier in 1933 and I don't think Alex Hart ever recovered from the loss of his much loved brother. Workers and clients at Hart's Department Store rarely spoke about the tragedy...never openly. He mentioned it once to me. Some of the longtime Retail Clerks Union employees I worked with shared the events of 1933 with me...Brooke and Alex Hart and their sisters were loved by all and the community reacted passionately.
Within a few years I became first an ¨Executive Trainee/Mens Division¨ and later became Buyer of Stationery/Greeting Cards and Gifts at Hart´s while still attending Art School. Mr. Hart, became a friend. On ¨off duty¨ hours he became ¨Alex¨ during the many elegant and fun dinner parties he hosted at his home off the Alameda and then the Rose Garden, San Jose. Delicious moments in my young life where excellent food, beautiful table settings, cocktails before dinner and singing at the Grand Piano afterward were featured treats. I became civilized (mostly) when dining at the home of Alex Hart. Alex was a very well known person-famous-celebrity and a gracious host too in Northern California. Alex often had very famous guests, from retail world giants and famous movie STARS and others as his weekend guests. Important film executives and other well-known professionals and politicos visited his home for parties. Sometimes I would be included too.
I was often among several young people who were gifted with kind and welcoming invitation to his home for spectacular, large and small, social events that were way beyond-my-young-imagination (and everyday dreams of splendid/elegant living reality that included artwork by Picasso and other famosos and his home decorated by Hollywoods most famous interior designer to the STARS). I learned my very extra best manners, sense of style, merchandising savvy and the general way ¨to be¨ in my adultlife from Alex J. Hart. Today, again today I´m deeply touched and grateful because of the many kind and helpful words, acts and general ¨marketing¨ direction that Alex Hart offered to me. I remember well.
Later in my retail progression, about two years after I moved away from San Jose and Hart´s, Mr. Hart discreetly supported my ongoing retail career by offering a unsolicited personal reference that resulted in me securing a very prestiges, BIG JOB at another Department Store in another city. As it turned out, Alex Hart was a very close friend/business acquaintance with the President of a chain of very fine/high-end fashion department stores, GOLDWATER'S/ARIZONA (Associated Dry Goods) where I had been presented as a candidate for buyer. I got the job, it was a very ¨big¨ opportunity for me. I´ve never forgotten the many kind deeds of Alex Hart.
San Jose, California was/is a wonder of a place: http://geography.howstuffworks.com/united-states/geography-of-san-jose.htm
to be continued