JTs from Gown Shop Jog Memories of Old Baltimore

Jewish Times magazines from the 1930s and 1940s were found by JT subscriber Michael Barrash. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

“Look, chow mein. A dollar a quart! You can’t beat that.”

“North Delicatessen on North Avenue — remember we heard about that?”

JT subscribers Michael Barrash and his husband, Jerry Newton, were looking through four Jewish Times magazines dating between 1935 and 1947. They stopped by the JT’s Owings Mills office last month to drop off their subscription renewal form and the magazines that they had recently found.

They were in a plastic bag inside a box that was in a storage unit for 20 years and prior to that could have been sitting in a Fells Point gown shop since the 1940s.

“I got that box in 1987 when our store closed,” Barrash said, referring to Etta Gowns, his family’s illustrious store named after his grandmother. “It was on the third floor of the store on Eastern Avenue and had probably been sitting there since [the ’40s].”

The store, which Barrash said was the largest bridal store on the East Coast at one point, made a name for itself in the 1950s and ’60s as the sponsor of WJZ’s dance party program “The Buddy Deane Show.”

“We used to even supply the strippers on the Block with gowns,” including late burlesque queen Blaze Starr, Barrash said. “We were in the news comic strip. … John Waters used to love to come into the store, and we’re mentioned in ‘Pink Flamingos,’” though Barrash and Newton recall telling Barrash’s parents the movie wasn’t for them.

A 1986 Washington Post article called the store “the mid-Atlantic bastion for brides-to-be” and noted that the shop, run by three generations of Barrashes, sold Johnny Unitas’ daughter her wedding gown and made “those Baltimore Colt-blue bridesmaids’ dresses in the movie ‘Diner.’”

Michael Barrash, left, and Jerry Newton pose with historic JTs they found in a box from Barrash’s grandparents’ gown shop. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

“They started the business, I believe, in ’23, the same year as they got married,” Barrash said, referring to his grandparents Etta and Frank. “It was seven of us that lived on top of the store: my parents, my grandparents, my two sisters and me. This was in the middle of the block between Broadway and Ann.

“In 1957, we moved to Northwest Baltimore, which was like going out to Pennsylvania back then,” Barrash said. “I didn’t even know what a tree was until I was like 5 years old because everything was concrete.”

He said the building that housed Etta’s is being turned into condos.

Newton and Barrash were sure the magazines — dated Dec. 6, 1935; Feb. 7 and Dec. 18, 1936; and June 13, 1947 — were saved for a reason but didn’t know what it was. Flipping through them, Barrash recalled more of his family’s historic Baltimore connections. His grandfather was good friends with now-defunct synagogue Beth Yehuda’s Rabbi Jacob Perlmutter, and he believes his great-grandfather helped found Mogen Abraham, which is also defunct.

Michael’s renowned ancestors were not confined to the Barrash side of the family, however. His maternal grandfather, Dr. Morris Abramovitz, “invented something the troops could use for syphilis overseas if they had gotten a venereal disease,” Barrash said. His “Combined Method Apparatus,” which allowed doctors to inject more than one solution at a time, and other artifacts of his were displayed in the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s “Beyond Chicken Soup” exhibit, which ran from spring 2016 to early 2017.

The topics in the magazines include an editorial in the 1935 paper that referred to a letter by a German “who appreciates that Mr. Hitler’s set-up is a far cry from the Fatherland of yesterday” and a short article in the Dec. 18, 1936 magazine with the headline “Council of All Local Orthodox Congregations To Be Organized.” The magazines have advertisements for cigarettes, the Chevrolet Master de Luxe Sport Sedan starting at $495, natural mink coats for $960 and Sol Levinson and Bros.


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