Glittering Success

The Rosenbaum brothers opened their first jewelry store in Detroit before World War I and gained a reputation for scrupulous honesty.
marque setting Max’s Jewelry store got its start in Detroit in 1914, and lasted until 1994 when a Hamtramck location closed. // Courtesy of Detroit Public Library
Marque Setting – Max’s Jewelry store got its start in Detroit in 1914, and lasted until 1994 when a Hamtramck location closed. // Courtesy of Detroit Public Library

The police raid at Alhambra Apartments netted a big fish two weeks before Christmas in 1919. The suite in question belonged to Caesar “Chester” LaMare, an affiliate of the breakaway Vitale gang that made their money bootlegging liquor.

LaMare and four other hoods had held up the Rosenbaum brothers’ jewelry store at 1093 Chene St., carrying away treasures worth $6,000. One of the brothers, Max Rosenbaum, fingered LaMare, and the loot was recovered.

It wasn’t the sort of cordial congratulations on surviving five years in business that one might hope for. Fleeing pogroms in Poland, the Rosembaum family had come to America in 1911, and Max and Sam had their first store in 1914. The writer and photographer Eric Hergenreder establishes on that it was called Fredro Jewelry Store. A second location opened nearby, and in 1927 the two points consolidated in a new Max’s Jewelry location at 5553 Chene St., near East Palmer Street.

“The building featured a large marquee with ‘Max’s’ sprawling down the sides and two clocks facing each way down the street,” Hergenreder writes. Rosenbaum likely walked to work; a 1921 city directory lists 5313 Chene St. as his address.

The same directory shows just how tough and competitive the jewelry business was, with scores of retailers operating throughout the city, from ABC Novelty Co. to William F. Zorno, who in 1919 was accepted as a new member of the national Jewelers’ Security Alliance. One notable jeweler was Wright, Kay & Co., which operated in the Wright-Kay Building at 1500 Woodward Ave.

Around 1940, Sam Rosenbaum stayed on Chene Street while Max opened a new store that he ran himself on Joseph Campau Avenue in Hamtramck. As always, he operated the premises with scrupulous honesty and a community flavor, helping send poor kids to camp and raising funds for the Hamtramck Public Library, which was completed in 1956. “Rosenbaum and his store epitomized what was best about the shopping district,” Greg Kowalski wrote in “Legendary Locals of Hamtramck, Michigan.” “Along with jewelry, Max had a camera and photo department, tape recording equipment, a complete optical and watch repair service, and a large gift department in the basement.”

In this same period, a third brother, Harry, ran another Max’s location at 4771 Michigan Ave. Max continued minding the Hamtramck store until his death in 1980. After Sam retired, his son, Charles, took over at Chene Street. Charles had grown up selling jewelry, belonged to the Chene Business Association, and felt deep connections to the neighborhood.

“Next to his family, the store was the love of my dad’s life,” Linda Rosenbaum wrote of Charles in a 2014 memoir. “He worked hard, never got rich, never intended to. He doted on his customers, mainly Polish, Black, Italian.” The riots of 1967 led to heartbreak, however, as intruders emptied display cases. “My father saw young men he knew break his windows, reach in and take loot, set his store on fire,” Linda wrote.

Charles Rosenbaum closed the Chene Street store in 1974 and moved to Warren, operating a jewlery store for a few years until retiring. Max’s in Hamtramck stayed open until 1994.

But that wasn’t the end of the Rosenbaums’ story. Their spirit lives today in suburban Minneapolis, where Max’s granddaughter, Ellen Hertz, runs her own jewelry, gifts, and chocolates shop. It’s called, fittingly, Max’s.