Business, Commerce and Civic Affairs

Many Southern towns and cities were similar to Charlottesville in their pattern of Jewish prominence in retail trades during the 19th century, especially in dry goods and apparel. By the end of the century, in many places smaller stores had grown or been combined into department stores. In Richmond, there was Thalhimer's; in Washington, Garfinkel's; in Dallas, Neiman-Marcus. Charlottesville had Leterman's.

In later years, Walters', Shapero's, Levy's, and others would be part of the Main Street retail promenade. Indeed, so prevalent were Jewish stores that in the early 20th century, "on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, you couldn't go outside because all the stores were closed. Everybody would close....there ain't nothing but Jewish stores back then." 19

Oberdorfer's, 1916

Oberdorfer's 1916
(Courtesy Holsinger Studio Collection, Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library)

Creating a city, 1870-1930

Charlottesville's Jewish merchants, successful in the business center that the town was rapidly becoming, gave a great deal of their energy to the "business" of running the town and seeing it grow to the point of incorporation as a separate city. B. Oberdorfer and Simon Leterman both served on the Town Council of Charlottesville prior to its incorporation, and Leterman was one of the Directors of the People's National Bank, whose resources helped to fuel the growth of the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Simon Leterman's son, Moses, was a member of the Town Council, and later served terms on the City Council, including a term as President . Among his other responsibilities, he helped to create the first Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce in 1888, promoting the growth of the city and also helping raise funds to restore the University's Rotunda following a 1896 fire. Hannah Leterman helped to found the Ladies Aid Society and the Temperance Society.

The undisputed leaders in this line here are The Leterman Company, whose mammoth building contains nearly 50,000 square feet of floor space. To enumerate every-thing carried in this vast establishment would require a volume, for there is nothing for men, women, and children's wear that cannot be found in this house. Aside from apparel, they have a complete assortment of carpets, matting, oilcloths, notions, toilet articles, fancy goods, etc. The building is lighted by gas and electricity, there being 266 incandescent and 25 arc lights.

The Daily Progress Historical and Industrial Magazine, 1906

Mortimer Kaufman, portrait

Mortimer Kaufman
(Courtesy Elizabeth Simon)

Moses Kaufman was a member of the first School Board of the City of Charlottesville, a position his son Mortimer later held as well. On the day of his funeral, school was suspended, so that the School Board of Trustees, teachers, and students could attend the funeral.

Kaufman's, 1915

Kaufman's, 1915
(Courtesy Holsinger Studio Collection, Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library)

Although Moses Kaufman did not serve as a member of the Town or City Council, there was apparently an effort to draft him to serve which was so strong that he had to put a notice in the Daily Progress in 1887 urging people not to vote for him. Bernard Oberdorfer, Moses Kaufman, and Phil Leterman, second son of Simon Leterman, were all active in leadership roles in Democratic Party politics in the city.