Friday, October 13, 2006

Polish Merchants in Michigan, Part 1 of 2

The following is excerpted from Poles in Michigan, Vol. 1

Regarding Polish Commerce and Polish Merchants
in The State of Michigan

by A. Wojsowski

In order to obtain a true picture of the history of the Polish merchandising in our State, and especially in Metropolitan Detroit, it will be necessary to look back several score years into the past and scan the chronicles during this period for a record of the buying habits and interests of the Polish consumer. These chronicles are very skimpy in this regard and do not give much material of historical value.

According to these papers, the first Polish businessmen in Detroit, Michigan, were those connected with real estate; two of these were Andrew Kaminski and Anthony Leszczynski. Their operations in commerce began in the farming field, and, at the same time, in real estate, by buying up and selling farms and parcels of land, from which operations they accumulated quite a sizable fortune.

In Detroit, the first Polish traders were therefore real estate men, but, along with that, they branched out into the grocery business; the first independent craftsmen the tailors; and their first venture into the larger field was that of the brewery business. One of the industrialists in the brewery business was Thomas Zoltowski, whom the "Free Press" named, in the year 1906, "The King of the Poles". He arrived in Detroit on the tenth day of May, 1872. At this time, Lemke and Melin were already conducting tailoring establishments for several years - and the patriarch of this trade, John Lemke, prepared plans for opening the first Polish grocery. And so, by the year 1930, there were established independent Polish businesses - groceries, bakeries, furniture stores, clothing stores, shoe stores, and the like, conducted by individuals who, for the most part, had but little, if any, business training.

It was not until 1930 that a move was made to organize the Polish merchants in the territory consisting of Detroit, Hamtramck, and the outlying communities; at which time they began creating clubs and, particularly local associations. These included the Association of Grocers and Butchers in North Detroit, the Association of Grocers and Butchers in Hamtramck, the Association of Grocers and Butchers on the West Side of Detroit, the Association of Polish merchants in Wyandotte, as well as the organizing of Polish merchants who owned wholesale houses of consumer goods.

These associations, however, in the beginning, operated separately, each handling its own problems; but certain of these individual associations reached an understanding among themselves and began spreading the idea of organizing themselves into one great organization which would protect the interests of the Polish independent business man, encompassing the entire State of Michigan.

After much tribulation, these prominent merchants, through organization, obtained for themselves many benefits which could come to them only by means of a united effort, such as is offered by a large organization, and, in the year 1933, there was called to being a Federation of Polish Merchants in the State of Michigan, which elected the following officers: The prominent business man from Hamtramck, and maker of those fine Polish usages bearing his name, Zigmund Kowalski, as President. Their first secretary was the young and energetic merchant, Joseph Marcinkiewicz.

Soon after the organization of the Polish merchants in this area, there were begun efforts to standardize the work of the merchandising organizations. By-laws were prepared. A meeting was held of the rank and file in the matter of unifying all Polish dependent merchants into the newly organized Federation of Poish Merchants in the State of Michigan.

The merchants of the Polish colony, like the group of individual firms organized in the Federation, could better conduct and protect the interests of the small merchant.

In the program of the Federation of Polish Merchants there were the following aims:
  1. The backing of the products imported from Poland for the American market.
  2. The organizing of their own Polish wholesalers, supporting existing Polish cooperative wholesalers of foodstuffs, and creameries.
  3. Writing laws for the associations of Polish merchants throughout the whole United States.
  4. Regulating hours of work.
  5. Control of credit.
  6. Finding ways of attracting merchants to join the organizations and associations of merchants.
  7. Preparing the youth to enter into the business field, etc.
Part II next Friday...