Customer-orientedNatan Wekselbaum

A New York City retailer, Wekselbaum ran his store by two tenets. “One thing he told me on various occasions was that throughout his life he often felt like something of an outsider,” his son Charles said. “In Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, he was called a Jewish person; in Havana, a campesino[peasant]; and in New York, a Puerto Rican.” That led to his father’s first rule: “to treat everybody well and with respect no matter where they come from.” When he arrived in the U.S., Wekselbaum applied for jobs in stores, but was laughed at by the owners because of his accent. So Wekselbaum (and his brother David) opened their own store in 1963: 2,000 square feet of hardware and household goods, where Natan and David, at first the only employees, applied the second rule: if they didn’t have something a customer asked for, they’d order it so they’d have it next time.

The Wekselbaum brothers in the early days of the store. (Family photo.)

It was a good combination: the store, Gracious Home, flourished, and naturally grew. Along the way, Wekselbaum bought out his brother, and eventually grew the store to 40,000 square feet on both sides of Third Avenue (taking over other store fronts on the block as those shops failed); the operation took up to 500 employees. He clearly also treated the employees well: when Wekselbaum needed a kidney transplant in 2003, doctors had 18 volunteers to choose from. A Gracious Home salesman was the best match. He returned to health, but the business faltered in the “Great Recession” — Wekselbaum had commissioned a new $5 million building to house the store …in 2007. When it opened in 2008, the economic slowdown forced him into bankruptcy, and he sold the store and retired. He died October 3, from kidney failure, at 83.

From This is True for 14 October 2018