NOSTALGIC LOOK BACK: New documentary spotlights Stamford mom and pop shops
A new documentary about downtown Stamford takes a nostalgic trip back to the mid-20th century when big box stores were non-existent and small family-owned businesses reigned supreme. It’s the Stamford that lives on in many people’s minds, including Steve Trell, who was among the descendants interviewed for “Remembering the Family Store, Downtown Stamford circa 1940-1965." The film, produced by the Jewish Historical Society of Fairfield County, spotlights 24 mom and pop businesses that were the core of Stamford before urban development.
“Pacific Street and Main Street where dad’s store was—it doesn’t exist anymore,” Steve Trell said. His dad’s store, Max K. Trell, began servicing radios and TVs, then became a hobby shop. “It was just great walking downtown and walking into all those friendly stores and those family-owned businesses.”
“So many of the owners knew all their customers, and they were friends. They became family,” added his wife, Gail G. Trell, who was the film’s production coordinator. “You see how it has changed from where I grew up in the town of Stamford to the city of Stamford.”
Featured businesses include Atlantic Fish Market, Brock Press, Bedford Jewelers, Cousin’s, Curley’s Diner. Frank Martin & Sons Clothing Store, Gallagher Funeral Home, Grand Central Market, Hay Photographers, Karp. Bros. Bakery, Karp’s Stationary, Karp’s Hardware, Kramer’s Fabrics, Manger Electric Company, Max. K. Trell, Roven’s Curtain Shop, P. Sabini Company Furniture, Shulman’s Home Appliance and Floor Coverings, Silberman’s Furniture, Superior Barber Shop, Syl-May Drugs, Wise’s Paint Store and Wolfe’s Cleaners.
Wolfe’s Cleaners is one of the few that remain today and in the same location. “It makes me proud that we were able to keep things going all these years, but it’s not easy,” said Rick Wolfe, whose father and grandfather started the business.
"Remembering the Family Store" began as a slide show presentation put together by the Jewish Historical Society's former leader, Lester Sharlach.
“It turned out it was so popular we said, ‘Let’s make this a video. Let’s make a documentary,’” Gail G. Trell told News 12 ahead of the film’s encore screenings.
The project was years in the making. The society received a grant from the Stamford Arts and Culture Commission in 2019 and started working with director Margaret Stapor Costa, telling the story of a time when a shop was more than just a business, but a family entity.
“Marge, our filmmaker, did magic. She took all these stories and all these interviews and wove it into this most wonderful story that people can all relate to, whether they’re old-timers or long-timers or whatever you want to call them or new to Stamford,” Gail G. Trell explained.
The Jewish Historical Society pitched the project to the Avon Theatre, whose leaders jumped at the chance to be part of it.
“My reaction was, ‘You better not show it anywhere but the Avon!’” said Stuart Adelberg, executive director of the Avon Theatre Film Center. “We are part of the history you’re about to tell in this film. I can’t imagine it showing anywhere but here in this beautiful 1939 historic cinema.”
The documentary was supposed to premiere in 2020, but the pandemic pushed its release to June 2022. The response was so great that “Remembering the Family Store” is now back at the Avon for two more showings: Wednesday, Aug. 24 and Monday, Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m., followed by a Q&A session.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Steve Trell told News 12. “Every time I see the film, it just brings back so many memories of me growing up in this town.”