Following the recent publication of my book, "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of my Virginia Gazette and Lake Placid News columns that dealt with survival during the Holocaust and life under a Communist regime, a number of readers expressed interest in how a refugee who found shelter in America, started anew in a new country.
Fifty years ago, during our first vacation in this country, my wife and I fall in love with the Adirondack Mountains. The mountain range is a part of the six-million-acre Adirondack Park.
I was ready to give up my position as the foreign news editor of the Hungarian Daily, in Cleveland, Ohio, but wondered how we would make a living in a place like the Adirondack Mountains. I was a journalist, who wrote in East European languages.
We chose the alternative of opening a retail store in Lake Placid, a resort town made famous as the site of the 1932 Winter Olympics. We researched the demographics of the region and surveyed the business potential of the area: What merchandise each store on Main Street carried, what the pedestrian traffic-flow was like, and the local people had to say.
We learned that many of the stores were upscale, long established businesses, catering to members of the exclusive Lake Placid Club. Among the regular costumers were also the wealthy summer residents, but an important component was tourist trade.
To fill a niche, we opened a boutique specializing in unique, imported gift items and stocked it with high-quality, expensive merchandise, expecting the wealthy patrons of the other stores to become our clients.
We were wrong. We soon realized that it took years before the tradition-bound patrons "legitimized" a new establishment. We decided to put our expensive merchandise on sale and restock the store with leather-goods appealing to both local residents and to tourist. This business immediately took off and subsequently our store became known as having the largest selection of leather goods in the North Country.
Indeed, it took years before our store received the stamp of approval from the clientele we initially expected to patronize our establishment. But their employees - the butlers, chauffeurs and housekeepers - become our customers right away. They also were the source of much upstairs-downstairs gossip.
The butler of Marjorie Merriweather Post, considered America's wealthiest woman at one time, revealed that guests at her Camp Topridge, on the Upper St. Regis Lake, who failed to take their seat at the dinner table at exactly 7 p.m., were never invited again. He also said she stipulated how much time was allotted to consuming each serving. At her signal, the plates in front of the guest were taken away.
The peculiarities of some members of the Lake Placid Club also got aired. The heiress of a great fortune gave her housekeeper her mink coat, as a gift, after wearing it for only a couple of years. But she refused to pay for the housekeeper's meals on her days off. A member of the club was a frequent customer at the local flower shop as well as our store. He ordered bouquets and gift to be sent to the wife of his "friend". It was an open secret that he was part of an arrangement called, mnage- a-trois.
Our business never become the driving force in our life. I kept writing about foreign affairs, and we soon joined community organizations whose goal was to expand the horizon of the local population by opening new windows to the world.
This will be the subject of the next column.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.