SPRITZER & FUHRMANN
Spritzer & Fuhrmann
By: Will Johnson
The first time that anyone became acutely aware of such a thing as specialty stores was with the arrival of Spritzer & Fuhrmann and El Globo on the Front street, under the home of former Act. Lt. Governor of the Windward Islands the Hon. Walter Granville Buncamper. That would have been around the year 1962 if I remember correctly.
Mr. Illis of Sucker Garden certainly noticed it. I remember him coming into the Receivers Office just a couple of buildings from the location of the new stores. He had come to see his friend Fons O’Connor. Mr. Illis’ take on the new situation was as follows:” Well Fonsie, meh boy, St. Maarten gone to hell wholesale now. Imagine I came to town to buy a machete and a pair of khaki pants and neither one o dem stores have anything like that. Matter of fact they laugh at me when I did aks.”
Before Spritzer & Fuhrmann one could go to a store and buy a shot of rum, two cans of sardines, a khaki pants and yes even a machete. So in a certain sense Mr. Illis was right in his assessment. And looking at it from another angle namely the start of mass tourism and subsequent development of the island he was also right.
I was always intrigued by the combination of those two Eastern European Jewish names into one famous business empire in the former six islands of the Netherlands Antilles. Even before going to Curacao I was aware of the firm as believe it or not there was a branch on Saba even before St. Maarten.
I am reliably informed that Mr. Herman Hassell a bachelor, local judge, ship chandler and grocery store owner (yes one of those ranging from a shot of rum to a cutlass as we called them on Saba), was friends with Mr. Spritzer who used to roam the islands as a “mechante” selling jewellery to an impoverished region. He became friends with Herman who had accumulated quite a savings for those days. A loan from Herman was negotiated to the tune of ten thousand guilders and when Herman passed away in 1960 or so that loan netted his heirs from hither thither and yon close to one hundred and fifty thousand guilders. The loan had been converted to shares in the firm and people who never knew Herman but inherited from him were well rewarded for those days when people like my father was making two guilders and fifty cents a day when he could find work. And only because he was a mason and a foreman for the government was he making that. And so Herman would have watches and other jewellery displayed in a flat glass display case from Spritzer& Fuhrmann, amidst the rum and the cutlasses, sardine and corned beef cans, salt beef and so on. Spritzer &Fuhrmann could not have wished for a more prominent display of their merchandise. And believe it or not things sold. Every hand while you would hear in the village gossip that so and so had bought a watch. Or that a gold chain had been bought for a girl by a suitor but that “he doesn’t know but she’s in with someone else.”
Long after Judge Herman Hassell had passed on to other courts, a cousin of mine Marie Hughes working at the firm on Curacao met her husband Eddy Senior also working there. They came to live on Saba and Eddy used to manage the Philipsburg Utilities Company. He and Marie were very active members of the Saba Lions Club. Eddy was from one of those ancient Jewish families on Curacao who made the famous “Curacao Liqueur”. When Eddy died many years later we churched him in the Roman Catholic Church with his friend Julio Meit and a real Rabbi doing the service according to their ancient traditions and he is buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery. He loved life and to travel and was a speed king on the road going into his nineties. He was not a road kill. Old age took him out. When I see Marie we still have many stories about Eddy and her days at Sprizer & Fuhrmann. Once when I was Commissioner visiting the Tourist Office a young Israeli soldier on leave, came to see me. We had a good chat. As he was leaving he said to me: “There would not be any Jews living on this small island, would there?” I was about to say no when Eddy came to mind. He was so excited to hear that news and I gave him directions how to get to Eddy and Marie’s house. Half an hour later Eddy sped past me on the road and the young Israeli soldier in front of the speeding car holding on for dear life. Eddy was giving him a tour and took care of the young soldier for the rest of his time on Saba.
When I went to Curacao in 1955 to the Boys Town, on the occasions we were allowed to go to town, we were impressed with the firms building on the later to be named Dr. Gomez square. We later got so bold and would walk in the store to look around at items we would never be able to afford, and yet to dream of days to come, when we could buy a gold chain to present to a girl even if you suspected she might be fooling you.
I was already working and living on St. Maarten in 1960 and so when the firm established itself close to my office for me it was nothing new. Not so for many people on St. Maarten and even Anguilla and St. Barth’s. In fact it seemed as if the whole Eastern Caribbean was infatuated with the new store. Coming and looking, and coming back again. Not much buying. Just looking and being able to tell your friends back home “Mind you, I does do my jewellery shopping at Sprtizer &Fuhrmann on St. Maarten, you know!”
The new Manager was the now famous Frans Mulder. A young man back then of course. He later did much social work for the Island as Chairman of the White and Yellow Cross Foundation and he was active in many other fields. He and I never set horses, politically speaking, at the time. We even had a spat some years later. Mr. Alrett Peters of the General Workers Union and I became great friends and I used my writing talents to publish “The Labour Spokesman” on behalf of the Union. He would also turn to me for help and advice when trying to get a collective labour agreement. That was around 1969 or so. Turbulent times back then. I was always dressed in a Dr. Che Guevara outfit and getting into also sorts of trouble anyway so why not stir up the pot a bit more by getting involved in the first labour union to be established on St. Maarten.
Spritzer @ Furhrmann had grown exponentially by that time and had some 40 employees in their own new building across the street from the old policeman Anderson Vlaun and business for them was booming. We decided to unionize the firm. Douglas Johnson was working there at the time. Dead scared to be fired all Douglas could do was bring us the bad news. Who had said this who had said that and that no one in the business would join the union. Long story short, I don’t know how we got a majority to sign up but we got an impressive majority, enough to call a vote. In the meantime Mr. Frans was aware of what was going on. Some fifth column or the other had been encouraged to sign up and to bring back the needed information. On the weekend before the vote it seemed as if the lights burned all night at Spritzer & Fuhrmann. Mr Frans was out and about as if he was running for political office visiting homes of employees all over the island. This I was later told. Sunday afternoon at the” Passangrahan” bar Douglas told me: ”Boy you and Peters are in trouble. I have never seen Mr. Mulder in such a good mood as in the last days.” Come Monday morning Frans was at the door of the jewellery Walhalla welcoming his employees to the jewellery Kingdom. He was all smiles. Any fool knowing what was at stake could have known that Frans had won something. It did not become apparent to Julian Lynch, Alrett Peters and me (in the shadows of the conflict). No we had at least thirty signatures. When the Government Mediator announced at 9am that there was no need to extend the voting time as everyone had voted, a decision was made to count the votes. Well, well! Turns out, ALL in favour of the firm, and ZERO for the union. I still think that Frans should have run for office. In later years with the passing of time Frans and I became good friends even though I don’t see him often. I know that he loves my articles and I am sure that he will like these memories of those days.
I will quote some of the history of the firm from an article written by Ms. Helma Maduro-Molhuijsen written for the “Archiefvriend” on Curacao.
“The firm of Spritzer & Fuhrmann in the past century was a household word, not only in the Antilles, but also in many other countries. Besides the extensive jewel-and watch collection, they were also known for their lovely collection of crystal and porcelain of the best European brands, such as: Daum, Lalique, Orefors and Wedgewood. Besides the jewellery and gift shops, there were specialty stores, goldsmith shop, watch repair shop and the section for decorations among which the packaging materials were made, such as the exceptionally pretty boxes and cases for presents to the Royal Family and other guests to the islands. For the display windows there was a permanent staff employed who won several prizes for their artful displays.
In 1927 Wolf Spritzer established himself on Curacao. He was from Budapest, where during the First World War he lost his trading company. After a sojourn of several years in Berlin he departed for Curacao. In 1929 his family came over. Wolf Spritzer was married to Rosa Spritzer; the couple had two children, son Erno and daughter Frieda.
Charles Fuhrmann was from Romania. In connection with the ever present persecution of Jews in that country he left his homeland, and via Vienna, to Hamburg with the intention to travel to Venezuela. In the end his final destination became Curacao. Via a fellow traveller he came into contact with Wolf Spritzer who at that moment in time could use professional help. In 1948 Wolf Spritzer at the age of sixty stepped down from the business. Also his son Erno who was working for the company together with his wife Ivy Capriles and their children moved to Holland.
Charles Fuhrmann in the meantime married Frieda Spritzer and they had two daughters Helga and Judith. Charles Fuhrmann then became the only owner of the firm.
As a teenager going to the” Radulphus College” I used to pass the lovely home of the Furhmann’s with its black tiled roof not far from my school. That area of Curacao still has many lovely homes and gardens and the Fuhrmann’s home was quite impressive.
In the building of Amador Maduro on the “Handelskade” Wolf Spritzer rented a small part of the building where he started his work as a watch repair man and goldsmith. With the arrival of Charles Fuhrmann the business was “expanded”; a window was removed and was replaced with two panelled doors and two flat show cases, with the watches displayed in them. Sometime later they were able to purchase an entire collection of fine jewellery. The decision was made to sell a part of this on Aruba and in 1930 a small store was opened in Oranjestad. In the meantime on the “Handelskade” a new building was taken into use, now on the other corner of the “Windstraat”, which was given the name “Relojeria Alemania”.
The business continued to grow. On the fiftieth anniversary of the firm in 1977 there were 32 stores and more than 550 people in service and after 1977 several more stores were established.
The company and Mr. Fuhrmann especially were given many awards and a special issue of stamps was issued in 1977 for the anniversary of the firm.
After my friend, Governor J.J.”Japa” Beaujon, left the position in the Windward Islands and returned to his native Curacao, he worked for the firm. I remember visiting him there in his office in the main building.
A change in fortunes took place in the nineteen eighties. The large cruise ships such as the Queen Elizabeth and the Michelangelo did not call in at Curacao anymore and with the devaluation of the Bolívar in 1985 the spending power of the Venezuelans had diminished to the extent that they could not come to Curacao in their numbers as they used to. Reorganization in 1984 and 1985 was of little help and in 1990 the firm had to close its doors after selling off most of their properties. A great loss for the Antilles and a loss of that glorious name so pleasing to the eyes: ‘SPRITZER & FUHRMANN’.