Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist
If Noah’s Ark conjures up a vision of a ship loaded with two of everything, then that pretty much describes the extent and variety of goods that stocked the shelves and occupied floor space in one of Jamestown’s signature Brooklyn Square businesses—Noah’s Ark. And there really was a Noah, Noah Sher, whose business started in Rochester, NY in the 1930s, which, by the early 1950s, had grown considerably with more than fifteen stores, many in the Buffalo, NY area. Noah’s Ark was originally located at 10 N. Main Street, but by the mid-1950s, the store literally “crossed the street” and was located at 1-7 N. Main, the former home of Loblaws Supermarket.
Cherril Castle, whose extensive article “Noah’s Ark” appears in Remembering Brooklyn Square: The 1930s to the 1960s and to whom I owe much of the information in this article, went to work for manager Herb Farm in 1952 straight out of college. Although his first job at Noah’s Ark seemed boring and monotonous—keeping shelves clean and well stocked–Cherril admitted that it was a way to learn the business of this very early “discount” store that dealt mainly in automotive accessories and automobile parts for cars made mostly in the United States. It also featured home items, such as lawn mowers, radios, swing sets, bicycles, and kids’ wagons.
There is no doubt that Noah’s Ark was a popular store during the winter in a town like Jamestown located in the Snow Belt. The store sold snow tires, either new or recapped, and an item that is virtually unknown these days—tire chains—that were less noisy than “knobby” snow tires and less expensive.
But winter also brought other popular items into the store—toys, that were often displayed in their full glory in Noah’s Ark front window. How many of you remember buying or receiving a sled for Christmas that was from Noah’s Ark? That “little red wagon”? A doll, ice skates, board games, such as Monopoly or Parcheesi? Or your first electric train, probably a Lionel? This was Cherril’s specialty, and the big attraction for kids and grown-ups alike was a complete Lionel train display with a village of stores and houses that was set up in the middle of the toy area. And Noah’s Ark made it easy on the customer with a lay-away plan, in full steam during the holiday season, headed by Jean Howard.
Over the years of its operation, Noah’s Ark had some competition in similar products from a newer store called Chili’s and well-known Lundquist Hardware, but as Cherril stated in his article “there was never an atmosphere of mean-spirited competition.” There was always a definite feeling of unity among the owners and operators of Brooklyn Square businesses, and many who once knew or worked in the Square will attest to this.
Noah Sher appreciated the fact that his employees were hard-working, honest individuals who were of great value to his business, one that he literally began with a push cart and goods that turned into a successful enterprise—a real rags to riches story. As Cherril remembers: “he did not take advantage of his employees, paid them well enough for the time, and there was always a small Christmas bonus.” In closing, Cherril recalls that the Square “was a good place to work, and was a good place to have been around during those years.”