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~ Malden Musings ~ “Barney Kahn Revisited”

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By Peter Levine


Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to… A couple weeks back I mentioned Arthur Kahn’s dad, Barney, who was nicknamed “The Dean of Merchants” when he ruled the roost during “Malden, Back in the Day.” I gave no background info when I namechecked this legend who founded, arguably, the most successful business ever to call Malden Square home, Malden Jewelry.

So, without further ado, here’s a little story about a man named Barney… Malden Jewelry started out as a one-man operation back in 1933. By 1959 he employed over 20 people in the office and on his sales staff as well as his two pride and joys, son Arthur (diamond salesman) and son David, who handled stock and inventory. Malden Jewelry also saw Eddie Golden (silver and camera department) starting in 1934, Thelma Cullertin (bookkeeper), who started in 1929, Gert Daniels, Paul Hunt and Carl Silbert (store manager), who began his MJ career in 1927. Later, Ben Averbrook and Chris Dracopoulos were hired – starting as messengers before working their way up the sales force.

Barney worked his way up the success ladder the hard way, first as a newspaper boy earning just enough money over the years to open his first business in 1925 at 216 Pleasant St. – right next door to the long-gone Strand Theatre (today that is where Malden Center Fine Wines is). In the beginning Mrs. Barney (Matilda) Kahn was the bookkeeper and half the sales force. As sales boomed the Kahns decided to relocate to upper Pleasant Street.

The store increased four times its size and fit snugly between the (again) long-gone Liggett’s Drug Store, Moe’s Smoke Shop, Granada Theatre and the popular teen hangout, The Palace of Sweets. Barney was a big supporter and a driving force behind the Malden Chamber of Commerce – getting himself involved in just about everything good that happened in Malden at the time. Barney brought life to Malden Square, anchoring the downtown area during what is referred to by Maldonians of a certain age as the “Golden Age” of shopping in Malden.

In perspective, think Douglas Tran of mid-20th-century Malden. Douglas took a chance when he opened All Seasons Table in the not so glamorous Malden Square of just a few short years ago, and it’s paid off, “bigly.” Others saw Douglas’ success (through hard work, wicked awesome food and some of the best bartenders North of Boston) and followed his lead, creating the downtown restaurant boom we are experiencing/enjoying today. Thank you, Douglas, once again. Thank you, Barney Kahn, for what you and your family have done for Malden.

“What you are about to read is a matter of human record. Explain it: we cannot. Disprove it: we cannot. We simply invite you to explore with us the amazing world of the Unknown … to take that One Step … Beyond.” With the Titanic back in the news, I thought I would re-run this gem… “hard to believe Jerry Lee Lewis’s right-hand man, Gary Skala, has been gone 11 years now. Gary was a Long Island guy via Chicago and Florida who helped organize the original Jerry Lee Lewis Fan Club back in the late 1950s with the legendary Kay Martin. Gary worked his way up the Jerry Lee food chain and eventually became his personal assistant/bodyguard/babysitter. Whenever our paths crossed, he would regale us with stories of life on the road with one of the pioneers of rock n roll, Jerry Lee Lewis. But the most interesting story he ever told was perhaps, a personal one. The story goes that in 1912 his grandfather was to be working his way across the Atlantic as a servant on the ill-fated luxury liner, the Titanic. Family lore has it that he spent the evening before the famous maiden voyage at a pub in Southampton, ‘drinking whiskey, smoking cigarettes, and playing cards.’ He never made it home that night. Instead, he passed out in the alley behind the pub and missed the launch. He ended up volunteering on ships destined to pick up survivors shortly after the disaster. His ‘Papa’ emigrated to the States shortly after. Gary has a tall glass of whiskey every year on the anniversary for his grandpappy and for the ‘souls who lost their lives that night.’”

“Malden Musings” redux… The Malden-based Grammy Awards have just been announced:

  • Best song by a Maldonian of Jewish descent that grew up on Lisbon Street: “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum.
  • Best song by a Maldonian of Irish descent: ‘I’ve Got The Rock And Rolls Again’ by Charlie Farren of the Joe Perry Project.
  • Best song by a Maldonian of Italian descent: “Hole Hearted” by Gary Cherone of Extreme.
  • Best song by Maldonians who grew up on Presley Street and were wicked good in hockey: “I Finally Found Her” by Boys Life’s John & David Surette.
  • Best song by a Maldonian that practically nobody has ever heard of written by a Cherone not named Gary: “Almighty Man” by Mark Cherone of the band Flesh.
  • Best guitar work by a Maldonian named Levine not related to me: Duke Levine of Peter Wolf’s (solo) band: “Nothing but the Wheel” from the record “Sleepless.”
  • Best song by a Maldonian in the first (ever) interracial hip-hop crew out of Malden: “Push It Past Red” by Jawn Preziosa of Top Choice Clique.
  • Best and sweetest tenor sax sound from a Maldonian working with a living legend: Marc “Son of Paul” Phaneuf on “The Lady Is a Tramp” – duet between Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett (“Duets II”).
  • Best and sweetest tenor sax sound from a (honorary) Maldonian working with a (deceased) legend: Neal Sugarman on “Rehab” from Amy Winehouse’s second release, “Back to Black.”
  • Best vocals by a Maldonian of Jewish descent who grew up in Suffolk Square: Ed Ames’ 1967 version of the Mike Rashkow/Johnny Cymbal tune “Mary in the Morning.”
  • Best jazz riff on a Hammond organ by a Maldonian of Italian descent: Joe Bucci of the Joe Bucci Trio – “Patricia” from the Capitol Records release “Organs in Orbit.”
  • Best hardcore punk performance by a drummer from Malden: Mark McKay of Slapshot on “Step On It” from their debut 24-track album, “Step On It.”
  • Best guitar version of “Wichita Lineman” by an extraordinary guitarist born at Malden Hospital but not really a Maldonian – John Antonopoulos aka “Johnny A”: off the album “Sometime Tuesday Morning.”

It is said in “Malden Musings”…

  • Former Chief of Police Kevin Molis brought to my attention the chandeliers that now hang in Faces Brewing Company at 50 Pleasant St. – a fine addition to a wonderful newcomer in Malden Square. Great beer, great food, great entertainment all under the same roof! Located in an historically important building, one of the few remaining in Malden (ask Barbara Tolstrup if you don’t believe me)! Google Frank Converse Malden, Mass., if you do not know the significance of this location.
  • Travelling down Salem Street behind a JRM/Republic stink bucket on a hot and humid summer day is one of life’s more pleasant experiences…said no one!
  • Remembering Karen Anderson…Scott Lucey: “Karen had an amazing intellect, a brilliant and sharp wit, and unmatched institutional memory of Malden history and happenings. Like many others, I will miss her dearly.”
  • When I ran my Ferryway Green “If this tree could talk…” column a few weeks back, it struck a nerve with many Maldonians, for varied reasons, some personal, some nostalgic. This one particular comment came via Facebook from Lisa Sims Mclean and is as poignant and as heartfelt as I have ever read. I sincerely hope life has been good to you, Lisa. “If this tree could talk…It would tell you of my leaning against it telling it all my woes and concerns.”
  • Breaking news…on August 14, Massachusetts #1 and Massachusetts General Hospital #1 Physical Therapist, Tricia Larson, turns the Big 6 0. No signs of slowing down; she loves her patients too much to retire.

As Peter Falk’s iconic TV character Columbo would say, “Just one more thing, sir” – one more time with feeling…Merle Haggard once sang “are the good times really over?” Hell no, they ain’t! Reason being that not only will this year’s San Rock Festa feature top-notch music, but it will also bring back one of the funniest people in the funny people business – the guy who if he were a pitcher and he was walking to the mound and “Eck” was announcing the game he would say “entering the game is that guy that never half steps and never has mediocre cheese!” This guy is always on! Yes, David “I’m not that kind of Indian” Russo will bring his Boston scally cap, distinct Malden swagger and immense comedic talent to Pearl Street once again. Dave is one funny hombre as most of you already are aware of. Dave knows Malden and knows the Edgeworth neighborhood. His good-natured ribbing of local “characters” and his self-deprecating humor will have you saying to your friends “Lenny who?!” So, no – the good times are definitely not over, especially if you spend some time on Pearl Street this weekend!!

Postscript: Maldonians, this may be the best Saint Rocco Feast weekend, ever! Do not miss out on the fun! Friday, August 11, Beatlejuice performs; on Saturday the 12th, WildFire, and on Sunday the 13th big band sounds with Steve Savio and Seabreeze from 2 to 5, and Billy Joel tribute act Heart Attack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack closing out the weekend from 6-9.

—Peter is a longtime Malden resident and a regular contributor to The Malden Advocate. He can be reached at PeteL39@aol.com for comments, compliments or criticisms.


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