Recorded on January 27, 2012. Length: 32 Minutes.
JH: Hello. Today is January 20, 2012. Welcome to Northbrook Voices, an oral history project sponsored by the Northbrook Public Library and the Northbrook Historical Society. My name is Judy Hughes and I am really pleased to welcome Franz Pintz who has lived and worked in Northbrook since the mid-1960s. Welcome Franz.
First of all, let’s talk about where you were born and where you grew up.
FP: I was born in what used to be Yugoslavia, but was Austria-Hungary for centuries. That is where I grew up and I was 17 years old when we left when the Russians came and there was lots of talk about how mean they were. A Hungarian officer came and said this was a war zone and the military was going to put up a defense. Civilian lives would be worth less than a fly on the wall. The military was going to take over and it would be best if we leave and leave everything behind.
At that time the word was out that if the Russians came, they were barbarians and that did turn out to be true. Females were raped, whether a 10 year old girl or an 80 year old woman. After that there was chaos but we left. We wound up in northern Germany which is where we were until the war ended. We left on October 9th and traveled for six weeks. Most of the time we were just under the dark sky. No roof over our head. The war ended in 1945 and everything had been destroyed but we stuck around because we had no other place to go. Prior to 1944, I was going to go to school and planned to go to university but that was not possible now. I found a place where I could apprentice to a watchmaker. The master who took me was a watchmaker master. His father was a goldsmith master so I got a good deal – two for one. The old man was retired but he would come to the shop a couple of times a week. He would do the work and I had to help him but I hated the polishing in comparison to watch repairs. It turned out to be a blessing for me. I was there for 3.5 years and when I was out of work, I decided that since this was not my home, I would apply to go to America. When my number came up in 1956 I came and arrived in late October in Chicago. At that time it was different than it is now. You had to have a sponsor who would guarantee to take care of you and not the government. I found an organization to be my sponsor which was not hard. I was single, 29 years old and had a trade. What more could you ask?
JH: Why did you decide to come to America?
FP: Because it is the land of opportunity and that is what I needed. I knew what I could do and I had no chance over there to do that. If I couldn’t succeed here, I could always go back. It worked for me. It takes hard work. Those people who think that dollars grow on trees are mistaken and they find out when they come here. But you have a chance. There was no chance over there after the war but here I had a chance. People were open and friendly. I didn’t speak a word of English except a few not so nice words I learned from the GIs. I also played an instrument, an accordian and for awhile I played in one of the hotels for the GIs to earn a few bucks but generally speaking I did not speak English but I picked it up quickly.
JH: And you started working here in a jewelry store?
FP: At first I started working in a trade shop downtown but I was very, very disappointed. That was not what I wanted. I wanted to repair watches but a trade shop is one that takes the watches in from jewelry stores. You have to do 10 jobs a day and the watches are not disassembled. You just took the movement out put them into a basket to clean them and put them back in. The foreman was Polish and spoke German. I asked him why had to study for 3.5 years to do this. I could learn this in three days. He responded that this was America. But not long after that I quit and opened a trade shop myself with another fellow I knew there. He was a Jewish gentleman from Vienna and I worked with him for only one year when he moved to Arizona. His wife was from Arizona and did not like the Chicago weather. Now I was alone and one man cannot run a trade shop. Then I met a gentlemen by the name of Wall from Des Plaines who was looking for a watchmaker to work on the premises. When I got there he did not want to hire me as he did not want anything to do with any forms and government rules for employment. He wanted me to work on a 50/50 basis which was not really enough for me but I worked there for 9.5 years until I could open a shop on my own. I bought a house in Des Plaines and opened my store in Northbrook. It would be best if I could take over a store that was already established but that may or may not be available. I started researching in the area.
I decided that Northbrook was a viable location. Northbrook was growing, at that time about 9,000 population but no jewelry store or watchmaker. The residents of Northbrook were upper middle or upper income and those are the people who appreciate and can afford jewelry so that is the place to go.
JH: And appreciate a job well done.
FP: Exactly, exactly. So I came to Northbrook but there was no place to rent for a store. Tom Adams who was a realtor at that time told me there was going to be a five story building built on Meadow Road and I should contact Buck Ayars. I did and got in on the ground floor with 800 sq. ft. which seemed to me huge. With no furniture it looks bigger. After 6-8 months I could move in but in 3-4 years, it was too small. I had no work space – I was literally writing checks on my lap and I was looking for a larger place. I had one jewelry bench and one watchmaker bench. Everything was filled in the shopping center. Then I found out that the land north of 1240 Meadow Road was up for sale. It was owned by Mr. Bills. I went and talked to him about buying the land. He asked if I had the money and I said I had enough for the downpayment and maybe we could work something out. He asked if I was sure the price wasn’t too high. I said it was too high but I had built a reputation with customers who like my work and so I wanted to stay here where I like the people. This would be like moving right next door and even though the price is high, in time it will be worth it. So I bought the land – now what. I needed a partner to put up the building. So I got Tom Adams who I knew from Rotary and sat down I suggested that instead of buying and selling old houses, let’s put up something new. After sleeping on it he agreed and the building was constructed and I moved in in 1979. In the meantime Tom died. His wife got 1/3 of his estate or 1/6 th of the building and his daughter 2/3rds of his holdings or 1/3rd of the building. I bought out his daughter. His wife did not want to sell which is fine with me.
In the building I have 2700 sq. ft. instead of 800 sq. ft. I have a nice big shop, kitchenette, office, a nice sales area, a diamond room sales area. Business has been great although not now due to the economy. I am not complaining.
JH: I believe you moved your family to Northbrook. Can you tell us a little about your family?
FP: In 1969 they were still building out Ramsgate South off of Techny, west of Pfingsten and I bought a house there which we moved into in 1969. The kids went to school there and to Glenbrook North.
JH: How many kids do you have?
FP: Three. Frank is the oldest and he is with me at the store. After high school he went to Bradley Univ. and majored in business. Before he went to university he told me he could save me lots of money by teaching him the trade so I wouldn’t have to pay for college. I said “no, the people of Northbrook are educated people who don’t want to talk to a dummy. Go get yourself an education. After you graduate from college if your mind is still set on going into the store with me, you go to California to the Gemological Institute of America for two years and you take all the classes they have to offer and graduate as a graduate gemologist. Then you will be on an even keel no matter who is on the other side of the counter – a professor or a doctor. You are as well educated in your branch as they are in theirs.” Then you would be one or one. So that is what happened.
The girls also went to college. Doris, the middle child also went to Bradley as he brother was there so she went there. The youngest, Eileen, who was with the Flags at Glenbrook North wanted to go to a big college so she went to Purdue and graduated. They both live in the area. Frank lives in Northbrook.
JH: How many grandchildren do you have?
FP: Seven. Frank has three and the girls each have two.
JH: Wonderful. Let’s talk a little bit about Northbrook and your involvement in the community. You mentioned Rotary. Are you a member of Rotary?
FP: I am a member of Rotary. As a matter of fact, there is only one member still alive who has been a member of the club longer than I and that is Doc Smith. I don’t know if he still comes to meetings.
JH: He does. I sat next to him recently.
FP: He was a member when the Northbrook and Deerfield Clubs were still together and I think they separated in ‘64 or ‘65.
FP: I came to Northbrook in ‘66 and in ’67, Walter Glanville, an insurance man in town, approached me and sponsored me for membership. I have been a member since then. Unfortunately things came up and I couldn’t meet requirements any more. Every day is the same. I cannot leave at lunch time as the employees have to have their lunch. I had to cut back not just because of the economy but also due to the competition. When I opened I was the only jeweler in town. Now there are six more stores – Northbrook Court, Shelleys, Jacquelines, two on Willow Road and one by the Dairy Queen. They not only take away sales but also some of the repair work. We used to run behind with repairs but now we are making ends meet but not running behind. If the economy gets better, things will be better. I am sure there are some Northbrook people who have lost their jobs and even those who have not are more cautious. Jewelry is the last thing in the world they need at this time. We know that. It is a good thing I have a good trade.
JH: Northbrook has been your business home for a long time. Tell me a bit about what you think about Northbrook.
FP: Northbrook is a great community to raise a family, to do business. They are nice people. Diversity is here and that is fine. It is a close knit community, perhaps less so than it was as it is larger. If a community is smaller more of the people know each other. The people are friendly. There are some kooks as there are everywhere but generally speaking, I wouldn’t want to live any place else to raise a family. Fine schools, fine organizations like the library. I remember when this building was built.
JH: Absolutely. In your time here in Northbrook and in your dealings with the people of Northbrook are there any special stories or surprises that come to mind?
FP: Not really but one thing I will say since I am German although I was not born in Germany but my ancestors back to the 1700s were all Germans and Catholics so there is no mixture. There were a million Germans living where I was born who settled there in the 1700s. It was a close community and they kept their religion and traditions and spoke a dialect of the language of the land. They were not allowed to speak German in school but spoke Hungarian. They got along as long as they obeyed the laws which is what I like. In America you can do whatever your heart desires as long as you are not breaking the law or hurting someone else. I achieved my goal and not only became independent, I have my own business which I control – actually the customers the control but if you take care of the customers then you are in control. I have my own building so I have no landlord beating down the door and raising my rent. I have achieved what I would never have dreamt was possible before I came here or even when I first arrived.
JH: And the community as it has built up around you, what kind of changes have you seen?
FP: The architecture has changed. There some ultramodern houses; they are very nice but in the wrong place. But they are not my house so I have nothing to say about it. If the planning commission or whatever has different ideas, that is okay. I would try to keep the community more traditional like you have the Inn – the Historical Society. I remember when it was up at Shermer and Waukegan and I remember watching it being moved. But the community grew. You cannot standstill. You either grow or you go under. That is true for a community or a business.
JH: In your business, do you design jewelry?
FP: No, I am not a designer. There are people who if they come in and have rings or something from their family which they want to combine and have a new piece made. We will ask them what they would like – if a pendant perhaps, you could start to draw or from a catalog you might get an idea of what the customer would like. I have one now in process. A customer wants a nice sapphire and diamond pendant. I showed him another I had finished but hadn’t been picked up. I asked the customer what his price might be. We worked through the process of the size and shape of sapphire and later when he returned he stated that he realized that $12,500 would not be sufficient so he raised the limit on the cost. I had some sapphires that I thought he would like. He liked the most expensive one. Now he brought his wife in to assist in picking out the style which she selected in a catalog. At a shop downtown we will do the casting for the piece and show it to the customer before we set any stones.
JH: And that is how you take care of your customers.
We are out of time. Amazing. Thank you so much for participating in Northbrook Voices. Your memories of your business life and your family’s life in Northbrook will add a unique and personal perspective. Thank you so much.
FP: You are very welcome.