Established more than a century ago, Friedman & Cohen has become a unique shopping destination with a tradition of personalised service and quality at affordable prices. Situated in Strand along the False Bay coast, it is only 45 minutes from Cape Town in the Helderberg region.
As a specialist department store, we are committed to offering you, our discerning customer, greater value, a wider choice of superior wares and excellent customer service in a friendly, relaxed environment to ensure the ultimate shopping experience.
We strive to provide outstanding knowledgeable service at all times in pleasant, clean surroundings with a welcoming ambience and attractive displays.
We look forward to being of service to you.
Lay byes accepted.
The story behind the landmark department store of Friedman & Cohen is a tale of perseverance and love, which started on distant shores and many years ago. It began in Russia, of all places. A young man by the name of Benjamin Friedman escaped from the pogroms and arrived in Cape Town from Lithuania in 1903. He managed to get a job at the docks in Cape Town where he worked for 2/- (20 cents) a day. After some six months he felt that as he had saved a little money and taught himself to speak a little English and Afrikaans, he should try to start his own little business.
He bought a bicycle for 10/- (R1,00) and set off from Cape Town, past Goodwood, Parow, Bellville, Kuilsriver, Faure and Firgrove, to Somerset West. Here he learned that AECI, or as it was known then, the Cape Dynamite Factory, was being started and it would employ a large number of people. He went to the magistrate and for 2/6 (25 cents) he obtained a general dealers license. He then hired a shop in Station Road, Somerset West and proceeded to Cape Town to purchase stock.
The wholesaler at that time was Messrs. JW Jagger & Co, who refused to open an account without references. This Benjamin Friedman was unable to supply as he had never traded before and knew nobody in the trade. He suggested they send the order COD although he admits that he has never been able to establish what made him do so as he obviously would not have the money to release the order. However, he was a man of great faith and always believed “the Lord will provide”. When he arrived at the station he found that by mistake they had not marked the goods COD. He took delivery, sold the goods and immediately returned to JW Jagger & Co to point out their error and settle his bill. No doubt impressed by the young man, the wholesaler opened an account for him and he was in business.
Soon, love was to follow. Two years later Benjamin Friedman married Anna Cohen. His brother-in-law, Shio Ben Cohen, joined him in the enterprise and they decided to open in the Strand. In those days, the place was a little fishing village and the sea used to push up at Spring tide, right up to where Friedman & Cohen is now. Mr Friedman bought the land where the shop is now situated, much to the amusement of the old residents, as they said the customers would need a boat to get to the shop.
A typical country store was built; it had a few groceries, some crockery and kitchenware, and dress materials. Behind the shop were Mr Cohen’s house, the stable and the stores.
The business thrived and in 1928 Mr Abe Friedman joined the firm. A few years later however, the Great Depression of 1933 struck and business everywhere suffered. Enterprises were considered lucky if they could remain solvent. Unemployment was rife, and people were happy with even the most basic employment as labourers on the roads and railways.
In this time, the business partners at the Strand shop anticipated that “as in the days of Joseph when the seven fat years were followed by the seven lean years” the Depression would be followed by a return to better times – a so-called boom. They decided to enlarge the premises, to install new fittings and fixtures, and to turn it into a departmental store by opening a furniture division, a shoe division, and a showroom. Mrs Cohen ran the showroom at that time in one of the rooms in her house. Their decision proved very wise – not only did the Depression result in all the improvements being carried out at very low cost, but when the country emerged from the dark economic times, Friedman & Cohen was ready to embrace the boom to its full extent.
In 1948 Friedman & Cohen bought an adjoining property that belonged to the Mochomovitz Brothers. It was acquired for £25 000 (R50 000). This was the highest price ever paid for any property in the Strand at that time. The highest price paid for a property before that was when Benson Bosman bought the White House Hotel for £10 000 (R20 000).
Recounting his experiences, Abe Friedman recalls: “I still remember so vividly when Victor du Plessis, who was our father’s attorney for many years, came into the store and said he wanted to talk to us privately. We went into the office and he reminded us of his long-standing relationship with the family. He knew how hard my father had worked for his money, he said, and he was terribly upset to see that he had hardly passed away and we were already wasting his money and that we must please cancel the sale.
“We assured ‘Oom Duppie’ as we used to call him, that we appreciated his concern very much indeed, but that we were confident our move was correct. The property joined ours and would be very useful if one day we wanted to extend. He was not the only one who felt we had made a bad purchase. Most of the property owners thought we were mad and were waiting for us to go insolvent,” said Mr Friedman
In 1948 the partners converted the grocery department into a self-service supermarket, which included a butchery, vegetable and fresh fruit division.
This was a very bold step, as self-service supermarkets were absolutely unknown in the country, and although Stuttafords and OK Bazaar operated supermarkets successfully in the cities, the country folk are much more conservative. “As we were the very first self-service supermarket in the country, we did not know whether it would be successful,” Mr Friedman said. “However, we met with a lot of resistance from our customers, but overcame it by appointing two of our most friendly and capable assistants as hostesses, who helped the customers to choose their requirements from the shelves.
“In 1958 we decided that the store had grown too small again and demolished the whole place, as well as the building bought from the Mochomovitz Bros.. In its place, we erected a three storey building which included a lift, the very first in the Strand. As a result of this we were able to enlarge our existing departments and to start many new departments. This rebuilding program again proved to be a wise one. The customers doubled and the business really prospered.”
A few years on however, disaster struck. On the morning of 25 October 1973 at 00h30, Friedman & Cohen had a disastrous fire that gutted the whole building. Remembering the tragedy, Mr Friedman said: “It is impossible to describe the trauma of seeing 70 years of sweat, hard work, planning, failures and successes destroyed in few hours. This was even more so, as the fire could have been extinguished if the Strand had had a reasonable fire brigade instead of a little Land Rover. The Somerset West Municipality and AECI very kindly agreed to assist, but by the time they arrived it was too late.”
Fortunately, the furniture department, which is a separate building, was not destroyed and in the morning staff gathered there. “We advised our staff to go home and not to worry as their jobs were safe. We would meet again the following day. The next morning it was the same procedure and the day thereafter.”
On the Wednesday, the senior partners convened for a serious discussion. In attendance were Sam, Abe and Benjamin Friedman, and Avron Cohen. Distraught, Sam and Abe told the younger associates they did not have the energy to restart the business - they should sell the enterprise. Recalls Mr Friedman: “Avron said we will do all the work, just help us with the financial arrangements and Benjamin said: how can you just allow a tradition and business of 70 years to disappear?”
After a long discussion it was decided the shopfitters would be called in to return life to the ruin. “The staff were absolutely superb, and although we only took the decision on Wednesday afternoon to restart the business, we were ready for trading by Monday morning. Our suppliers, our customers, and everybody concerned were most co-operative and helpful. But now our troubles really started. We had been hopelessly under-insured. Instead of insuring our property at replacement value, we only increased the insurance each year to cover the inflation rate. Also, the fire took place at the end of October when our stock was at its very highest because all our summer and Christmas goods had arrived. We were paid out according to our balance sheet in June, and the stock was at its lowest.
“Although the country was booming in 1973, we suddenly fell into a recession in 1974, and money was in extremely short supply. We approached our bank for a bond, but they refused on the grounds that statistics showed only a tiny 14 % of businesses destroyed by fire ever recover successfully.”
Nonetheless, the business prevailed.
An invaluable contribution was made by Leon Cohen who joined the business in 1976, after obtaining his BCom (CA) from the University of Cape Town. He took charge of the administration and was responsible for computerizing the financial systems. He left the business in 1989 to emigrate to Australia.
“We approached a new bank that was very excited about getting our account,” said Mr Friedman. “We needed R 1-millionfor the re-building of the shop and we wanted a bond of R700 000. We needed R350 000 overdraft to restock and R500 000 for fixtures, fitting, fridges, cash registers, office machinery and typewriters. We managed to get leasing for the fixtures and fittings and the bank provided us with the bond and the overdraft facilities. However, the bank tied up all our assets including our private homes as collateral, with the result that if things did not work out, we would all have gone out absolutely penniless.”
There is an old Chinese adage that says: "Fate admires courage and is apt to bestow the good things on those who take the bad well". This certainly seems to be true where it applied to Friedman & Cohen, for all of a sudden everything seemed to fall into place. Within three months most of the customers had returned, and the store had more customers on its books than prior to the fire. Also the government had decided to introduce TV to the country, which would contribute dramatically to the sale of appliances.
Barry Friedman who joined the firm in February 1975, embarked with Avron Cohen on a course about television with international technology giant Philips. An extremely successful year in the Friedman & Cohen TV department ensued - so much so that its turnover and profits doubled, and the company was able to make large repayments. Also with the new air-conditioned store and the excellent layout, the planning of which took many hours of hard work, the business went from strength to strength.”We could breathe freely once more,” Mr Friedman said
The business has remained in the family for three generations. As in the past, the ongoing success of the enterprise is attributed to maintaining excellent quality of customer service, supreme good value and an extensive variety of quality merchandise.
The Friedman & Cohen tea room has become an institution for many of our customers. The cosy eatery is situated on the first floor in a corner of our store and provides a magnificent view of Beach Road and the sprawling ocean beyond. The tea room is renowned for the friendly service, tasty meals and exceptional value for money, which has turned many passing visitors into loyal patrons. It is open during the Friedman & Cohen’s regular hours of business and serves a selection of light meals and refreshments. Centrally located, it is the ideal meeting place for friends and business colleagues, as well as spouses looking for peaceful refuge while their partner does the shopping. The tea room can be accessed by elevator.