|The Rialto Building, Circa 1955|
Helen's, 41 Millbury Street, is to the Far Right, Next to Wentworth's Bakery
(Digital Images. Photographs Privately Held By Cynthia Shenette; Photographs and Text, Copyright (c) 2012 Cynthia Shenette) My grandmother's sister, Helen E. Bulak (1894-1985), was a well regarded member of Worcester's business community for 55 years. She and her friend, Katherine (Pomianowska) Gralicki, each invested $100 (about $1,526 at today's currency rate) and opened Bulak and Pomianowska, a millinery shop on Millbury St. in Worcester in November of 1918.
|Helen and Friends in Hats|
Sitting, Left to Right:
Sophie (Kowalewski) Konopka,
Helen Bulak, Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko.
Standing: Unidentified Friend
In the early 1920s business boomed and four girls were hired to help in the shop, but by 1927 manufactured hats were the rage. Handmade hats had lost their popularity, and Katherine Pomianowska, now Katherine Gralicki, retired to stay home with her family. Helen changed the shop's name to the Rialto Dry Goods Company, and she began to focus on selling infants' clothing rather than hats. By the 1940s Helen made the decision to include women's and girls' apparel, and the name of the shop was permanently changed to Helen's.
For decades Helen worked from 8:30 in the morning until 9 at night Monday through Thursday, from 8:30 to 10 p.m. on Fridays, and from 8:30 until 11 in the evening on Saturdays. At various points in time my grandmother, Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko, helped out at the store, as did my mother, Christine (Szerejko) Shenette, as did my grandmother and aunt's adopted sister, Rose (Choronzak) Miller, and Rose's sister, Sophie (Choronzak) Shenkowski. Helen closed the store for a vacation for the first time ever during the summer of 1968!
When Helen started business in the primarily ethnic Millbury St. area, Millbury St. was like Main St. for Worcester's eastern European immigrant community. She catered to the ethnic population of the Vernon Hill neighborhood. Helen spoke Polish, of course, but also understood and could communicate in enough of the other languages spoken in the neighborhood--Yiddish, Lithuanian, Russian--to be popular with her wide customer base.
Helen's was located in the Rialto Building, which still exists on Millbury St. The Rialto Building housed a movie theater, the Rialto Theater, in the center and businesses on either side. I remember going to the store when I was very little. There was a pool hall that was located in the building upstairs, and I could occasionally hear the crack of pool balls when I was in the back room of my aunt's shop! Whenever I visited "Auntie's store" with my mom and my grandmother Aunt Helen let me take sales from customers and operate handle-crank cash register! I also loved playing behind the counter and sliding the doors underneath the cases where merchandise was stored!
Helen retired after 55 years in business on October 30, 1973 at the age of 79. A brief newspaper notice upon her retirement quotes Helen as saying, "I loved my work, and I loved my customers, and I'm going to miss it all." She also knew that Worcester was changing. In another quote she reflected, "But times have changed, and the street has changed, and I know it's time for me to go."
Submitted for the 120th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.
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