Over the years many shops and stores have come and gone across the Hamilton Jewish landscape. Among the legends of this town is the story of Sam, Lily and the rest of the Buchalter family whose Dream Home Furniture Store outfitted so many of the homes in the area.
Samuel Buchalter was born in Austria in 1900 to Simon and Sheindel. In 1908, Simon emigrated in order to start a new life in Canada. Eventually settling in Hamilton, he worked to earn enough money to send for the rest of his family. Finally in 1912, Sam arrived in Hamilton, along with his mother, sisters Ella (later married to Sam Chaunce) and Esther (later married to Alex Silbert) and brother Morris, who eventually moved to Israel.
Sam started his career as a scrap collector. He would scavenge around town picking up whatever rags or odds and ends he could find and then sell them to the myriad of established scrap dealers. With his enthusiasm and ambition, Sam quickly scraped together enough money to purchase a horse and wagon.
By the early 1920Õs, Sam was becoming quite serious about Lily Aron, whom he had known growing up in Hamilton. Realizing that his scrap dealings were not enough to sustain a couple, he turned his attention to selling produce. Having dealt with several local farmers, he began frequenting the Hamilton farmer's market at 4 am each day. He would load his wagon full with fresh fruits and vegetables, and quickly developed a regular and loyal clientele. He and Lily married in 1923.
The fruit business provided Sam and Lily with a good living, and they soon bought a modest duplex at 25 Victoria Avenue. They were blessed with two sons, Saul and Frank, who often helped Sam out during their summer vacations from school.
The horse and wagon was eventually replaced with a black and orange Dodge truck.
Outfitted with a kerosene heated enclosure, Sam's "Handy Market Truck" had a strong competitive advantage over the other peddlers in the area. He was the only one that could work all year round without his produce freezing.
Although lucrative, over the next decade, the produce business was beginning to take its toll on Sam's health and he developed an ulcer. Always on the lookout for good opportunities, it became apparent that he would eventually have to find something else.
One day in 1942, Sam came home with a beat up old porch swing - commonly known as a "Veranda Glider" - strapped to the roof of his truck. Because of the war effort, production of such luxury items had been severely curtailed. Sam fixed it up like new, and sold it in a matter of days. He began to buy and restore more swings from wherever he could find them. He soon began picking up, repairing and selling other types of furniture as well. Before long, the main floor of the Victoria Avenue home was filled with refurbished furniture and Sam & Lily's Cozy Home Furniture Store was born.
As the new business became established, Cozy Home Furniture soon engulfed not only the main floor of the duplex but was starting to encroach on the upstairs where the Buchalters lived as well. The store continued to expand and Sam, with his ulcer progressively getting worse, needed help.
Frank who had trained as an electrician during the war and was a popular amateur comedian in local clubs and on CHML radio, came to work full time in the store in 1946. Saul who already had a successful career as a sign painter for the Allan Candy Company then joined the family business in 1949.
1950 was a very eventful year for the Buchalters and their furniture business. As they continued to outgrow the Victoria street duplex, they bought a larger building at 538 Main Street. With the new store came a new name: Dream Home Furniture. For a while they tried to maintain both locations, but eventually closed down Cozy Home. Frank married Lily Lenick, while Saul had married Sophie Vertlieb a year earlier, and Sam finally had surgery to repair his now bleeding ulcer.
Saul and Frank ran the store while Sam recuperated in the apartment upstairs from their new showroom. Soon, Sam was back to work, and the new Dream Home Furniture store continued to flourish.
Throughout the 1950's, Dream Home thrived and soon became a Hamilton landmark. Like the Victoria store before, their extensive inventory began to make its way to the living quarters upstairs and soon Sam and Lily were forced to find somewhere else to live. Even then, they quickly outgrew the Main Street premises and extensions were added to both the front and rear of the building. They eventually bought an adjacent building behind the store and used it for storage.
By the 1960s, with sales going strong, Sam was ready to retire. By now, Saul and Frank were both well-versed in the business and took over the helm. For the first time, they included new furniture in their inventory.
The families continued to grow as Saul and Sophie eventually had two sons. Sheldon went on to become a Chartered Accountant, while Stanley inherited the family's sales acumen working for Sears and then United Steel (Usarco). Frank and Lily had a daughter, Frimmy who after graduating from McMaster University, went on to work for Canadian Pacific.
Of the three, only Stan was interested in joining the company. In 1982, he began helping out part time in order to learn the business, and within two years was working there full time. Saul and Frank, who were getting on in years, began to consider retirement. Saul eventually bought out FrankÕs share of the store. Stan then took a leadership role as Saul wound down his own involvement. In 1985, Dream Home stopped selling used furnishings and concentrated their efforts only on new.
Following years of failing health, Sam Buchalter passed away on December 18, 1985. After struggling with his own health issues, Frank followed him in 1989. Lily, Sam's wife of over sixty years, passed in 1999 and Saul died in 2002.
In 1990, several factors played against Stan and the store. During the world-wide recession, a lot of people just stopped buying new furniture. A major construction project on Main Street that year made access to the store almost impossible for over eight months. Things became very grim, so Stan decided to bow out gracefully before his creditors forced him into bankruptcy. After 48 years in business, Dream Home Furniture closed its doors in November 1990.
In 1992, Stan decided to try to make another go at it, and reopened the store as Dream Home Sofa Shop, specializing in Canadian-made upholstery. While he ran a tight operation, he could never compete with the new big-box stores and their cheaper, imported wares from overseas. He eventually closed down for good in 1996.
Dream Home Furniture was one of many institutions that marked the landscape of the city throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Just about everyone had at one time or another bought something from the Buchalters. The story of Sam, Lily, Saul, Frank and Stan will forever be a page of history of the Hamilton Jewish community.
The author wishes to thank Stan Buchalter, Lily Buchalter and Frimmy Burnstein without whose input, this article would not have been possible.