March 7, 2013

After 100 years in the business, Portland's Hub Furniture still giving strong

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — In 1913, two peddlers, Jewish immigrants from the same village in Russia, founded a furniture store on Congress Street, near Franklin Street.

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Andrew, Rose and Sam Novick, from left, at Hub Furniture in Portland, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Sam Novick shows a door to Hub Furniture from the 1920s when it was located on Congress Street.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

They gave it a name that put it at the center of their world: Hub Furniture. Among their sale items was a six-piece dining room set priced at $46.50.

Today, that dining room set may be an antique somewhere, but the store is still in business, a survivor of the Great Depression, two world wars and urban renewal programs that leveled two of its stores.

Owner Sam Novick, a grandson of one of the founders, says he cherishes the store's history and considers the business a family heirloom.

"Business and family have become synonymous terms," he says, sitting on a sofa chair -- one of hundreds scattered throughout his five-story warehouse, a former chewing gum factory on Fore Street.

Hub Furniture will celebrate its 100th anniversary June 6 by throwing a "benefit bash" at the Holiday Inn by the Bay. Novick and his wife, Bette Novick, along with other sponsors, are underwriting the cost of the party, which will feature music by the Fogcutters, an 18-piece big band from Portland.

The proceeds from the $50-per-ticket event will be donated to the Preble Street Resource Center, the United Way of Greater Portland and the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine.

Such a party is a fitting celebration for the Novick family, which has quietly built a reputation for being donors of money, time, energy -- and furniture -- to nonprofit groups in Greater Portland and individuals who are in need.

When an immigrant family or a young mother needs help furnishing an apartment, people call the Novicks.

They donated 25 rocking chairs, for example, for each of the 25 apartments at Florence House, which provides housing for homeless women, and they helped to furnish the new Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter on Preble Street.

"For better or worse for them, there is very little they will say 'no' to," says Emily Chaleff, executive director of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine. "It's part and parcel of who they are. Service is part of the family ethic and the business ethic, and for them there is really no kind of separation between the business, the family and the community."

National retail chains don't contribute to the community in the way that a locally owned business like Hub Furniture can, says Suzanne McCormick, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Portland.

"They are the epitome of why we want local businesses to thrive," she says.

Hub's roots go back to Sam Novick's grandfather, also named Sam Novick. He peddled tea in Portland neighborhoods from his horse-drawn wagon. He became friends with Max Simonds. They had grown up in the same village in a part of the Russian Empire that today is the Republic of Belarus.

Their first store, at 318 Congress St., is gone, as is the rest of the neighborhood, which was leveled in the late 1960s to make way for Franklin Arterial.

In 1923, Hub moved to 440 Congress St. In the late 1960s, that store was razed to make way for an urban renewal project.

The parcel was sold to Casco Bank. Today, Key Bank at One Monument Square is there.

From there, Hub moved to its current location at 291 Fore St.

The first three floors of the building were built in 1866 for Curtis & Son, a company that made chewing gum from spruce tree resin. The building was the world's first major chewing gum factory.

Two floors were added to the brick building. By the 1920s, the factory was closed after the public lost interest in the bitter taste of spruce gum.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Rose Novick, left, who was married to Jack Novick, the father of present-day owner Sam Novick, and Muriel Novick, right, who was married to Jack Novick’s brother David Novick, work as salesclerks at Hub Furniture in 1953.

Courtesy photo

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Hub Furniture at 440 Congress St., circa 1920s.

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Th gum factory at 291 Fore St., which later became the Portland Hub Furniture store.

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The gum factory after addition of third and fourth floors in 1906.

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Hub Furniture about 2002, current building at 291 Fore St.

 


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