All in a Day’s Work


Frances Moore use this oneFrances Moore celebrates 75 years as an employee of Bromberg’s & Co. 

Written by Lindsey Lowe Osborne

Photograph by Beau Gustafson

 

In 1939, when Frances Moore began work, a loaf of bread was 8 cents; a gallon of gas, 10 cents. Her own streetcar commute was 7 cents each way, and Moore took home an $8-a-week paycheck. She began work the year she turned 18, at the family-owned Bromberg’s & Co., which was located on 20th Street in downtown Birmingham at the time. In November of 2014, she celebrated her 75th anniversary as an employee at the company. The fine jewelry store, open since 1836, is the oldest business of any kind in the state of Alabama and the oldest family-owned retailer in the United States. 

Moore, age 93, says that when she graduated high school, her father, who had also worked at Bromberg’s, told her mother to take her in for an interview and see if they could find her a position. “I never will forget it. It was on Monday. We always washed on Monday, and I said, ‘Mama, I’ll help you wash Tuesday,’ so she said, ‘We’ll go to town early Monday morning,’” Moore says, closing her eyes as if she’s back there as we speak. As it turns out, Moore didn’t help her mama with the washing on Tuesday; instead, she caught the streetcar again and went in for her first day of work. That first day was a lesson in itself, she says; first, she had to remember how to get to the store, and once she did, she found the door locked. “When the store opened, I went in, and I don’t know who it was I talked to, but when I got in, he said, ‘Well, why are you late?’ I explained that I was waiting for the store to open. He said, ‘Well, all you had to do was knock on the door,’” Moore says with a laugh.

The lessons would keep coming: Moore’s father loaned her money for her transportation the first week, but reminded her that she’d need to save enough of her paycheck to cover that in the future. But $8 was a dream for a young girl in 1939, and she got carried away after her first paycheck. She had to ask her papa for another loan. “We always ate dinner together. Papa didn’t tell me about the money—whether he was going to lend it to me again—he waited and got in front of Mama, and we didn’t like Mama to know anything. Mama ruled the roost,” Moore remembers. “He said, ‘Well, are we going to talk about today at the dinner table? Frankie, what was that you said you need?’ I said, ‘I don’t need nothing, Papa!’ After dinner, he went out on the front porch with his pipe, and I went out and said, ‘Papa, you gonna lend me the money? Papa, you know I can’t tell Mama that I spent all my money.’ He said, ‘Listen, I’ll do it this time. But next time, you’re gonna walk to work.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’”

Bromberg's 1Moore is bursting with memories like that, from the very beginning, when she polished silver, to now, when she comes in to the Mountain Brook location a few days a week. During the years in between, she’s done it all, she says—she helped with anything that needed doing. Early on, she asked if she could begin gift-wrapping, and in the years that followed, when Bromberg’s expanded, Moore would be the one to set up the gift-wrapping stations in new stores. Around 1970, she transitioned to managing the company’s inventory, keeping track of the jewelry and watches, which she did for many years. She wrote each piece down in a ledger, assigned it a number, and affixed to it a tag with the piece’s details, written in very small print with an ultra fine point pen. She worked full-time with the company until 20 years ago when, at age 70, she stepped back to part-time work.

There are few things that look like they did when Moore began working at Bromberg’s. Even the store itself, which now has locations at The Summit and in Mountain Brook, is vastly different, with many of the tasks computerized these days. A loaf of bread costs 25 times what it did 75 years ago, and we won’t even mention the gas. But some things are the same: A few days a week, Moore, who still lives on her own, comes into work at Bromberg’s & Co. She often works with Sundra Plunkett, who says Moore taught her the job. And Plunkett perhaps captures what’s made Frances Moore so special to Bromberg’s for so long: “I don’t worry about it—I know when Frances Moore does it, it’s right,” she says.

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One Response to “All in a Day’s Work”

  1. Charles Bromberg says:

    Francis will always have a special place in my heart. She is the one that taught me to wrap Christmas presents while working the season’s as temporary help…To this day, I still chairish the lessons I learned and continue to wrap about 90% of our Christmas presents. Others ask how a guy like me can wrap so well and enjoy and take pride in the detail and finished job and I have always shared my story of working with my teacher, Ms. Francis!I pray for the comfort of your family and other loved ones.

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