It was a Thursday in 1972. I remember it clearly.
I was working at a small distributor in Brooklyn when a young couple walked in. They looked like a million bucks.
It was Rachelle and Joe Friedman, the co-owners of J&R. They had stopped by on the way to a party to order some merchandise. We became friends while I was taking their order.
In the course of the conversation Joe asked if I knew anyone he could hire. I blurted out, “Please, me!” I started the following Monday and stayed with these friends for the next 41 years.
A few months into the job, when J&R was barely seven months old, there was still very little retail business. Keep in mind that this was prior to the Crazy Eddie phenomenon and years before the Internet. Sometimes hours would go by without a customer.
I wasn’t making enough to live on but I couldn’t ask for a raise because there was no business. Rachelle and Joe are my friends, I thought. I didn’t want them to fail, but I couldn’t afford to stay on.
So I asked around and received an offer in another industry that paid almost twice my salary.
One day Joe and Rachelle were in the store with me. There were no customers, and I figured this would be a good time to give notice.
“J” and “R” argued with me for the next four hours. They insisted that I stay and that they would somehow meet the other offer.
At first I refused, knowing full well that they couldn’t afford it. But they wore me down and I finally agreed to stay on. Best decision I ever made; I spent two-thirds of my life at one job where the owners became more than friends. They were my family.
Another occasion stands out, five years later in the summer of 1977, when the power went out in New York City.
That evening I got an urgent call at home. Through the noise and cross-conversations I could make out “Help Jack, they broke our windows!” It was Joe, who was still in the store.
Looting was rampant that night and J&R wasn’t spared. I jumped in my car and somehow made the 10-mile trip to the store, which was still at the tiny 33 Park Row location.
Fortunately the mesh gate had made it down most of the way and the merchandise was intact, but there was glass everywhere. Joe and I unloaded the windows while a neighbor stood guard with a metal bat. We worked all night and into the morning to secure the premises.
They are great people, Joe and Rachelle, and remain my best friends. I’d do it all over again if I could.
Jack Wahrman was senior merchandising manager at J&R Music & Computer World and the retailer’s very first hire. He left in April 2013 after 41 years. He is now president/founder of Inferno Market, a Brooklyn-based direct-seller of A/V, computers and home products located online at InfernoMarket.com.