Monday, May 16, 2011

Helen Quirini and the Brother and Sister Cash Market

Many people in Schectady know of Helen Quirini for her work as a union organizer and community activist, but as a young woman, Quirini was also an entrepreneur.

Helen Quirini, late 1930s. Photograph from the Helen Quirini Collection.

In Quirini's memoir, Helen Quirini and General Electric: A Personal Memoir of World War II, she talks about her earliest work and entrepreneurship experiences following her graduation from Mont Pleasant High School in 1937:

"My brother had worked in a grocery store in the vegetable department and had than moved up to renting a concession in a meat market. I worked part time for him and then the store owner who ran the meat and grocery sections needed a 'delivery man' who also worked in the store. I applied for the job and with some apprehension, he hired me. Some of his customers did not like the idea because I wore slacks and besides this was not the traditional 'womens' job. The job was tiring because it seemed that all the customers lived on the second or third floors of the houses. After a while, they accepted me and even asked me to have a cup of coffee which I refused because I had other deliveries to make.

My brother and I then decided to become entrepreneurs and opened the "Brother and Sister Cash Market". We sold bakery, vegetables, and groceries. My brother's job was to get up at the crack of dawn and go to the farmer's market to buy vegetables and my job was to pick up delicious bakery from Scotia and bring it to the store for sale.

Brother and Sister Cash Market, 1279 Rugby Road, Schenectady, circa 1940.
Photograph from the Helen Quirini Collection.

I remembered with a smile about our first day of operation. The bakery was hesitant to sell to us because we were so young. So to prove to them that we were reliable we decided to get orders for over 25 pies. We ended up with four times that amount. The bakery had to hire extra people to bake these pies and we worked overtime to deliver them. We didn't make any money on this deal, but we did prove that we were 'reliable'. We worked 7 days a week about 10 hours a day. I made $12 a week and gave home $10 for room and board. It was hard work, but we liked the idea that we were our own bosses. We were forced to close our store because of the difficulty of getting supplies because of shortages and the war clouds over Europe."

The Quirini Collection includes awards, biographical information, material related to the Schenectady County Department of Senior and Long Term Care Services Advisory Council, a copy of the memoir quoted here, and numerous family photographs. A finding aid for the Quirini Collection can be found here.

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