Interview with Ruth Levin
Exterior of Columbia Furniture, 3102 Columbia Pike. Circa 1962.
Arlingtonian Ruth Levin describes her memories of her family’s businesses that helped make up the vibrant landscape of the Columbia Pike. These included jewelry stores, a gift shop, and later, the Columbia Hardware & Appliance Company – which later changed names around 1956 to Columbia Furniture.
Oral histories are used to understand historical events, actors, and movements from the point of view of real people’s personal experiences.
The furniture store was also a community gathering place: Levin’s father, Sol Cohen, would keep the store open late to show the Friday night fights on TV for those who wanted to come and watch.
In this interview, Levin also discusses attending synagogue and Hebrew School in Arlington, participating in Girl Scouts, and watching the Pentagon (or, as it was known then, the Federal Building) being constructed.
Columbia Hardware & Appliance Company, 3102 Columbia Pike. Circa 1950s.
Narrator: Ruth Levin
Interviewer: Sara Collins
Date: April 16, 2007
Note: The audio for this interview is not currently available.
Ruth Levin: In Arlington Village, there was Cohen Brothers Jewelers. Then eventually up where my father had the furniture store, Uncle Ben had Richard’s Jewelers. He named it for his son. So he had the jewelry store there. You know, that building was two stores. And he had the jewelry store in the little store, and my father had the hardware store – then converted to a furniture store.
Sara Collins: And that’s in the Charles Building?
RL: No, No. It’s Columbia Pike and Highland Street. It’s a picture frame place now.
SC: Oh, yes, of course. With the Kirby front.
RL: Yes. My father had that - Behm and Beger built that store for my father after the war. During the war because my father didn’t go into the service, he had to do something, so my uncle had Cohen Brothers Jewelry Store down in Arlington Village and my father opened up a gift shop there. That was a good place because all the servicemen from the Navy Annex and the Pentagon used to come up Columbia Pike and they would come in there and shop. And then after the war, my father had that building built and had a hardware store, it was Columbia Hardware.
SC: Where was that, that building that’s there now on Highland Street?
RL: Right. He just started kind of somehow getting into furniture, and so then he got out of the hardware and it was completely furniture. So instead of Columbia Hardware, it became Columbia Furniture. He had the furniture store there until he retired and sold the store to Max and Max had it until he died. Then he rented the building to the picture frame guy. They’re still there. And then eventually my father sold the building to him because he didn’t want to be bothered with it anymore.
Sher family in front of M. Sher & Sons General Merchandise, Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive, circa 1922. Charlie Sher can be seen in front of the family’s Model T Ford Utility Truck.
Want to learn more? The Ruth Levin Photograph Collection is digitized and available in PG 212. The Center for Local History also has a digitized oral history interview with Levin’s uncle, Charlie Sher, who helped run M. Sher & Sons General Merchandise.
The goal of the Arlington Voices project is to showcase the Center for Local History’s oral history collection in a publicly accessible and shareable way.
The Arlington Public Library began collecting oral histories of long-time residents in the 1970s, and since then the scope of the collection has expanded to capture the diverse voices of Arlington’s community. In 2016, staff members and volunteers recorded many additional hours of interviews, building the collection to 575 catalogued oral histories.
To browse our list of narrators indexed by interview subject, check out our community archive. To read a full transcript of an interview, visit the Center for Local History located at Central Library.