“My parents were first generation children of immigrants from Europe. Their parents came to the United States with nothing but ambition and dreams. They had no money, no formal education. One of the main opportunities available to them was being a merchant or having some kind of service business.
My grandfather came to Mobile in 1906. He was a Jewish peddler on the road. He started in Canada and New York. He worked his way down the East Coast to Savannah, Georgia for a little while. My grandmother was an immigrant from Poland, and they met in Mobile. They opened I. Prince and Son, an Army Navy Supply store at the entrance to the Bankhead Tunnel, next to the corner of Government Street and Royal.
My dad’s parents immigrated from Russia and moved to Birmingham. None of my grandparents were from the United States. I loved to listen to them talk because they all had accents.
Davis Avenue needed goods and services and immigrants from Greece, the Middle East and Syria opened businesses there. My uncle had a store on the corner of Davis Avenue and Armstead Street, then he opened a pawn shop called the Star Loan Company on the corner of Royal and Conti streets. My father got control of the property on Davis Avenue and opened Buster’s Department Store. Dad’s name was Marvin, but everyone knew him as Buster. In 1948, dad converted Buster’s Department Store to Buster’s Eagle Pawn Shop.
I grew up working in the store. We had a steady stream of customers. They brought in musical instruments, guns, appliances, suits, shoes, typewriters and radios to pawn. These were working-class people and laborers. Sometimes that paycheck wouldn’t carry you to the end of the month and you needed food on the table or rent until the next paycheck. The pawn shop filled a gap in financing and credit.
The mural on the side of the building was painted by Henry Nunn. In the 1950s, he was the strongest man in the Army. When he got out of the army, he started a sign painting business. He signed everything he painted “Dunn by Nunn.”
Next to our store was The Midget, a stand where they sold hamburgers, hotdogs and french fries. Across the street were Shelly’s Dress Shop, Jake’s Better Clothes and the Big Apple Inn. It was a two-story building that was a bar, dance hall, and social club. They listened to jazz and swing and local bands came in. It was the place to socialize in the ’30s thru the ’50s. Finley’s Drug store was down the street.
My dad was an early community organizer. He liked kids and started the Junior Pep Club. He got the kids to do cleanup projects and other self-help projects around the neighborhood.
Dad died in 1952. He was only 37 years old. Mama continued running the store until 1969, when it was in the path of urban renewal. She accepted the buyout to leave The Avenue. I think they got $40 or $50,000 for the building. In August of 1968, she relocated the store to 224 Dauphin. It went out of business in 1979 and she eventually sold the building to a law firm.
The Eagle Pawn Shop building on Davis Avenue was demolished about 50 years ago, a few years after they moved out. Davis Avenue was an alive place where something was always going on. It was hard to see it die.”
Don Nimitz interview was for the series “Buried in Oaklawn.” The last story “History Bulldozed Over on ‘The Avenue’ is running now in Lagniappe.
Here is the link to the story. https://lagniappemobile.com/history-bulldozed-over-on…/