By Philip R. Devlin
(March 21, 2023) — I had an encounter with Beatrice Fox Auerbach in her legendary G. Fox department store in Hartford when I was about 10 years old. While my mother was shopping for clothes, she allowed me to stay in the book department on the mezzanine at the store. I was very interested in the Landmark book series, which had begun to be published by Bennet Cerf at Random House in 1950. Cerf had taken his son, Christopher, to visit the Mayflower replica in Plymouth, Massachusetts while their family was on vacation at Cape Cod. The boy so enjoyed the visit, that his father decided to take him to a bookstore to find an age-appropriate book on the Mayflower. He could find none, so when he got back to New York City, he called together his editors and decided to rectify that problem by publishing the Landmark series of books, a series based on famous historical figures and events and written by such notable authors as Robert Penn Warren, Pearl Buck, C.S. Forester, Shirley Jackson, and many others. Though most of the books are out of print, used copies are still available and have become extremely popular with home-schoolers.
While I was browsing through the Landmark section, along came the diminutive Mrs. Auerbach, wearing white cotton gloves which she was swiping along the shelves of the bookcases, apparently to see if they were dusty. “Do you like to read, young man?” I told her that I did, and she smiled and continued swiping shelves. My mother had come along and had witnessed the encounter and asked me if I knew who that woman was. I said that I did not. She replied, “Well, that’s Mrs. Auerbach. She owns the store. Her grandfather first built it in 1847.” She then purchased two Landmarks for me at $1.55 each.
As I grew older, I learned that the G. Fox store had been purchased by the May Company in the mid-1960s for $40,000,000, just before Beatrice Fox Auerbach died in 1968. Additionally, I learned just what a remarkable woman Mrs. Auerbach had been. Her philanthropy seemed to know no bounds. When Hartford Hospital sustained serious fire damage in 1962, she was among the first to reach out with significant financial help. Having established the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation in 1941, Mrs. Auerbach proceeded to fund scholarships for college students, support the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, the Wadsworth Atheneum, and numerous other worthy organizations. What she said after selling her company proved to be true: “One thing you can be certain of is that I won’t be spending it on yachts and horses, but for the benefit of the people.”
Her generosity and kindness toward her employees was well known and admired, endearing her employees to her company. Returning a purchased item from Fox’s could not have been easier. All a buyer had to do was to call the store and one of the dark blue trucks in her fleet would pick up the item at no charge.
Though the store closed many years ago, the 230-acre Auer Farm in Bloomfield still endures and is open for visits. Mrs. Auerbach managed that farm for more than 40 years, a farm known in its time for innovation. Among the notable visitors to the farm included Eleanor Roosevelt. Since 1976, the Auer Farm has been managed by 4-H. The Auer Farm in Bloomfield serves as a pleasant reminder of the good that Beatrice Fox Auerbach did in this world. It is good that the 970 Main Street Hartford store still stands and is used as a mixed retail facility as well as the home of Capital Community College; however, there will never be another department store as wonderful as the G. Fox Hartford store. I must have shopped there 60-70 times in my life. It was the best store ever!
Bookshelf Photo by Philip R. Devlin