Jewish Influence in Gainesville

The Gainesville area of Georgia is growing rapidly because of its long-term foresightedness.

This community had very few Jewish families, but they had a major impact on its development. This smallish community now has one of the best hospital systems in Georgia, ranking the best in Georgia for the last few years. At one time recently, it ranked in the top ten best cardiac hospitals in the USA. The reason these facts are mentioned is because one of the major contributors that made this situation happen was a prominent Jewish resident in Gainesville.

There is a very influential non-Jewish family in Gainesville named Smithgall. Smithgall made a fortune with radio stations and the Gainesville Times newspaper. He was very foresighted and liberal for his time. He appointed Sylvan Meyer as the Gainesville Times first editor. Meyer became a crusader for different causes including civil rights from about 1947 until he left the city and paper to edit The Miami News in Miami. His close ties to the city were apparent when he and his wife moved back after retirement.

Three Jewish-owned stores were located on the Gainesville town square. Saul’s fine clothing and shoe store for women and children, Jake Sacks clothing, and Gem Jewelry (it also carried crystal and fine China – perfect for wedding gifts). Saul’s and Gem went from one generation to the next. Gem Jewelry was run by the Eplan and Orenstein families since 1936 when Mose Eplan opened it. Marvin Orenstein operated it with his daughters Linda and Temme until he died and Linda and Temme continued to run it until 2018 when they finally went out of business. William and Gussie Schrage opened Saul’s about 1922 and then when Bill died in 2001 his son Lawrence (“Lorre’) Schrage took over until he also closed in 2018. Lorre was and remains a major philanthropist and cultural supporter for the community. These stores stressed very personal service and top-quality merchandise. The owners knew their customers from generation to generation and shopping in these stores was a very special experience.

These Jewish businesses – including their rise, impact on the local community, and decline – are very typical of the Jewish impact on consumer styles and culture in small towns throughout America.