In 1871, a small, ingenious, far-sighted man named Max Frauenthal came to Conway with the railroad crew, purchasing a lot in the southeast block at Front and Oak. Although the city’s founder, A.P. Robinson, had intended for most business activity to occur along Main Street between Railroad Avenue (Parkway) and Court Street, Frauenthal built his mercantile store in the alley where the farmers left their horses and wagons. That alley became Front Street.
The store’s first wooden structure burned and was replaced with a brick two-story in 1879. When Jo Frauenthal, his cousin, joined him in the business, the store’s name changed to M and J Frauenthal. Later, Max brought another cousin, Leo Schwarz, from Germany to help in the growing business. Jo’s parents, Jacob and Yetta Frauental, also moved from Russellville where Jacob had been a successful businessman for about 30 years. They and their children, Maurice, Henry, Ike and Charles all worked in the store.
Max sold his interest in M and J Frauenthal Co. when he moved to Heber Springs in the early 1880s. The store’s name was then changed to Frauenthal and Schwarz. Jo and his brother, Charles, became the general managers. In the 1890s, a two-story building to the south was acquired so that the storefront grew to 125 feet long. The store was considered to be Conway’s leading mercantile.
In 1925, Frauenthal and Schwarz underwent a major renovation. The renovated two-story building had plate glass windows and two double-leaf doorways on the ground floor with four groups of six windows on the second floor. In 1992, this building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and today houses American Management.
The second floor of Frauenthal and Schwarz also served as a social hall for Conway. Balls, dances, skating and other elaborate events took place there. These elaborate events sometimes included a Little Rock orchestra and rented costumes from Memphis.
Jo Frauenthal was very active in civic affairs. He headed the Chamber of Commerce for 25 years, was President of the Conway Commercial Club organized in 1916, and was on the Conway Corporation board of directors from 1932-1935. His wife, the niece of A.P. Robinson and heir to Robinson’s estate, was Ida Baridon Frauenthal. She was active in women’s organizations and helped select the state flag.
Jo gradually handed the executive duties of the business over to his brother Charles. Although Charles had moved to Little Rock in 1911, he drove to Conway almost every business day to oversee the business. Leo Schwarz died in 1928. Charles also passed away unexpectedly the next year. Mayer Gates, Frauenthal’s son-in-law, would manage Frauenthal and Schwarz for the next 20 years. In the 1920s, he had married Gladys Frauenthal, Charles’ daughter.
Dave Grundfest, founder of Sterling Stores, married Maurine, another of Charles’ daughters. Sterling Stores was located in a 2,500-square-foot store next to Frauenthal and Schwarz in the mid-1920s and moved into the Frauenthal and Schwarz building when it closed in 1952.
Cindy Burnett Beckman is a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history. She may be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.