The brothers Joseph and David Zeman immigrated to the United States from Lithuania in 1883. They peddled their way across Pennsylvania before opening the New York Store at 227 East Main St. in Evans City, Pa., about 1890. “I rather suspect that maybe the banker in the town took a liking to them or the people in the town liked them,” Joseph Zeman’s grandson Allen Zeman speculated in a 2007 oral history interview.
During the early 1930s, while Joseph Zeman (d.1945) ran the store, his son Bernard worked as a road salesman for a Fifth Avenue wholesaler. Having heard about a Jewish merchant in Nanty Glo, Pa., with an eligible daughter named Dora Donofsky, Bernard Zeman made a sales call to the town. In 1935, Bernard and Dora Donofsky Zeman took over the store in Evans City and changed the name to Zeman’s.
Like many small town retailers in Western Pennsylvania, the Zemans purchased merchandise from wholesalers on Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh, including Robert E. Comins and Benjamin Dinovitz. The Zemans also purchased supplies from Jewish wholesalers in other sections of the city, including the Morris Paper Company and Shriber Wallpaper Company.
Bernard (d.1955) and Dora Donofsky Zeman (d.1971) and their son, Allen, continued to patronized the Fifth Avenue wholesaling district into the early 1950s. They would drive to Pittsburgh every Sunday morning to replenish their stock and to patronize Jewish bookstores, bakeries and butchers. “Fifth Avenue was probably my first exposure to what might be called a ‘Jewish community,'” Allen Zeman said.
The Zemans’ store served a communal function, too. It hosted meetings of the Evans City Chamber of Commerce and other civic events. “Our store was almost, you might say, a kind of community center,” Allen Zeman said. After Bernard Zeman died in 1955, the family decided to sell the business rather than continue it for a third generation.