For most of the 20th century, if a woman in Syracuse had disposable income and wanted to buy an outfit, she went to Edson’s. The women’s clothing store, which opened on South Salina Street in 1925, catered toward women with a penchant for designer, high-end apparel. Winifred “Winnie” Greenberg, now 82, spent her childhood and young adulthood in Edson’s as part of the family business.
For nearly 50 years, Greenberg’s mother owned Edson’s. Greenberg worked in the store as a salesperson. At the time, Greenberg acted more like a personal shopper than a cashier. She would pick out pieces of clothing, offer her opinion and help dress clients.
“We really waited on them — and I loved it,” said Greenberg. “The customers depended on us for what they wear.”
Greenberg has worked in department stores and boutiques in Syracuse for the entirety of her adult life. She’s been on the ground floor witnessing changes in retail as the industry has grappled with online shopping and changing norms around women’s fashion. She’s also witnessed changes in Syracuse itself — especially downtown Syracuse — as the city has gone from a once vibrant manufacturing hub to a city with struggles.
“It was an entirely different world back then,” Greenberg said.
Today, Greenberg is still an active member of Syracuse’s social scene, especially downtown. She is heavily involved in supporting the Syracuse Stage, the Everson Museum of Art, Symphony Syracuse and Syracuse University. Most recently, Greenberg and her son have endowed a scholarship for a football player attending the Martin J. Whitman School of Management.
“Everybody knows Winnie because she’s been involved and she’s lived in Syracuse her entire life,” said Andy Greenberg, her son. “She has been involved in essentially every community activity that has any prominence. She kind of runs the gamut of the contemporary history of Syracuse, New York.”
In 1949, Edson’s moved into the first floor of Hotel Syracuse, which at the time was the “crown jewel” of the city, Greenberg said. Whenever someone of importance — a politician or a celebrity — visited, they would go to Hotel Syracuse, she said. While working at Edson’s, Greenberg saw Robert Kennedy, Debbie Reynolds and MGM star Ann Miller.
Then manufacturing giants, such as Carrier, left Syracuse. Jobs and a large population of the city followed. A giant interstate divided the city. And now, Syracuse has one of the highest rates of concentrated poverty in the country.
Despite what many see as the decline of urban Syracuse, Greenberg hasn’t left. She’s made her name known throughout the city with her involvement in the community, adapting to a different city than she once knew.
“I’ve seen the whole thing. I’ve seen Syracuse change. I love Syracuse. I know we have a reputation for having a bad climate but it’s a great place to live,” Greenberg said.
After working at Edson’s in the ‘80s, Greenberg moved to a department store named Sibley’s. When Sibley’s closed, she worked at another department store named Dave’s. That closed, too, and she eventually landed at a boutique named Coughlin Clothes in Fayetteville. She’s stayed there until a few years ago.
In that time, how people shopped and what people wore changed. Now, online shopping dominates the industry and the department stores that once dominated Syracuse have shuttered. But Greenberg stayed and adapted.
Coughlin’s was a place where women, in addition to shopping, came to socialize and gossip, said Marilyn Ringwood, the current owner of the boutique, which recently changed its name to Elisabeth Rose. Greenberg, she said, was a part of developing that environment.
“As soon as she comes in, she would be calling all her friends, ‘Oh, I’ve got this for you, I got this for you,’” Ringwood said. “She’s just a whirlwind.”
Greenberg is welcoming modernity. She wears red lipstick, round tortoiseshell glasses, a bright turtleneck and an on-trend bomber jacket. Her wardrobe consists of big broaches and bright colors, but it’s always tasteful, said Ringwood.
Frankie Prijatel | Senior Staff Photographer
“She’s like the Iris Apfel of Syracuse,” Ringwood said.
Greenberg has two children and a poodle named Savannah, who she calls her “gran-dog” because she doesn’t have any grandchildren. In 1968, she took her son Andy, to his first Syracuse football game. Greenberg, she said, loves SU just as much as she loves the city itself.
Andy said that game changed his life.
From that point, he became an SU football super fan. It’s something he’s shared with his entire family and it’s why when his dad, Greenberg’s husband, died four years ago, they decided to set up a scholarship for a football player in Whitman.
“We wanted to do something that would honor my father and that would establish a continuing living legacy,” Andy said.
The scholarship is just one of the ways Greenberg is making the city she’s lived in her entire life a little better. She hopes to see more young people move into the downtown area with the hopes that they can also make the city and the university a little better too.
Banner photo by Frankie Prijatel | Senior Staff Photographer
Graphic by Andy Mendes | Design Editor
Published on April 27, 2017 at 12:49 am
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