It was a place like no other in Houston; owned by a man like no other.
Fondly referred to as “the Sakowitz of Dowling Street,” the legendary Wolf’s Pawn Shop & Department Store has been a staple in Houston’s Third Ward community and has been Houston’s oldest pawn shop since 1955.
Started by a burgeoning young businessman named Bernard Wolf, the origins of Wolf’s Pawn Shop & Department Store came as a result of Wolf realizing that the community needed a pawn shop in the area where people from all backgrounds and social statuses could come bring any of their items in to get quick cash for things they needed and to manage their personal affairs.
Because many Black people during that time were unable to secure a bank account, Wolf became the man to be trusted with being amenable to their needs, while also being extremely discreet about the customers who came to his pawn shop for their needs.
Whether it was cashing checks or pawning diamonds, fur coats, Rolex watches family heirlooms and other expensive items, Wolf’s Pawn Shop became the go-to place in the Third Ward area to get hooked up with fast cash, whether you were a local socialite, a minister, a politician, a celebrity, an entertainer or just a regular Joe Blow.
Being a White businessman who chose to set up shop in a Black neighborhood, Wolf became a trusted individual for many, especially during a serious time of racial unrest in the City of Houston and discrimination that was taking place against Blacks all across the country.
Wolf was known to provide his customers with exceptional customer service and would go the extra mile to help those in need. Wolf expanded his pawn shop into a department store, where he featured the finest in men’s clothing, hats, shoes, musical instruments, firearms, jewelry, furs, fine art and much more. He made such an impact in the community and built a solid relationship with many people who knew him, like legendary sports radio talk show host Ralph Cooper.
“As a boy, my friends and I would pass by looking in the Wolf’s window,” said Cooper. “I never dreamed later in life that he would be a mentor to me. My deepest condolences and sympathy to all who loved and respected him. For 93 years he loved and shared with others. He’ll be missed.”
Wolf was also known for his loyalty to his employees and his employees’ loyalty towards him, in that all of his employees had well over 40 years, and even 50 years, of experience at Wolf’s Pawn Shop & Department Store.
Born in 1925 in the Bronx, New York, Wolf was the youngest of four children and obtained much of his education while attending City College of New York pursuing a degree in accounting. His entrepreneurial bug was triggered, however, while working as a waiter during summers at the famous Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel and by selling encyclopedias door-to-door, which ultimately led him to Houston.
Wolf was always an eager supporter of youth programs and a frequent contributor to Texas Southern University. He was a heavily involved member of the community. Wolf assisted several community organizations and earned countless awards and recognitions for his work, including being publicly acknowledge with a Proclamation from the Mayor of Houston in 2016, declaring it “Bernard Wolf Day” in the City of Houston, because of the unassuming, yet steadfast commitment to inter-racial relations that he and his employees have displayed.
Above all else, Wolf was the ultimate family man. He was preceded in death by his beloved daughter Shelley Soussan and his wife Elsa. He is survived by his loving daughter Lori Quintavalle (Ed), grandchildren Jessica, Stephen (Jessica), Jacqueline (Aaron), Alec, and Julia, and nine great-grandchildren.
Although Wolf’s Pawn Shop & Department Store still stands at 2701 Emancipation Ave., the absence of Mr. Bernard Wolf at the store has already left a noticeable void at the business and in the community. A memorial service for Mr. Wolf will be scheduled in the Fall of this year.