In 1917, Pittsburgh native Louis Berez (1895-1965) and his brother-in-law Louis Fineberg started F&B Paper Company, a wholesale business on Fifth Avenue. In 1946, Berez incorporated it as F&B Woodenware Company and relocated to 1014-1016 Forbes Avenue, near the current location of the Duquesne University A. J. Palumbo Center.
For a time, Berez was the president of Congregation Agudath Achim, a small Orthodox congregation founded in the Hill District in 1921 by a group of Ukrainian-Russian Jews. The Berez family later joined Beth Shalom Congregation in Squirrel Hill.
Louis and his wife Jennie Berez had seven children. When Berez retired in 1949, the second generation took over. His daughter Ethel had married Amos Comay of Detroit, who would become chairman and treasurer of the company. His daughter Leatrice had married Bob Buchwach, who became president. His only son, Ernest Berez (1925-2000), also worked for the company and became president after Buchwach retired in the 1970s.
The men adapted the company to pursue business opportunities. After opening a string of hardware franchises, they changed the name of the company to the Associated Hardware Supply Company in 1956. Beginning in the early 1960s, Ernest Berez traveled the world in search of inexpensive housewares to sell, becoming one of the first American businessmen to travel to East Asian countries such as China, India and Bangladesh, according to his obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In the 1970s, Action Industries, as Associated Hardware was later called, partnered with a Hungarian firm to challenge the major U. S. light bulb manufacturers.
Associated Hardware Supply found great success selling retail promotional programs such as Dollar-Ama and Dollar Days. The company went public in 1968 as Action Industries Inc. Action Industries built a 290,000 square foot headquarters in Harmer Township in 1971 and expanded it to 447,000 square feet in 1973. For a time in the 1980s, Action Industries employed more than 500 people in Pittsburgh, and more in branches outside the city, but the company struggled to adapt to the changing nature of retailing in the 1990s. Action Industries was sold to the Ohio-based Mazel Stores Inc. in 1997.
Ernest and his wife Natalie Berez had three children, Franne, Steven and Joel.
After studying traditional and naturopathic medicine, Dr. Franne Berez founded the Squirrel Hill Family Wellness Center, a holistic health clinic, in the late 1980s. “Regular doctors believe health is a removal of symptoms,” Berez told the Jewish Chronicle in March 2002. “Holistic health is fulfilling needs in life — dreams and aspirations.”
Steven Berez worked for Action Industries before relocating in Boston. While he was Pittsburgh, he was a president of the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation.
Joel Berez became interested in computer programing while attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1979, he started Infocom Inc. one of the earliest computer game companies. Its interactive storytelling games, such as the Zork series, were credited with inventing the “participatory novel.” Berez has a consulting company in Chicago.