Sam Cohen (1893-1976) immigrated to Pittsburgh as a young boy. His father, Bernard Cohen, started an umbrella shop on Fifth Avenue in 1912. Sam worked in the shop until about 1919, when he bought the John W. Tim and Son shop at 635 Penn Avenue.
For the next 60 years, “Sam the Umbrella Man” operated the only specialty umbrella shop in the city. Cohen carried an especially large inventory and offered mechanical repairs and custom-made handles. While always located downtown, the tiny shop moved regularly during its long life, reflecting the whims of the downtown real estate market.
Cohen closed his business for several years during World War II to work as a welder for the American Bridge Company before reopening his shop in the Fulton Building. In April 1947, Cohen moved the shop to 210 Stanwix Street. “A special feature at the new location will be provided by a well-trained staff of workers who will make umbrellas of material to match milady’s dress,” the American Jewish Outlook announced at the time.
The development of Gateway Center forced the business to move its stock of 10,000 umbrellas in 1950, this time to an air-conditioned storefront at 544 Smithfield Street.
Sam’s Umbrella Shop moved several more times over the next quarter century before landing at the Roosevelt Hotel. When the hotel shut down for renovations in 1971, the shop disappeared for a year-and-a-half before Cohen signed his final lease, for a storefront at 927 Penn Avenue, three blocks from where he started. “Go into Gimbel’s or Horne’s and you won’t find any umbrellas to choose from,” Cohen told a newspaper reporter in the early 1970s. “They don’t have the space. But here, I have any umbrella, no matter what you want.”
Cohen closed the business in 1976, when his wife, Pauline Cohen, became ill.