Sam Offen, 80, of West Bloomfield was fishing
at his in-laws' cottage on Horseshoe Lake, an
hour's ride from Detroit, when his family started
waving frantically to him from shore.
His partner, Sol Ceresnie, was on the phone.
Riots had broken out in Detroit, and he was
concerned that their first store, Ceresnie Bros.'
and Offen, a furrier concern on Livernois and
Outer Drive, was in trouble.
Sol wanted to go to the store immediately, but
police told the partners it was too dangerous.
Traveling to the store the next day, Offen said
they both heard shooting and saw stores either
burned down or looted.
"Our store was completely looted on the
ground floor, but the more expensive furs
locked in the downstairs vault remained
untouched," Offen said.
After the riots, busi-
ness was never the
feared coming to our
area," Offen said.
"Regrettably, they start-
ed moving to the
northern suburbs and,
in order to survive, we
had to follow our cus-
In 1969, the store moved to Birmingham.
"Detroit was once a beautiful and thriving city,
but the riots changed the whole landscape,"
HARRY KIRSBAUM and SHARON LUCKERMAN
n urgent phone call from work woke up
Robert Tell early on July 23, 1967. The
chief nurse at Sinai Hospital of Detroit
told him flames were visible in downtown
Detroit and it looked like the whole city was on fire.
No one was sure what was happening, she said.
Tell, the administrator on duty that day, left his
Oak Park home and headed for the former Jewish
hospital in northwest Detroit.
Though it happened 35 years ago, Tell's memories
From the hospital rooftop, he saw billowing black
smoke, "an overwhelming sight."
He decided to assemble staff and hold a meeting.
The top priority was to get inner-city employees to
These staffers were calling in reports about
snipers, tanks, police and chaos. Still, they wanted to
come in to work, but no public transportation was
running in what now was being called a riot.
Tell, then 30, rented buses to pick up Sinai
Hospital's stranded employees. During the course of
the day, some of the buses were caught by sniper fire
and came in with bullet holes in the windows.
"These were employees risking their lives to come
to work and they did it for two reasons," he said.
"They didn't want their patients to be abandoned,
and they wanted to make it clear that it wasn't
everybody in the African American community
burning and looting."
By nightfall, 90 percent of the staff had made it to the
hospital. "No sick person went without care," he said.
Now 65 and retired, Tell of Farmington Hills is
proud of what the Sinai employees did then, but
what happened in Detroit changed his view of the
"As a newcomer to Detroit, I thought that racial
tension was much lower here than in the New York
City I had left. The areas around Sinai Hospital
Clockwise from left:
Furs by Ceresnie Bros., Detroit Free Press photo, 1954.
Interior of Ceresnie Bros. And Offen, 1955
Jewish News Merchants of the Week, Jan. 3, 1963: Sol
Ceresnie, Sam Offen and Harry Cerefriie.
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