Last month’s passing of Paul Guttenberg, who headed Mortan’s men’s store until it closed in 1990, started a flurry of social media posts fondly recalling the days when retail was king in downtown Amsterdam. Paul was born in New York City in 1927, the son of H. Morton and Pearl Rauch Guttenberg.
Mortan’s was named after Paul’s father, who moved his clothing store from Schenectady to Amsterdam in 1933. Despite launching in the Depression, Mortan’s prospered at several East Main Street locations.
A MAN WITH VISION
Amsterdam Mayor Michael Cinquanti wrote, “They brought in one of the country’s top retail design firms from New York City who created the most attractive and modern looking store Amsterdam had ever seen. The expansion in square footage permitted the Guttenbergs to add a sporting goods department and a complete ski shop on the basement floor.”
Mortan’s last store was in the city’s downtown shopping mall.
Cinquanti added, “Everything about their store was cool, including their Botany 500 suits and sports coats and their Van Heusen dress shirts. They also had the best-dressed mannequins and salespeople in the city.”
And Cinquanti remembered Paul Guttenberg “as one of this City’s most skilled retail merchants and one of the best dressed and ‘coolest’ guys in town.”
In his memoir, “Too Long Ago” about growing up during Amsterdam’s economic decline, historian David Pietrusza, a dapper man himself, wrote, “Imagine Paul Newman operating a clothing store in Amsterdam, and, you have an approximation of Paul Guttenberg, whose skill in making a sale was prodigious.”
Guttenberg was a U.S. Marine veteran and graduate of Union College. After Mortan’s closed he pursued other occupations and hobbies including skiing, tennis and flying airplanes.
In 2007 Paul and his wife Susanne, who had experience as a nursing home administrator, assumed ownership of the financially troubled Montgomery Meadows, a 120-bed facility on Amsterdam’s South Side. After restructuring and modernization, the facility was renamed River Ridge Living Center.
The Guttenbergs made their home in Broadalbin. He is survived by his wife, four children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was predeceased by his parents and brother.
LIKE OUT OF A FASHION MAGAZINE
Remarkably, Pietrusza wrote, downtown Amsterdam had an even more artistic men’s shop, “Matthew’s was a small shop, run by Mathew Orante, a Lithuanian, who along with his wife Isabelle must have been the most artistic and fashionable couple to grace a town of Amsterdam’s size since the Italian Renaissance.”
Pietrusza wrote the Orantes “looked like they emerged from the pages of a New York—no, from a Paris or London—fashion magazine.”
Writer and educator David Northrup, Orante’s nephew, worked for his uncle as a young man, “Matt Orante considered himself not only a haberdasher, but also an artist. In addition to men’s clothing, that small place was crowded with his paintings and wood carvings.”
Part of the second floor was devoted to a small art gallery and Orante’s wife Isabelle’s interior decorating business, Eljoor.
Local history buff Emil Suda recalled three suits of armor were displayed at Matthew’s. There was one small suit of armor and Suda was told that suit was for a young boy so he could be like his father, a knight.
Orante had been a pattern maker for the New York State Thruway Authority and map coordinator at Scotia Naval Depot, before opening his men’s shop. Matt Orante died in 2008. His wife Isabelle died three years later.
Northrup said, “The son of Lithuanian immigrants, my uncle had an abiding faith, shared by many of his generation, that he could attain prosperity on his own, without the necessity of having to sell his labor to a large company.”
Contact Bob Cudmore at [email protected] His history podcasts are at www.bobcudmore.com
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