The big storefront window is what many remember most about Henry Zorn’s candy store, opened during the 1920s and located on Gratiot and East Grand Boulevard in Detroit, next to a movie house. Daughter Helen Charney remembers the popcorn machine outside “popping pounds of popcorn with real butter,” frequented by the moviegoers attending the show next door. “At almost any time, day or night, there was always a group of cigar-smoking men in the rear of the store discussing the shock waves of the Great Depression.”
By the time his store on 12th Street opened in 1939, this quiet and unassuming man had developed a loyal following and a stellar reputation. His Royal Roaster Number Five was always engaged, spitting out fresh, roasted peanuts by the hour, and Henry, insisting that the nuts be hot, not warm, showcased them in the storefront window.
Zorn’s Confectionery was a community gathering place, where kids would stand in the front of the store munching on popcorn or a “Lindy’s” frozen ice, a forerunner of the modern popsicle. By 1959, customers like Ben Krowitz of Hubbell Street, had been coming to Henry’s store for 35 years, and bringing the next generation with them. “It doesn’t make any difference what the specialty is,” Krowitz said in a Detroit News article. “I still come to see Henry.”
Hymie (Henry) Zornitsky was one of twelve children born to Dvoira and Mordicai Zornitsky in Trostyenets, Russia. After Mordicai’s death, Dvoira and her surviving adult children (three died in childbirth and one as a soldier in the Red Army), immigrated to the United States. They settled in New York, but Henry chose Detroit, sensing the abundant opportunities in the emerging industrial hub.
Being in the candy business suited the sweet-tempered father of two. During the Great Depression, he returned to New York to open a grocery store. The grocery business didn’t work out, and missed by friends and customers, he soon returned to Detroit, and opened his 12th Street location. It was there he proudly introduced a new generation to penny-candy, popcorn, and fresh-roasted peanuts.
“Henry” as he was called by kids and adults, married Gertrude who worked by her husband’s side for many years. Wearing a white apron and brandishing a dish towel as a weapon, she’d shoo loitering customers out of the store, shouting at them in her thick European accent. The couple had two daughters, May and Helen. “I remember my grandfather feeding the pigeons outside the store,” recalled his granddaughter, Susan. “They would land on his arm and eat the peanuts right out of his hand.”
Zorn’s Confectionery closed in 1961. Henry died in 1965, and Gertrude followed in 1972. Five years later, Henry’s granddaughter, Susan, met and married Michael Feldman, grandson of New Warsaw Bakery owner Morris Weberman. At that chance meeting, Susan and Michael learned that not only did their grandfathers have stores across the street from each other but that Morris frequently came into Henry's store for his favorite drink -- seltzer water.
Photo: Henry Zorn's store on Gratiot, next to the movie theater. Photo courtesy Susan Feldman.