This year is monumental for Abe Kleinberg of Crystorama as the company he founded hits its 60th year and he personally marks his 90th birthday.
It’s hard to imagine someone trained in the cold hard facts of numbers would become enamored with the romantic and ethereal world of crystal, but that’s exactly what happened to Brooklyn-born Abe Kleinberg.
While serving in the military, posted at an air base near Shanghai in 1946, Kleinberg realized that the American dollar could go a long way in China. He wrote his parents, asking for a loan of $500 to put a deposit on a Chevy from the GM plant nearby. “The car cost $1,400 and I was able to pick it up in New York,” he recalls. He also ordered and shipped a Buick to his father. Once back in the U.S., Kleinberg went to college on the G.I. Bill and graduated with a degree in Accounting.
“It was an adventure. I bought [component parts] from all over and then hired an employee to put the fixtures – primarily crystal – together. I delivered those fixtures in my Chevy all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey.”
“My brother-in-law was a lighting sales rep,” Kleinberg explains about his introduction to lighting. After his brother-in-law bought a small lighting company, he asked Kleinberg to help out in the office with book-keeping. Not satisfied with working with numbers all day, Kleinberg decided to make his own name in lighting at his brother-in-law’s urging.
“It was an adventure,” Kleinberg notes. “I bought [component parts] from all over and then hired an employee to put the fixtures – primarily crystal – together. I delivered those fixtures in my Chevy all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. I did all of the selling and delivery, and my employee did all of the assembly.”
As the popularity of Kleinberg’s fixtures grew, it was obvious there was a much bigger market out there than the New York area. It was time to hire sales representatives to expand the business — originally named Crystal Lee, in tribute to his mother. “I later changed the name to Crystorama because in my mind, that sounded like everything crystal.”
The 1960s was an era when tradition-style Bronze & Crystal chandeliers were highly sought after, leading Kleinberg to move to a building where he could have a retail showroom in front and an office in the back. His wife, Joan, came in to help out in the showroom while their three children were in school.
When a larger building that formerly housed a carpet business became available in Carl Place, Long Island, Kleinberg moved his operations there. “Now I could have a showroom, plus assembly in the back, and a warehouse in the basement,” he states. Several years later, Kleinberg bought an additional building in Westport for the manufacturing side of the business, keeping the first location as a showroom to the public run by Joan, who became similarly thrilled with lighting.
Crystorama had grown so much that Kleinberg was traveling twice a year to Barcelona and Milan to bring over lighting fixtures. “Expanding from the crystal category was difficult,” he says of the shift in consumer tastes over the decades. “You have to have a mind for what the customer is looking for and what they want,” he remarks. Fortunately, keeping pace with trends is something he and his family have excelled in.
The Kleinberg children – Brian, Brad, and Nancy – grew up appreciating their parents’ diligent work ethic, much as Kleinberg had admired his own father’s gumption. “My father was a roofer, who also sold newspapers on the street on weekends. He always worked very hard, and when I would come along with him [on weekends], he’d buy me a hot chocolate.”
When each of the children were grown, they joined the family’s companies: Brad came to Crystorama, followed by Nancy, while Brian opted for the showroom in Carl Place. Mirroring their parents’ hard work, each child has flourished in their chosen endeavor, contributing significantly to the bottom line.
“They watched the way I worked, and how hard I worked,” Kleinberg notes. “They saw it was a seven-day-a-week job.” Kleinberg would also take each of his children, one on one, to Europe with him for buying trips so they could experience what was involved.
Reflecting on the company’s 60th year, “It has been beyond belief how the company has evolved,” Kleinberg states. “We are so proud of how they’ve grown the business.”
In time, Kleinberg gifted the company to his children, but he still comes in to work five days a week. “My wife and I like working. I still do some accounting work for Crystorama and I enjoy calling up reps to congratulate them on their success and calling customers to thank them for their business.”
Their customers have become good friends of the Kleinberg family. “I love this industry and I love the people in it,” he comments.