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Burt Salzman

Hard Working Grocer
with a Heart of Gold

His grandfather sold produce door to door. His father started a small fruit and vegetable market on 33rd and Payne Avenue in Cleveland.

Now eighty-five years later, Burt Salzman, still at the same location, is the owner of one of the State's largest volume supermarkets as well as five other locations throughout Cleveland.

Everybody knows Dave's Supermarkets; they are noted for quality product and considerate service. The man behind the Dave's chain is the reason for their success. This is his story.

Burt Salzman was born in Cleveland on April 20, 1937. He first lived on Eddy Road and eventually moved to University Heights. He is a 1955 graduate of Heights High School and a 1959 graduate of Ohio State, with a degree in accounting.

He was a member of Beta Alpha Psi, an accounting fraternity and belonged to ROTC in college. He got married right out of college and the joined the US Army, Quartermaster Corps.

He has vivid childhood memories of delivering produce for his father and grandfather - 10 cents for every home he brought the packages to! His father instilled a strong work ethic in him and helped him learn the ins and outs of the retail business.

His father also gave him advice that Burt never followed. For example, his father told him not to be like him and work ten-twelve hours a day. Burt certainly didn't listen to that piece of advice. The first two weeks of the month he is at his Payne Ave. store from 5:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. He "takes it easy" the other two weeks and heads home closer to 7:00 and on Sundays he usually leaves about 2:00. Of course, this is seven days a week. Every day. Every week.

His father also told him not to open a second store. Once again, Burt did not pay attention and he opened a store on Harvard Ave. It was not long after that he opened a store on Shore Center in Euclid, on Lakeshore Blvd. near Euclid Beach, on Ridge Road and most recently in Ohio City. He is thinking about expanding to an Akron location.

There is no question though that Payne Avenue is his first and greatest love. It is here that he has reserved Register 3 as his own. When things get busy, Burt starts checking out customers. You'll often see him packing bags, collecting carts, mopping floors, carrying out groceries or stocking shelves. Many of his employees have been there the majority of their working lives - they come and stay.

Burt Salzman working the checkout at Dave's on Payne Ave.

Burt Salzman working the checkout
at Dave's on Payne Ave.

Jim Waite has been with Burt at Payne Avenue for 23 years. He grew up in the neighborhood and knows how important the Dave's store is. "Burt is one of a kind. There'll never be another one like him. He helps so many people like Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, and hungry people in the area - he helps them all."

When asked about his benevolent work, Burt becomes shy. "Sure, I like to give to these organizations and help whenever I can. That's what you're supposed to do. That's the fun of being in business."

Burt himself is Jewish, but that doesn't stop him from helping Fr. Jim O'Donnell's Hunger Center or Bishop Pilla's calls for assistance. In his faith when things are going well or a dilemma works out, it is your obligation to make a contribution to someone in need as a way of thanking the Lord for being good. It is referred to as "Mitzvah". If the Lord rewards you, you reward someone else.

Burt recently had a medical issue that could have had devastating results. Fortunately, he came through with flying colors and is the picture of health again. But he doesn't quickly forget how easily the outcome could have been different. He practices the "Mitzvah" tradition fully, completely and without hesitation.

Long time employee Joe McCluskey is a meat-cutter for Dave's. He is currently at the Shore Center Store and speaks highly of Burt and his commitment to his employees. "Burt doesn't ask anybody to work harder than he does. He knows his employees and cares about them. If you need something you can feel confident that Burt Salzman will do everything he can to help you out"

Again, Burt becomes a little shy. He's not comfortable with the high praise his employees give him. He feels a commitment to his employees, because they are committed to him. Just a few years ago, Burt had the opportunity to sell his stores to a large chain and make a substantial amount of profit.

He remembers sitting in his office at Payne Avenue contemplating the sale. He looked out at the workers and saw some people who had been there since they were sixteen years old. He saw people working hard to make Dave's a success and he was so proud of them. He came to a realization - he could never sell his stores, regardless of the profit.

Dave's Supermarket on Payne Avenue

Dave's Supermarket on Payne Avenue

A major part of his decision not to sell the stores was his loyalty to the employees that had been loyal to him. Although the other chain promised to keep his people employed, he was savvy enough to know there were loopholes and the people that needed his security the most would be the ones to loose out first.

Chuck Kevern has been the manager of the Euclid Beach Store for many years. "Nobody works as hard as Burt does. We've all told him at some point, go home, get some rest. But we all know it doesn't matter what we say. Burt's a worker and there's no stopping that. I would never want to work for anyone but Burt, he has been outstanding to me and his other employees."

Burt admits people often tell him to go home - get some sleep - take it easy. "What they don't realize is that I am at home when I 'm working. I love to work. I feel my best when I'm working."

Ollie Hofer, meat manager for all of the Dave's Stores, may sum it up best. "Burt is a unique individual with a work ethic that he can be proud of. He is very generous and considerate of all of his employees."

Burt doesn't vacation often. He doesn't have a summer home somewhere else. He is happy right where he is. He gets his personal satisfaction from satisfied customers. When someone gets angry, Burt gets nice. He says that more often than not, they will get nice too.

He is proud to say he has never cheated anyone, and would never tolerate an employee cheating anyone. He gets offers to purchase close-dated or out-dated food, where he could save a dollar or two. He consistently turns these offers down and, in fact, salesmen now know better than to even ask.

Burt and his wife Judy have four children, Dan, Steven, Trudy and Stacey. His two boys are active in the family business and actually run the other five stores. Burt still has complete control over Payne Avenue, and probably always will.

Burt loves spending time with his grandchildren and is grateful that they are all living in Cleveland where he can see them often. The last few summers he has gone away with the grandchildren, but of course, not far and not for long!

He often finds himself on the outside looking in when friends get together. He doesn't enjoy the things most businessmen in his position enjoy. He doesn't golf or travel or belong to a Country Club.

Actually, he did join a Country Club a few years ago, mainly because his friends thought he should. He found little time to go to the Club, but when he did he discovered he knew the waiters and valets and had more in common with them than he did with the members. He eventually quit and never did renew his membership.

Although he believes strongly in hard work Burt would not recommend his lifestyle to everybody. "You have to be married to the right woman for one and thankfully, I am". He is also concerned that other people would go through life wondering what they were missing. Burt doesn't feel that he missed anything working that many hours for all these years. But he also readily admits that not everybody is like him.

His office (such as it is) is adorned with plaques and awards from every aspect of the community from the Call and Post to Small Business News to grateful proclamations from employees. It is a testament to Burt that so many people think so highly of him.

Burt Salzman smiling in his office

Burt Salzman happy at work in his office

It is not hard to understand why. He is funny, kind, generous and fair. He works harder and longer than his employees. He is committed to his family, his faith and his fellow man.

When all is said and done, can you ask more of a person than this?

Profiled by Debbie Hanson

Update: On September 30, 2007, Burt and his wife Judy Salzman were honored at the One World Day at the Hebrew Cultural Garden in Rockefeller Park.

As part of the tribute reads, "Judy's greatest joy is her family - four children and 12 grandchildren (all living in Cleveland!). Judy and Burt are longtime supporters of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, Menorah Park Center for Senior Living and the Temple-Tifereth Israel."

Burt and Judy Salzman at One World Day at the Hebrew Cultural Garden 9-30-2007

Burt and Judy Salzman at One World Day at the
Hebrew Cultural Garden 9-30-2007

Judy & Burt Salzman One World Day

Judy & Burt Salzman One World Day Recognition

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Burt Salzman of Dave's Supermarket

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