NIECKARZ FURNITURE & HARDWARE STORE
7330-36 McGRAW AVENUE, DETROIT 48210
MAGDALENA AND STEPHEN NIECKARZ, PROPRIETORS
FRANK SZERLAG, ASSISTANT
Sometime between 1920 and 1932, Magdalena (nee Szerlag) Nieckarz, along with her older brother Frank, opened the Nieckarz Furniture & Hardware Store on Detroit’s west side. The site chosen was a two-level brick storefront extending from 7330 to 7336 McGraw Avenue near Martin in a bustling Polish community.
Magdalena Szerlag was born in 1885 in a small Polish village. She was the youngest child and only daughter of Wawrzyniec and Katarzyna Wrona. Her older brothers were Peter and Frank.
As teenagers, the three siblings made the brave decision to leave their homeland and their parents and make the journey to America.
Stephen Nieckarz was born on January 1, 1892, to John and Anna Nieckarz in Cewków, a small village in southeastern Poland, which at the time was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and which belonged to a province known as Galicia. The area was, and remains, primarily a rural district.
Like Magdalena and thousands of other émigrés, Stephen left Poland while still a teenager and made the long journey to America. In 1910, at only 17 years of age, he departed his village with three male traveling companions and set out for a new life in an unknown land.
In 1915, five years after his arrival in America, Stephen met and married Magdalena Szerlag. Magdalena was 20 years old at the time of their marriage. The ceremony took place in October 1915 at St. Hedwig Catholic Church at 3245 Junction Street in the heart of Detroit’s west side Polish community. It is assumed that the church played a role in their meeting.
The newlyweds moved into a two-story home at 216 Parkwood Street near Michigan Avenue and Livernois. Stephen found work as a bench hand at Ford Motor Company’s Highland Park Assembly Plant at 91 Manchester Street off Woodward Avenue, where Model T vehicles were being mass produced. On April 3, 1917, Magdalena gave birth to their son Edward. Later, on December 20, 1919, their daughter Lottie was born.
By December 1926, Stephen had become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Magdalena and her brother Frank had opened the Nieckarz Furniture & Hardware Store in an impressive building that stretched from 7330 to 7336 McGraw Avenue. Stephen and Magdalena had moved by this time to a house at 5610 Tarnow Street, near the store’s location and near St. Andrew Catholic Church.
By October 1931, Magdalena also became a U.S. citizen. At that time, she and Stephen were living at 5623 Chopin Street, still within the St. Andrew parish. For many years, Magdalena was an active St. Andrew member and an active member of the St. Andrew Altar Society. Her nephew was Rev. Andrew Nieckarz, who was known and loved throughout the west side community.
In 1932, the family relocated their residence to a flat directly above Nieckarz Furniture & Hardware.
The Nieckarz family business continued to flourish and serve the needs of the west side Detroit community. The store was very successful. According to their business card, during the 1940s, among the goods sold at Nieckarz were furniture, hardware, carpets, linoleum, rugs, “glassy oils,” and stoves.
In the 1940s, Stephen and Magdalena moved to an upscale neighborhood on Oakman Boulevard in Dearborn. Sadly, while still living in that home, Stephen passed away on December 29, 1950. He was only 58 years old.
Following Stephen’s death, Magdalena assumed the management of the business, along with her son Edward. With the assistance of Magdalena’s brother Frank, Magdalena and Edward continued to operate the retail establishment for at least another decade. When the neighborhood began changing and business began to decline, the managers relocated it to a site on Schaefer Avenue in Dearborn in an effort to revitalize the store. At last, they closed the store in 1962.
For at least 30 years, the Nieckarz Furniture & Hardware Store was a vital part of Detroit’s west side community. Magdalena Szerlag-Nieckarz was one of west side Detroit’s prominent female entrepreneurs during the early to mid-twentieth century. The Szerlag and Nieckarz families are excellent examples of Polish immigrants’ resilience, strong work ethics, and shrewd business expertise.
Source: Szerlag, Chet. “Stephen Nieckarz, Entrepreneur, and the Nieckarz Furniture & Hardware Store.” In WSDPAHS e-Newsletter. Volume 65, February 2018, pp. 4 – 11.
Photos (all courtesy of WSDPAHS member Chet Szerlag)