Supreme Zipper History

The History (A little long, but it’s a cool story)

Sol Rozenberg 1950

The year was 1950. A 50 year old man named Sol Rozenberg, his wife, and baby boy arrived in New York City from a small town in Europe. They had little more than the clothes on their backs and little money in their pockets. Sol was in search of the American dream, but took a detour in the form of a job in a delicatessen. There he worked serving meats and knishes to the people of lower Manhattan. One of his regular customers happened to own a zipper factory. Knowing Sol was a hard worker and needed extra money to help support his family, this man asked Sol if he wanted to sell zippers on the side for a commission of each sale. Well, Sol was a heck of a salesman. Shortly after beginning the task of selling these fascinating little devices, Sol was selling full time for several zipper factories in New York area. He quickly developed contacts in the industry and established himself as a fair and honest businessman. By the end of that very first year he was in America, Sol opened up his own small shop in lower Manhattan making and assembling zippers.

For those first few years Sol worked to establish his company, Supreme Zipper Manufacturing Company. He slowly added more and more machinery and more and more personnel. By the early 1960s Sol had a booming business employing over 100 people. He steadily grew the business to twice that size by the end of that decade. He celebrated his 70th birthday in 1970 and was optimistic that the 1970s would bring even greater growth both for him and all who relied on him.

Unfortunately, the years that followed brought cheap imported products to market all over the United States from far away places like Korea and then Taiwan. Not to be phased by the changes that took place, Sol continued to conduct business as he always had, putting his customers and employees first. By the middle of that decade, he was forced to downsize, he was putting money into the company and getting further and further into debt. He held onto the business he built for a bit too long. When the last factory workers were sent on their way and the machinery was all gone, he was almost 80 years old and in serious debt. But the very fiber of his being would not let him quit. He learned all about this “importing” thing and somehow made contacts in Taiwan and China. Sol slowly brought in a few zipper products, and then a few more. All through the 1980s Sol reinvented his now tiny little company. Always one to pay his debts, Sol never bankrupted that original company; he slowly repaid everyone that had extended credit to him.

Sol Rozenberg 2007

By 1990, at 90 years young, Sol found his new niche and was fondly named by many in the industry “The Zipper King”. He was happy with one or two employees, buying and selling to customers both new and old from his little loft space in New York’s garment district. His love for the city lead to his claim that he “lived in Manhattan and only slept in Queens”. He literally lived for the business. Going to work everyday actually kept him going. This went on flawlessly as the dawn of a new century and Sol’s 100th birthday neared. Successfully making it through Y2K, Sol was proficient at the use of his trusty fax machine and cell phone. He even dictated letters to his helpers as they typed into that “internet machine” so he could communicate with his overseas suppliers. 2001 came and Sol was well into his second century.

Enter Jim Zumpone stage left. Hold the Supreme Zipper story for a minute. I have to tell you where I was all this time. I was building things since birth, working in custom home renovation from the time I could work at age 16. 2001 found me at 31 years old and coming to terms with the fact that my passion for custom carpentry was not working out with my then current bad back. While at my optometrist’s office, with a doctor I had know for some 10+ years, the conversation of my current life situations came up. Dr. Rozenberg was a great guy whom I had worked on some things with in the past. He understood my abilities and my situation. At the time, he was about 20 years my senior. He told me to go meet his father Sol, to which I responded, “You have a father?” Well, that was the turning point in my life as they say. The proverbial door closed on the physical labor I loved and the window of opportunity opened into the wonderful world of zippers. Wait, I got ahead of myself there. So, I went to find Steve’s father in a corner office in a tiny loft on 28th Street. A man of small stature, wearing a beautiful suit, custom shirt, cufflinks, $500 shoes and a fedora, inside, I met Sol for the first time. He walked over with an umbrella, “as it could rain at any time”, as he said that day, “canes were for old folks”.

The place was a disheveled pile of zippers and boxes that was only organized in Sol’s mind. Something about that place, the way he conducted business, the oddity of it all appealed to me. I basically just hung around; absorbing the history of Supreme Zipper and the man everyone in the garment center seemed to know. One day turned into two, then a week and then a month. Sol was not sure why I was there other than the fact that his son said he should let me in. Sol and I hit it off, spending hours talking about the history of the company. After a while he asked that I actually work with him, which I did to my own surprise. Steve, Sol’s son, remember the optometrist, joined us there with some regularity. We all put our two cents into the running of the company (well, Sol put in three or more cents sometimes). Always the entrepreneur, I began to do research into what made the zipper business tick. Sol took great pride in knowing what I was doing. He always wanted to know every development with new sources overseas, or new potential customers here at home.

After almost two years of this unusual trio, it occurred to me that the only way to make Supreme grow again was to make major changes. It still did not seem odd to be working with a 102 year old man everyday, who never missed a day of work. I proposed to Steve that we buy Supreme from Sol, of course keeping him on as a consultant for as long as he liked. To our surprise Sol agreed to relinquish control of the company (well not totally) and Steve and I were on our way. Supreme Zipper Manufacturing Company was renamed Supreme Zipper Industries. The next couple of years were a blur. We brought in larger and larger amounts of material, quickly outgrowing the 28th Street loft. A new facility was needed. Wanting to leave New York, I explored out of state locations, settling on Northeastern Pennsylvania where I had built a home years before as a weekend getaway for my parents. Having my own young family, we figured we would live near my retired parents and find a place for Supreme. It was going to be great; Sol and Steve would work the New York end where the buyers were and I would run the warehouse we built in Pennsylvania. That facility grew into the 23,000 square foot manufacturing and warehouse facility we occupy today.

From 2004 through early 2008 our company worked very hard to secure a growth strategy within a shrinking industry. We transformed from a zipper supplier and became specialists in zippers, diversifying the product lines and catering to every possible company that could use a zipper. We even got back into light assembly of zippers, getting in some machinery to Sol’s ultimate joy. Sol was still coming to work everyday as usual, approaching his 108th birthday in March of 2008. I got the call 8:30 PM on St. Valentine’s Day from Steve’s wife Ruth; Sol was gone, just shy of the anniversary of his birth. I had known it was coming as only four days earlier Sol had a 45 minute long conversation with me on the phone. This was odd since our conversations for years were 2-3 minutes max. In that call he talked about all his old customers, some with us for two and even three generations, he talked about Supreme Zipper as a living thing and how it needed to go on. He talked about how he trusted me with it, how I understood it and was ready to lead the company. When we hung up that day I sobbed, I knew that would be the last time I would speak to the The Zipper King.

Steve and I continued for another year or so as partners until it dawned on both of us that I was the zipper guy and Steve was the optometrist. We mutually agreed that I would buy out his interests in everything related to Supreme Zipper Industries.  We are still very close of course, everyone being all the better for the transaction. This brings us to the page your are reading, a page in a website that was the first major thing I tackled going solo with Sol’s baby. I hope he is proud of what I am doing!

Jim Zumpone

Sol “The Zipper King” Rozenberg – In memoriam 1900 – 2008