By Dan Shine
Pfaff’s Family Market
What brought them to America?
For the Pilgrims, it was the search for a new home where they could practice their religion freely and without fear. For some later generations of New Americans, it was a chance to break free from unjust regimes and warring nations; for others, it was to escape from starvation, genocide, hopelessness, poverty, and lack of basic personal freedoms.
For Xavier Pfaff, it was Opportunity, for the ambitious young man would come to America to chase a dream: To build a business, find a good woman, marry, raise a big family, acquire land, build a clustering of homes, and keep his family close, where he could watch them grow, develop and flourish. So, the teen-ager left home and family, along with everything and everyone he had ever known, and boarded a ship alone, bound for America.
Pfaff was born in southern Germany in 1866 and learned the baking trade from his father. He arrived in America in 1882 and first worked as a baker at Brown’s Bakery on First Avenue until 1897, when he left them to become a grocery clerk. By 1901 he was ready to go out on his own, and opened the grocery and meat market which would bear his name at 108 Center Street. It was from this location that the family would operate Pfaff’s Market during all the years of its existence.
Teen-aged Josephine Dorrer arrived from Germany alone in America in 1883. Before long she met Xavier Pfaff and they were married. It was a marriage that lasted for over sixty years, and produced a large and close-knit family, most of whom labored at Pfaff’s Market at one time or another.
This was the era of the neighborhood corner store, and neighboring families walked to Pfaff’s in order to pick up any necessary food and supplies—groceries, meats, produce, soap, brooms, washboards—whatever their needs, Pfaff’s would do their best to accommodate. As time passed, the new little market established itself in the neighborhood and began to grow. In a time when most people walked everywhere or took the trolley, telephone orders would come in from far-flung customers and their groceries would be delivered by horse and wagon. As a direct result, the market eventually had eight delivery wagons, heading out each day to transport groceries to locations near and far, including: Bethany, Orange, Woodbridge and Westville.
During the early years of Pfaff’s Market, The United States was briefly engaged in World War I, and strong anti-German sentiments prevailed in some quarters; however, the Pfaffs by then were recognized as an important part of the West Haven community, and their popularity within West Haven was never diminshed.
Later on, during the Great Depression, many West Haven families had barely enough food to eat. There are still stories told of grocery bills that were quietly forgiven and boxes of groceries that were left anonymously on back doorsteps by the Pfaffs in order to sustain those who needed help the most.
To be continued-
We wish to thank Shannon Pfaff, Dennis May, Dan Kiernan, Bob Wolfe and Mike Kiernan, without whose help this story would not have been possible.