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Mack and Dave's to celebrate 60 years of service

Aug. 15, 2009 @ 08:33 PM

HUNTINGTON -- When asked when he plans to retire, David Cohen is quick to answer.

"Oh, in about 20 years," he says. And considering that he's already 84 years old and still a fixture at the department store he founded in 1949 with friend Mack Webb, you almost have to believe him.

His 99,000-square-foot department store at 1010 3rd Ave. celebrates 60 years this month.

Mack and Dave's is celebrating with sales Aug. 28-29. Everything will be 5 percent to 30 percent off. There also will be door prizes, no purchase necessary, as well as coffee and refreshments at the store both days.

The store started as a small pawn shop Cohen started with Webb. They had worked at Ralph Masinter's B&B Loan together, and then Cohen went into the military for a time, serving in the Air Corps in Guam.

When he got back, they opened their own business.

Mack and Dave's at the corner of 9th Street and 3rd Avenue, where Five Guys sits today, was mostly pawn. Webb, whose full name is James "Mack" McClung Webb, was the diamond expert and Cohen took care of other aspects of the business.

Today, Mack and Dave's is 75 percent new merchandise and 25 percent pre-owned. And the diversity in the store is astounding. If you happen to need guitar strings, a leather sofa, a washer or a diamond necklace, you can get it there. And the store does its own financing, allowing customers to establish credit to meet their own financial needs. They take cash, credit and do lay-aways.

Cohen said that personal touch is the main reason the store has done so well over the years, despite the exodus of retail out of Huntington in the 1980s.

"Our secret is that we take care of our customers first," he said. "We try to give them honest pricing, courtesy and service. Our customers are from generation to generation."

He knows because they'll come in and tell him about coming with their parents as a child.

"We used to give rings to little babies -- 10 carat," he said. "They'll come in today and say, 'You gave me a ring as a baby.' "

People haven't changed much over the years, he said. They're still as courteous and nice as ever. The only difference is they know more about a product now, before they even set a foot in the door. That's come about because of TV advertising and the Internet, he said.

Mack and Dave's landed at its current location in the 1970s, when the 900 block of 3rd Avenue was cleared to make way for the intended "Super Block," a space that remained practically empty until Pullman Square opened five years ago.

The move was a stressful one, said Cohen's wife, Marilyn.

"He was scared to death," she said. But everything worked out for the best, David Cohen said.

Webb's son Ralph, now a rheumatologist in Huntington and professor of medicine, worked at the original store. He started in eighth grade and worked his way through college.

He sold bicycles, sewing machines, clock radios and eventually stereo equipment.

Ralph Webb -- named after his dad's first boss, Masinter at B&B Loan -- remembers some about the working relationship of his father and Cohen.

"They always met at the end of the day and talked about everything," he said. He knows because he had to wait until they finished to get a ride home. The Webbs and Cohens lived just blocks apart on Huntington's Southside.

Ralph Webb also remembers "Davey" out walking the floor a lot, and his dad spending more time back in the office.

Mack Webb died in 1992 at age 68, shortly after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was quick, his son said.

Although his father has been gone for years, the store still feels like home, Ralph Webb said.

"There are lifelong employees there. It really is a family atmosphere," he said.

Great employees have helped the business stay strong, Cohen said.

One of them is James "Cap" Hatfield in the music department. He's been there since 1968. He thinks the secret to the store's success is personality and "being known."

"Mack and Dave's is known by the public. We'll always be a family store," he said.

The business is active in the community, too.

Cohen has been a member of the Downtown Lions Club for more than 50 years. He's quick to "volunteer whatever is needed in its efforts to provide funding for sight preservation services to those in the community who may not otherwise be able to afford them," said Lee Ann Welch, president of the club.

"In any fundraiser the club has, there is always something from Mack and Dave's in the mix -- often in the form or gift certificates to be awarded."

His personal contributions to the state Lions Sight Foundation were recognized earlier this year when he was made a Life Member of the Permanent Endowment Trust Fund, after having earned other distinctions in the organization.

He's just a great man, said Peggy Morris, who has worked with Cohen for years.

She started working at Mack and Dave's as a high school student more than 50 years ago. She worked in bookkeeping, and today is secretary and treasurer.

"My husband retired 15 years ago, and I would have retired with him, if not for Mr. Cohen," she said. "He goes overboard for all his customers. He's wonderful -- one in a million, he really is."