Center City businessman and neighborhood activist Eli Pritzker dies at 93
Eli Pritzker, 93, of Philadelphia, son of Ukrainian immigrants turned businessman and neighborhood activist, died on Saturday December 12 of heart disease at his home.
He was born in the Bronx to Ida and Samuel Pritzker, who had fled a pogrom in Ukraine. Before leaving, the couple set their house on fire to make it look like they were dead.
At age 11, he moved with his mother to West Philadelphia after his older brother, Martin, died of a congenital heart defect. His parents separate.
Mr. Pritzker graduated from West Philadelphia High School and enrolled at Temple University when he enlisted to serve in World War II. Out of consideration for his single mother, Mr. Pritzker was allowed to do military service in the United States.
He obtained a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from Temple. He practiced law with the Philadelphia firm Newman & Master. “He thought he was going to save the underdog,” his daughter Nina Pritzker-Cohen said.
But soon after taking the law, he and two partners were offered the first option to buy Penn Electric, his late uncle’s power supply business. “In the end, he felt he could help people better as a businessman,” his daughter said.
The business has grown from a Philadelphia store at 60th and Market Streets to a 200-employee supply chain store in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Mr. Pritzker had a book full of names of sources that could provide material that was difficult to find. Customers like Peco have benefited from these contacts. During a vacation weekend at the end of his career, Peco needed a part to run a 50-year-old transformer. Mr. Pritzker followed the article to a warehouse in Kansas.
But the owner was at church. So Mr Pritzker asked the local police to find the man and have him open the warehouse.
“This is an emergency, thousands of people in Philadelphia are at risk of losing power if we can’t get this part right away,” he told police. The part was shipped and the power remained on in the city.
As the chain grew, Mr. Pritzker kept the West Philadelphia store as a base from which to help employees and neighbors. Realizing his parents’ initial difficulties, he helped immigrants buy houses and become citizens.
“He went out of his way to use whatever resources he had, as a top business owner, to uplift everyone with him,” his family said in a tribute.
He applied the same dedication to his downtown neighborhood, making himself available to neighbors and community groups. When the Lombard Swim Club was in danger of being demolished in 1979, he persuaded the owners to sell it at a loss to members.
He met with all of the city’s banks to grant him a loan of $ 290,000. He eventually had success with Continental Bank, moving all of Penn Electric’s business accounts to seal the deal. The loan was repaid by the members who bought shares in the club.
“Without him, including his financial, intellectual and leadership resources, the club would not exist,” said Janice Fanning Madden, board member.
Its management resurfaced when neighbors feared a planned steam-driven waste treatment plant near the university hospital. He hired a lawyer who persuaded the city to abandon the plan.
Mr Pritzker was president of the 2000 neighborhood association in Delancey in the early 1980s, when muggings were raging in the city center. He installed the brightest streetlights available on the block.
“He never broadcast his contributions, always giving out of the goodness of his heart with no expectation in return,” his family said.
In the 1990s, Penn Electric’s partners broke up. Mr. Pritzker continued the business with another partner, then alone. But it was difficult to achieve the same success. Times were also changing. Its supplier catalog could not compete with the parts readily available on the Internet.
Despite the downturn in business, he continues to do good works, sometimes to the detriment of his finances. “He was always a salesman, not an accountant,” his daughter said.
Besides his daughter, he is survived by his wife, Helen Pratt Pritzker; one son, Michel; daughters-in-law Suzanne Davis and Elizabeth Pratt; eight grandchildren; and nieces and nephews. His first wife, Lois Pritzker, died earlier.
Services and burial were private.
Memorial donations can be made to any charity working to alleviate hunger or homelessness.