E xtending west-northwest from the upper edge of Edgewood Park, Westville’s main strip on Whalley Avenue hosts a bounty of dining choices, antique shops, art galleries and boutiques.
Among such everyday attractions, passersby might not notice Perecman Jewelers, an unassuming specialty shop tucked between House of Chao and Bella’s Cafe, open just four hours a day for four days a week. After picking up some Chinese takeout from Chao, I stumbled into the jewelry store for the humblest of reasons—new watch batteries—unaware that I was about to meet a family with a truly humbling story.
On one wall of the shop, delicate porcelain figurines, crystal vases and a ceramic cake plate sit on shelves as if they’ve always been there, waiting patiently to be admired by the right suitor. They’re indeed for sale, it turns out, though they’ve also made fine long-term decorations for the store. Meanwhile, a glass counter runs the length of the place, containing pins, rings, watches, cufflinks, cigarette cases and the like. Down the way, owner Gershon Perecman sits encased in a glass work shield, chin level with table under a crook-necked lamp, with a jeweler’s loupe over one eye to better see a dazzling assortment of Lilliputian gears, wheels and screws splayed before him.
With watchmaking and clock repair in his blood, Perecman (the “c” is pronounced like an “s”) moved to this location in 1958. But before that could happen—indeed, before he could arrive in the United States at all—he and his family had to survive the event by which all other large-scale human tragedies are measured: the Holocaust.
Perecman told me how he and his father were sent to the Dachau concentration camp, his mother and two sisters sent to another. When he was 18 years old, Perecman, barely surviving Dachau’s hard labor regimen and fearing that his much older father was certain to die there, let on to a guard that the two of them were watchmakers. This elevated their worth to the Nazis, who then employed them, and fed them just enough bread to subsist. Towards the end of the war, when the Nazis were finally being overwhelmed, Perecman’s mother and sisters, who had also survived, were put on a forced “death march.” Against all odds, they made it through that as well, though, tragically, Perecman’s mother died shortly thereafter from typhus.
The surviving members of the family reunited and eventually immigrated to the United States, settling in New Haven in 1948. Just one week after arriving, 26 year-old Perecman opened a tiny shop on Legion Ave. Father and son began to make a name for themselves, taking in repair work for Michaels Jewelers and an array of jewelry stores as far away as Bridgeport. Ten years later, they moved into the present location in Westville, where the family business has been getting along ever since.
The highly skilled trade shared between father and son has been passed to Perecman’s daughter, Shirley Brodach, an accomplished watchmaker in her own right who also helps out at the store. Even for a watchmaking family, there are wounds time can’t heal, but it’s clear—from the pride and gentle affection Shirley radiates for her dad to the still tender memories Perecman holds of his wife, Ruth, who passed away 14 years ago—that love has held them together.
After listening to the family’s story, I arranged my watch repair with Shirley and asked if Mr. Perecman could fix an antique carriage clock that hadn’t worked for 40 years. He said he could, and sure enough, he did: the clock now ticks along at home, marking the hour and half-hour with a deep, melodious chime.
896 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Written by Janelle Finch. Photographed by John M. Columbus.