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Baer's Clothing (Historic)
105 S Washington St


  
Baer's Clothing Store was started by Meyer Baer, who sailed from Hamburg, Germany around Cape Horn to San Francisco and came to Sonora in 1851. Although he had intended to mine for gold, he quickly decided that what was needed were merchants to supply the gold miners. He first started a crockery store. He did well, because the miners were often wealthy and, it was said, the coffee tasted better in fancy porcelain than a tin cup.

Disaster struck when a friend suggested that he also sell whiskey. The whiskey drinkers enjoyed themselves greatly, not only drinking all of the liquor but smashing every piece of crockery in the store. Baer learned a lesson, as he put it, "that booze was an independent business and could not be successfully conducted with the merchandise business".

Baer then opened a clothing store and later took over the business of another merchant who left for San Francisco when the Foreign Miner's Tax caused a major recession in Sonora.

Meyer Baer was Jewish, and it was common for Jews then to try their luck as miners but then move to merchandising. They chose merchandising because it involved less risk and because it allowed them to live in cities and towns with their families. Large families were common in the 19th century, and Baer had eight children. He and his wife lived in a wooden building in back of the store, where almost all of their children were born. Later, in 1879, they built a house on Stewart Street. Meyer Baer died in 1907, leaving his store to his son Julius.

Another Jew who was in the retail business during the Gold Rush in Sonora was Michel Goldwater, grandfather of Senator Barry Goldwater, who ran unsuccessfully for President of the United States in 1964. Michel Goldwater had been born in Poland, but had fled persecution as a Jew there, going to France and then England. He and his brother then left Europe, arriving in Sonora in 1852. Michel first tried selling fruit, but this didn't work out, so he and his brother opened a saloon. They weren't happy about the business--the miners could be obnoxious drinkers, and upstairs from their saloon was a brothel. But a saloon took little capital to open. Their business did well, and two years later, Michel's wife and two children, who had been left in London, joined him in Sonora.

By the late 1850s, the petering out of placer mining caused a major recession in Sonora, and the Goldwaters' business was in trouble. They moved to Los Angeles, where they did well for a while, then ran into difficulties when a drought caused economic problems. In 1863, they moved to Arizona and, with a partner, opened a mercantile store. They benefited greatly when a customer who had owed money to their partner turned over ownership of a mine that later had a major strike. They built additional stores in Arizona, ending up with a large chain. Michel had a son in Los Angeles, Baron, who himself had a son, Barry, the future Senator from Arizona.