Fresno business owner Norman Strauss was an expert in women’s fashion who was not afraid to share his thoughts about a style he didn’t like or to show off one that raised a few eyebrows.
In September 1970, he announced the death of the “midi” dress in an obituary that appeared in The Fresno Bee, calling the midcalf-length dress “hard to accept as fashion.” When the topless bathing suit came around – only a bikini bottom with suspender straps that went over the naked bust – he bought one and displayed it in the store window.
Mr. Strauss, owner of Strauss’ Apparel Shop in Fresno, had a sense of humor and liked a good joke, said his daughter, Louise Oppenheim. He died Oct. 15 at age 98 of congestive heart failure.
Midi dress obituary: “Dead – The Midi Dress – from an acute case of rejection by the American woman. Surviving the deceased is the knee, the jumpsuit, the pant and dress set, the floor-length dress and good taste. Services held every day at Strauss’.”
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Born on March 23, 1918, in Pasadena, Mr. Strauss ended up leaving his studies at San Jose State University to run the business his father, Beny, started in 1932 on Fulton Street in downtown Fresno and later expanded with a branch in Porterville. The women’s clothing store was known for coats and swimsuits, but for a time also carried children’s clothing.
“In the ’40s, his father fell into ill health and my grandmother asked my dad to run the store,” Oppenheim said. “He pretty much ran it all the way through my grandmother’s life. He did an excellent job.”
Oppenheim, who lives in La Quinta, worked alongside her father as a teenager. “I remember there were a lot of hours,” she said.
Mr. Strauss enlisted in the Army during World War II and fought on the beaches of Normandy and in the Battle of the Bulge. He was injured during the war but refused medical treatment in order to stay with his infantry unit, said his son, Charles.
“He would speak his mind in the war,” Charles Strauss said. “He was a private and promoted as a sergeant then back to a private because he would speak up for the men.”
Oppenheim remembers her father never wanting to talk about the war. “He was so proud that he had served, but he did not want to discuss how bad it was on the ground,” she said.
In January 1949, Mr. Strauss married his wife of 63 years, Hermina Levy, who was a lawyer, a United Nations consultant and a Fresno civic leader. She died in 2012.
He was principled, and you can see that by the fact that he left school to help his family.
Charles Strauss, son of Norman Strauss
After more than two decades on Fulton Street, and as it began its transition into a pedestrian mall, Mr. Strauss moved the business to Manchester Center where it became one of the regional shopping mall’s first retailers in 1955. It was located next to Woolworth’s facing Blackstone Avenue.
Mr. Strauss served as president of the Manchester Center business owners group and was a member and volunteer in a variety of community organizations, including the Fresno Kiwanis Club, the Downtown Division of the Fresno County and City Chamber of Commerce, the American Heart Association, the Salvation Army, the Cub Scouts and the Fresno Dolphins Swim Club, for which he was president.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Strauss and his wife sold the business and moved to the Bay Area, where he continued to work until 1990 as a manufacturer’s representative for women’s clothing covering California, Washington and Oregon.
Mr. Strauss eventually retired to Rancho Mirage in Southern California.
“He was principled, and you can see that by the fact that he left school to help his family,” Charles Strauss said. “When it came to serving the country, he volunteered.”
Born: March 23, 1918
Died: Oct. 15, 2016
Occupation: Store owner
Survivors: brother, Fred Allen Strauss; son Charles Strauss; daughter Louise Oppenheim; two grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren
Contributions: American Heart Association in honor of Norman and Hermina Strauss