Inside one of the many old guest books hidden away in Landau’s back offices are the signatures of people from Taiwan, Germany, the Dominican Republic and North Wales—and that’s just spanning a few pages. Landau, an independent retail store on Nassau Street, is run by two brothers, Robert and Henry Landau, and the store provides good reason for these tourists to visit from all over the world.
Landau sells woolens and an assortment of other products, but perhaps is best known for housing the only permanent Einstein exhibit in the country. The collection, kept in a small corner in the back of the store, consists of Einstein posters, figurines, books, t-shirts, and other memorabilia. Photographs on the wall depict some of Einstein’s history, many of them displaying moments of his life in Princeton.
The museum began when I.Q., a 1994 movie about Einstein, was being filmed in Princeton and Robert and Henry came across a picture of Robert’s mother-in-law sitting next to Einstein.
“We put it in the window in 1994,” Henry said. “We put a couple of ads in the local paper that we wanted Einstein memorabilia to put in the window. We filled a 24-foot long window and it was the most viewed window we had ever had.”
After a couple of shifts to different places, the collection was moved to its current position and has evolved into the international attraction that it is today.
Pi Day also attracts a large number of customers to the store, both to see the Einstein museum and to purchase quirky Pi Day- and Einstein-related merchandise, this year including a “relativity watch” with a clock face that moves instead of its hands, and Pi day shirts selling for $14.15, the first four decimal digits of pi.
Henry’s favorite part of running the store is meeting all of the interesting people who visit Landau.
“You never know who you’re going to meet, you never know what you’re going to hear,” he said. “It’s just astounding to see who comes through this town.”
Robert and Henry Landau took over the store from their parents, who took it over from their parents. The store originated in Jersey City in 1914, moved to Brooklyn, then moved to Princeton in 1955. Henry and Robert both worked in the store at a very young age, and Henry said that he had always pictured himself taking over the store because he enjoyed working there.
“By the time I was 11,” he said, “I was always doing something here.”
Robert and Henry both went to college for business and marketing respectively, but have learned most of their skills from their experience in the store and with customers. Robert has found that the best decisions come from trying things out himself and taking chances.
“We know this is not a science. This is based on a lot of things we have no control over. So you try something. And if it works, you expand on it. If it doesn’t, you tinker with it. And that’s our style,” he said.
Both brothers find that one of Landau’s most important qualities is its status as an independent, family-owned business.
“That makes us stand out more like a sore thumb—a good sore thumb,” Robert said. “It’s very, very hard to survive (as a small business) for as long as we’ve survived. So we’re pretty lucky.”
The brothers, only four years apart in age, find working together to be sometimes difficult but always enjoyable.
“It’s very hard to have two people who think they know everything, but we’ve separated responsibilities where I’m responsible for certain things and he’s responsible for others, and that works,” Robert said.
Henry said that running the business together is necessary because just one of them would not be able to run the store they way they can together.
“I don’t think I could do it on my own, I don’t think he could do it on his own,” he said.
Landau has sold a number of eclectic items, including the first pantyhose for women in 1969, woolens from Iceland in the 1970s, and now sweaters, hats, and more, including gloves made from possum fur from New Zealand.
“I think our success has been based on the fact that we’ve continued to reinvent our product base,” Robert said.
This product base, the brothers said, is what attracts the wide range of people they love to see come into the store, whether from Taiwan, Germany, the Dominican Republic, North Wales or anywhere else.