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Pioneer Linens history still being sewn after 110 years of business

Penny Murphy threading generations together through family business
Posted at 3:42 PM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 15:42:50-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The story of Penny Murphy and her family business is woven into the fabric of Palm Beach County.

As the third-generation owner of Pioneer Linens, Murphy is continuing what her grandfather started.

"We started out as a hardware store when my grandpa came down here in 1912 and he lived in a tent and they were just building Lake Worth, and that's where he started," Murphy told WPTV.

Murphy's grandfather, Max Greenberg, an Austrian immigrant, became the biggest retailer in the Lake Worth area.

Pioneer Linens sign, founded in 1912
Pioneer Linens first opened in what is now Lake Worth Beach in 1912.

"He sold ice boxes and kerosene lamps and furniture, I believe, at that time," Murphy said.

In 1928, a category 5 hurricane struck South Florida. Max Greenberg's business was wiped out. The following year came the great depression.

Greenberg, along with his son, George, who was Murphy's father, decided to leave what is now Lake Worth Beach and opened a new business on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. It was called Pioneer Linens.

Pioneer Linens in 2022 compared to old photo of Pioneer Company
The Pioneer Company, as it was once called, eventually became Pioneer Linens as it's known today.

"I remember coming in here when I was probably 3 or 4 years old and, you know, just going up the back staircase and going into the office and seeing my grandfather and my father," Murphy recalled.

A scrapbook filled with every Pioneer Linens advertisement through the years was meticulously saved.

Just like ads, the retail landscape changed over the years. Murphy remembered in the 1960s when businesses were abandoning downtowns for malls.

Penny Murphy shows Kelley Dunn scrapbook of Pioneer Linens history through old newspaper ads
Penny Murphy shows WPTV's Kelkey Dunn a scrapbook chronicling the history of Pioneer Linens through old newspaper advertisements.

"At that time, my father decided he was going to stay down here," she said.

George Greenberg not only stayed but is credited with forming the Downtown Development Authority, which today supports downtown businesses.

"My dad didn't give up," Murphy said. "He also really enjoyed what he was doing, and he worked here until he was 92, until the day he really couldn't work anymore."

plaque recognizes contributions of George Greenberg, father of Pioneer Linens owner Penny Murphy
This plaque in downtown West Palm Beach recognizes the contributions of George Greenberg, who took over his father's business from first-generation Pioneer Linens owner Max Greenberg.

Murphy and her children, the fourth generation of Pioneer Linens, have helped the family business continue to grow and change with the times. But she never forgets the sacrifices made by her father and grandfather.

"I think it was incredible how he persevered and how my father was just such a genius in merchandising and in business, and I'm a lucky recipient of that and I'm really lucky that I get to work with my family every day," Murphy said.