Pied Piper of south shore

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Welcome to the inside story of
"The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in Chicago"



Caryn Lazar Amster, ( Elk Grove , Illinois ) author of The Pied Piper of South Shore , Toys and Tragedy in Chicago recently won Honorable Mention in the 13th Annual Writer’s Digest Magazine’s International Self-Published Book Awards in the Family Stories category for her true Chicago story. The book will be featured in the Magazine’s March issue.  

The judge’s review praised the book and the writing.  “The author is a very good writer.  She knows how to ‘show’ (not tell).  Though this book is the personal account of her father’s life, death and impact on a Chicago neighborhood, the author keeps the reader engaged with vivid story-telling. The Pied Piper of South Shore contained the best writing (in terms of craft) of the entries this judge received.  It’s a moving, vivid story of a terrible crime, its causes and aftermath, and of one family’s ability to preserve a decent hard-working, life-impacting man’s legacy.”    

Amster's book is her own family story, a true crime story of her father, innovative Chicago toy store owner Manny Lazar, known as the Pied Piper of South Shore. It is set primarily in Chicago 's South Shore neighborhood in the 1950s and 60s. It takes readers from Russian persecution to American freedom, from Hula Hoops to hit men, It is the story of two children of immigrants, how they built both their American dream and their richly diverse neighborhood in which each fell prey to the brutality of gangs. The foreword to the book is by Emmy and Tony award-winning singer and actor Mandy Patinkin.

The Pied Piper of South Shore
also won the USA Book News "Best of 2004" award in the True Crime category and received an all "5" top rating from the 12th Annual award from the same magazine in the Non-Fiction category. It has received rave reviews from local and national newspapers, websites, publications, book groups and audiences.


Listen in on a recent nostalgic Chicago South Shore interview. Chicago radio and television personality Dean Richards (former South Shore resident), recently interviewed Mitch Markovitz (South Shoreite and book cover artist) and me about South Shore in the .50s and .60s and my new award winning true South Shore story, The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in Chicago.
Click Here to listen


Chicago Jewish News - Jewish Chicago's Hometown Newspaper


After reading the chapter description, if you would still like a full galley of the book please click here - limited copies are still available

Chapter Description

A foreword by Mandy Patinkin, a long time Wee Folks customer, thanks Mr. and Mrs. Lazar for providing an oasis, a place to dream and feel safe.

1. The Day the Laughter Died - Chicago Toy store owner Manny Lazar, "The Pied Piper of South Shore," is shot and killed in front of his wife, Belle, by a gang hit man during an armed robbery gone wrong. It's the end of a legendary business and the couple who run it, but also marks the end of the neighborhood that once prospered.

2. The Folks Behind Wee Folks - Manny and Belle Lazar's story unfolds with their families' flight from Jewish persecution in czarist Russia to the promise of America. Burly Manny, an uneducated English immigrant in Chicago, meets petite Belle, a first-generation Russian-American college graduate who teaches school in Joliet, Illinois. The culturally mismatched couple fall in love and marry at the end of WWII.

3. Baby Steps - The First Store - Wee Folks is born over breakfast at the Lazars' kitchen table in 1945. When Manny and Belle open the toy store on Chicago's 79th Street, the neighborhood is a melting pot of merchants and Irish Catholic and Jewish residents. In debt, with nothing more than $20 in the till on opening day, these two pivotal newcomers to Chicago and South Shore build their fledgling business into a retailing archetype. Within two years, the store's success allows Manny to quit his day job and devote himself full-time to his dream.

4. The Fabulous Fifties - Manny and Belle's personalized retailing style, draws Chicago customers by the hundreds, including now world famous personalities like Mandy Patinkin, Muhammad Ali and Corky Siegal. A bustling birthday club, innovative promotions, and attentive customer service turn the store into a legend among retailers and clients alike. "Mr. and Mrs. Wee Folks" make children's dreams come true. In return, customers help Manny and Belle survive fire and flood during two Christmastime disasters.

5. Grand Opening - The Second Store - A new and larger Wee Folks opens on 79th Street in 1957 to the excitement and anticipation of hundreds of children and their parents. The business becomes a retailing phenomenon as Chicago's first self-service toy store. The 1959 debut of Barbie, catapults the new location's success, as Wee Folks becomes Chicago's Official Barbie Headquarters. The American dream continues as Manny and Belle at last move into their own South Shore home.

6. The Scary '60s - When the first black families move into South Shore, greedy realtors drum up business by promoting prejudice, intentionally scaring white residents into selling their homes at tremendous losses. Culturally, racially, and financially, the once vibrant neighborhood slowly dies. But Wee Folks thrives right up to the end, despite a daring dynamite experiment that lands Manny in the hospital. By the end of the decade, however, Manny and Belle know that their survival depends on moving their store and their home away from the black gangs that are terrorizing South Shore.

7. The Birth of Two Nations - The growth of a gang begins in South Shore with a handful of young boys hanging around a street corner in 1960. By the end of the decade, the group evolves into the Blackstone Rangers, America's largest street gang with roots in the Nation of Islam, a movement that began in the heart of South Shore. The death knoll for the neighborhood begins to sound as the Rangers shake down businesses and cheat the federal government and white philanthropists out of money intended for neighborhood improvement. With the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., fear escalates and blood is shed on the streets of the neighborhood.

8. Trials - After Manny's murder, Wee Folks is auctioned off, down to the bare walls. The gang member gunman is apprehended and put on trial. The author takes the stand as a material witness; her mother, Belle, gives an eyewitness account, forcing her to relive the shooting. Witnesses who refuse to succumb to gang pressure bravely testify. The murderer is convicted and sentenced to life. But justice is not fully served.

Epilogue - Readers are updated on several characters, including the killer, who served only part of his sentence; Belle, who moves from Chicago, continues her education, becomes president of an international Jewish women's organization, and, remarkably, forgives the murderer; and the author's amazing quest while researching and writing this book.

Two appendixes end the book: One recalls the stores of 79th Street, from Stony Island to Jeffrey Avenue, and the other tells the stories about how some of the most popular toys and games in the 1950s and 1960s got their start.

If you have any questions please call me at 847-895-6449
I would love to know when this appears in your publication. Need a high resolution picture of Caryn? Download here.
Please email me and let me know. Thank you.
Caryn Lazar Amster


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Poster and special editions

The "Pied Piper of south shore" book cover

Full color lithographed posters (24” x 33”) of the book cover painted by Mitch Markovitz.
$29.95 plus $7.50 shipping

Giclee special limited (150) editions (20"x30") of the 79th Street scene without the book text - signed, numbered, certificate of authenticity.
Giclees at $450 plus shipping to be discussed with artist at time of purchase

ORIGINAL painting of the book cover (oil on canvas), 50"x33", with book title lettering - $10,000.
Email Mitch Markovitz.

Personally autographed books, posters and prints make great gifts!


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