Owner of The Frenchmen dies

William Koniuk at The Frenchmen store next to part of its Christmas display (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

William Koniuk at The Frenchmen store next to part of its Christmas display (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

William Koniuk, the founder of the The Frenchmen air conditioner shop on First Avenue, has died at 87.

His son Glenn said Koniuk, who’d battled cancer his whole life, became very ill in the past couple of months and died on Saturday, July 25.

He’d lived in Astoria, Queens, and until three years ago, worked 10-12 hours a day at his Manhattan store, which was well known for its annual Christmas storefront display. This was a tradition that continued for over 20 years.

Koniuk also held Christmas parties every year for the neighborhood at the store, complete with horse-drawn hayrides around the block and live music. He and his employees would dress up as elves.

But unlike most stores that use holiday events to try to get customers inside for sales, Koniuk knew not to bother. In fact, it was only because winter was so slow business-wise that he got the idea (and the time) to focus on putting together his Christmas display, which included dozens of moving Santa models and other holiday-themed characters.

“After Christmas, I’ll think about selling,” he once said.

When Koniuk retired in September, 2012, and closed the store, it was due to health-related reasons. Recently, said Glenn, his father’s kidney failed and two tumors appeared. He didn’t want to get into details but said, “They couldn’t really do anything for him.” Cancer had been a part of Koniuk’s life since was a child and he lost an eye to the disease.

Glenn, who’s continued to run The Frenchmen out of the company’s Brooklyn warehouse, said he wanted the Stuyvesant Town community to be aware of his father’s passing, since Glenn is often asked by customers how William is doing.

“He has a lot of friends there,” said Glenn.

The Frenchmen store, which was located between 19th and 20th Street for most of its existence, was actually the second location. Originally it was a block south, but moved after 20 years. Additionally, when the business first opened in 1962 it was called The Frenchmen TV Inc. and specialized in televisions and radios. Focusing on air conditioners would come later since at the time they were still too new and expensive for many people.

But the name of the store had nothing to do with Koniuk’s heritage; he was Ukrainian. However, his business partner at the time, Rene Lesebure, was French. They’d settled on the name over dinner at Koniuk’s sister’s Stuyvesant Town apartment, when she said, “You’re French” to Lesebure, and, “You’re both men,” Glenn once told T&V. “And that’s how the decision was made.”

Lesebure left the business after about a decade to retire.

Koniuk, who served as a Marine during World War II, is survived by his four children, Glenn, Brian, Karen and Daren and their mother Mae-Marie. He also had six grandchildren.

There are currently no plans for the former Frenchmen’s storefront space, which the Koniuk family owns and which was recently renovated. During the holiday season, Glenn had said he might lease it, but is in no rush to do so.

5 thoughts on “Owner of The Frenchmen dies

  1. THE FRENCHMAN

    Having lived in PCV for many years, having functioning air conditioning has always been among my priorities. And, I bought his Friedrich models many times. And if there was a problem, I called them and they quickly came.

    I knew that they were honest because often the man who would arrive would just replace something small or add fluid and just charge a modest fee. Knowing nothing , if I was told I needed a new one … I wouldn’t dispute it.

    Mr. Kunick was a member of the old school and now if anything goes wrong, I don’t know where to go. Honesty has been replaced by greed. Probably his greatest deed was his service in the military during the Second World War.

    R. I. P.

  2. Mr. Koniuk was a lovely man. I bought three air conditioners and a television set and various and sundry items from him over the years. Always a real gentleman and as trustworthy as could be. RIP Mr. Koniuk. Thank you for everything. Some of us will always remember you with fondness.

  3. Pingback: Cauz for Pauz leaving Thrift Shop Row, moving to First Avenue | Town & Village Blog

  4. Mr. Koniuk was very special to me. I felt like he represented the Stuy Town community. He was kind, approachable, honest. I especially appreciated his Christmas window and his charitable Christmas event each year. I’m so grateful my young children knew him – They might not remember him but I will never forget how energetic he was in trying to make them smile when visiting his spectacular Christmas display. I’m very sad that he is gone but I will always draw strength from his kindness and humility.

  5. Lived in Peter Cooper for decades. This kind man never ever left me to suffer the heat.
    NYC at it’s best. Rest in peace sir.

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