LIMA — Early in the winter of 1945 — an era of shortages as the United States lingered between peace and prosperity in the wake of World War II — twins Aaron and Nathan Levy shared a home, ownership of Hart’s Jewelry and something very important to any businessman, as The Lima News explained in a story the day after Christmas 1945.
“Ex-Captain Aaron Levy, of 607 W. High St., does not have to worry about the big problem that is facing most of the country’s servicemen,” the News wrote. “He has a twin brother, Nathan. Nate, who is himself a discharged solder, was given his release back in 1943 when men’s clothing was still available. Fortunately for the two, who are managers of a Lima jewelry story, Nate purchased six suits when he was discharged. The brothers vie with each other in early rising these days. The first one up gets the pick of their mutual wardrobe.”
The Levy brothers also shared an abiding faith in their adopted hometown, serving it over the years on numerous boards and agencies. They also were longtime members of Temple Beth-Israel and B’nai B’rith, a Jewish community service organization.
Foremost, though, the Levys were businessmen, operating Hart’s Jewelry for the better part of a half century in the 100 block of West High Street.
Identical twins Nathan and Aaron Levy were born in Youngstown on Dec. 23, 1911, the youngest of eight children born to Russian immigrants Simon and Rose Aventov Levy. The Levys, according to Nathan Levy’s daughter, Connie Levy Hornung, left Russia at the turn of the century because of attacks, known as pogroms, targeting the Jewish population.
“Nathan grew up helping his father in his carpentry shop and working as a shoe salesman as a young man,” Hornung writes. “A cousin offered to show him various up-and-coming cities in Ohio where he might want to start his own Hart’s Jewelry Store as they had already established other Hart’s businesses in Warren and Niles, Ohio. Nathan chose Lima’s downtown as a promising area to open his own store …”
“The Hart Jewelry Store, 134 W. High St., latest addition to the growing ranks of Lima mercantile establishments, will formally open for business Friday morning,” the News reported Sept. 30, 1937. “Featuring a complete line of nationally advertised jewelry, watches and silverware, the store will be managed by Aaron and Nate Levy, twin brothers, formerly of Youngstown.”
During the store’s early days, according to Hornung, a leader of the Black Legion, an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan which was strong in the Lima area, “walked into Hart’s one day and said to Nathan, ‘Is this a Jew joint?’ Nathan remained calm and said, ‘Yes, we are Jewish, but how can we help you today?’ The leader bought several items and sent more business their way. Nathan was proud that they served Lima’s minority community when other stores and restaurants were not that open and accepting.”
World War II would find the brothers serving their country. Aaron Levy rose to the rank of captain and commanded a supply depot in England. Nathan Levy served with the Army chemical warfare division.
On Dec. 30, 1945, as the United States began returning to normalcy after the war years, an ad in the News promised a sterling silver comb and brush set to the first baby born in 1946, courtesy of Hart’s Jewelry. “But,” the ad continued, “if the first babies of the New Year are twins the twin managers of Hart’s will give $500.” Hart’s would make similar offers for years to come.
June 1947 saw the brothers make a different sort of promise. On June 1 Aaron Levy married Frances Moyer, the sister of former Lima Mayor Harry Moyer, while on June 15 Nathan Levy married Jane Masursky. “When they got out of the service,” Hornung writes, “both brothers were introduced to their wives by a close friend, Irving Yessenow, who took them to Fort Wayne to ‘meet some nice girls.’”
The brothers’ business also expanded in 1947. In December, the jewelry store opened in a new location, just east of the old store. The year before, the brothers had purchased the three-story brick building at 126 W. High St., which, the News wrote April 2, 1946, had been built in 1918 and at one time housed the first self-service cafeteria in Lima.
When it opened in mid-December 1947 after $250,000 in remodeling, the News wrote that it provided “an interesting study in modern store arrangement, lighting and fixtures.”
“Some of the unique features include the matched Georgia marble facing which covers the three-story front and Massachusetts granite installed in the street foyer. Concealed lighting, with ‘spots’ for featured merchandise, a special metal ceiling which acts as a heat conductor and air conditioner, recessed display balconies and in the wall cabinets are included in the streamlined layout.”
Hart’s grew again in the mid-1950s. On Sept. 1, 1955, the News reported, “Nathan and Aaron Levy, owners of Hart Jewelry Store, 126 W. High St., today purchased the former High Street market building, 132 W. High St., and two adjacent buildings housing the Otis Jewelry Store, 130 W. High St., and the Merit Shoe store, 124 W. High St.” The purchase, the brothers told the News “demonstrates our continued faith in the future of Lima.”
The brothers opened their expanded store in early December 1957. It featured a luggage department and jewelry repair area on the first floor. On the second floor was “a large house and giftwares department, featuring a vast variety of housewares and gifts displayed in attractive serve-yourself style,” the News wrote Dec. 2, 1957, adding that the floor also contained a music department. “The record department includes two soundproof high fidelity listening rooms and a shelved display of records occupying most of one wall and including thousands of musical disks.” The third floor, the News noted, was a “vast toys-only layout with everything from building blocks to pedal-operated cars and miniature pool tables for the small fry.”
In the 1960s, as downtown stores began migrating to the malls, the Levy brothers instead expanded their downtown operations. “Many stores moved out of downtown Lima,” Hornung wrote, “but Hart’s expanded instead, to add Hart’s Furniture and Hart’s Audio stores that were connected inside.”
Aaron Levy died Oct. 12, 1982, at the age of 70. In addition to his work with many charitable organizations, he was a past president of the Lima Downtown Association, a member of the Elks and Optimists, and the Lost Creek Country Club.
On Feb. 27, 1985, Nathan Levy, citing health reasons, announced Hart Jewelry store would close within 60 days, bringing to an end its 48-year history in downtown. “There’s a time for everything,” he told the News. “There was a time to open, and now there is a time to close.”
Nathan Levy died at 93, on May 19, 2005, having survived his twin by more than 22 years. He had served 11 years on the Lima Board of Education and was president of the organization in 1976. He was a charter member of the Lima Breakfast Optimist Club.
In 1989, Kohn’s Pawnshop moved into the former Hart’s Jewelry store.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.