LIMA — Fred Heimann, who would grow up to be, according to his business advertisement, Lima’s only master furrier, was born April 6, 1898, to Cyril and Kive Heimann in Vienna, Austria.
Heimann apprenticed in Vienna. He styled fur coats for feminine luxury-lovers in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago; Chile; Montevideo, Uruguay; Chicago; South Bend, Ind.; and Lima, since 1913.
A June 1, 1952, report begins, “Yes, more or less born with a silver fox in his mouth, Mr. Heimann knows more about mink, muskrat or silver fox than they know about themselves. Of course, Mr. Heimann didn’t start as an infant, but in 1913 at the ripe old age of 14 years, Mr. Heimann met his first mink.
“He’s done everything there is to do in the fur business – making full fur coats from the furs themselves, remodeling and restyling of coats from customers’ old coats, cutting, piecing and cleaning furs to satisfy the wants of his clients.”
“You see, there’s nothing in our work to replace the man,” Heimann said in a 1954 interview. “The furrier still must cut, sew, block, oil, style, the fur. After you’re 40 years in the business, you know, you know nothing. It takes years of training and practice to know furs.”
Heimann established his business, Heimann’s Furs, in 1939. Eighteen months after getting started at 65½ Public Square, he moved to 207 W. High St. Heimann operated his fur business in that location until 1950, when he moved the business to 129 W. Market St.
Heimann married Esther Leibow on Feb. 28, 1926, and the couple had two daughters, Billie and Sally. According to a Sept. 25, 1955, announcement in The Lima News, after spending a year in California, Billie returned to Lima at age 28 to manage the sportswear department at Heimann’s Furs, which was referred to in news reports as “Lima’s most fashionable women’s shop.”
Prices and items for sale varied, from women’s blouses, sweaters and skirts, to a variety of fur coats. According to a Dec. 17, 1950, advertisement in The Lima News, “Blouses: give her this dreamy lace front blouse. White and many colors, from $5.95.” Also, a “Very fine Northern Muskrat – light Mink shade,” cost $299, with others ranging from $199 to $359.
In a Jan. 29, 1954, interview, Heimann discussed how “most everybody would agree that mink, sable, beaver and leopard, all high-income bracket furs, look good on most anybody.”
Heimann also believed in giving back to the community. He supported education and encouraged girls graduating from high school in 1956 to study and do well in school, and they might win a reward from Heimann’s. According to an Aug. 23, 1955, advertisement, “A good educational system has the responsibility of providing information to stimulate thought, accumulate facts, encourage good habits, to build sound, useful and happy citizens.
“As citizens it is our responsibility to provide and support the educational system and proper facilities for instruction. As a demonstration of our feelings out of respect to the people of this community whose efforts and support made the new Lima High School a reality, Heimann’s will give to the girl graduating in 1956 from the New Lima High School with the highest four year scholastic standing – a beautiful FUR coat or FUR Jacket – The girl with the second best scholastic standing will receive a skirt, blouse and sweater,” said the ad.
Heimann also took the time to explain his work to the community.
“Mr. Heimann speaks to Home Ec women,” reads a headline from an Oct. 25, 1968, story in The Lima News. “Fred Heimann, president of Heimann’s Inc., spoke on ‘The Latest Fashion in Furs’ for Allen County Home Economics Association.
“I’ve been working for 58 years and I am still learning. In five or ten years there will be no master fur craftsmen because young men do not want to spend the time learning for so little pay. Everything will be mass produced,” Heimann said.
Heimann’s Furs had its share of challenges, namely theft.
The bold headline in a Feb. 10, 1958, report in The Lima News shouts, “BURGLARS HIT LIMA FUR STORE.” The story continues, “Hundreds of fur coats, including minks and sables, were stolen from Heimann’s Furs. Store personnel said the loss would total ‘in the thousands.’ The burglars, apparently knowing what they were after, entered through an open second floor window of the store, ripped open the floor, let themselves through to the main floor and broke open a safe containing the furs.”
In the Feb. 26, 1958, an update on the robbery is offered in The Lima News beginning with the headline, “Cleveland Police Nab Three in Lima Fur Theft.” The report continues, “A tell-tale laundry bag led to the arrest early this morning of three Cleveland ex-convicts for the $15,000 Heimann’s Fur Burglary. Lima detectives, in collaboration with Cleveland, cracked down on the three after obtaining a search warrant.”
But the next day’s news included a statement by Chief Donald F. Miller that the three fur fences with extensive criminal histories could not return to Lima because they had not admitted taking part in the Lima burglary itself.
“If they are only fences, there’s nothing we can do to bring them to Lima to face charges,” Miller said.
Although Heimann’s had a few rare cases of theft and shoplifting, the women’s shop continued to thrive, though there were some changes. In 1978, Fred Heimann died, and the store was passed on to Billie Manis, his daughter. In 1989, Heimann’s faced persistent parking problems and safety concerns and moved to a new location at 707 N. Cable Rd.
Another change involved Heimann’s gradually selling fewer and fewer furs during the animal rights movement, and then switching to selling designer dresses.
“It just died, and we just decided to let it go. Nobody wants furs anymore,” said Billie Manis.
In 1994, Manis decided to retire and close the shop. Esther Heimann, Manis’s mother, had been working part-time at the shop until 1993, at age 88.
“It’s been in the family for a long time, and it’s coming to an end. She (Esther) is sad but I think she understands that I can’t work forever,” Manis said.
“Business isn’t fun anymore,” Manis said in a Dec. 7, 1993, news report. “Everything is a discount store now. It’s not easy to be in the specialty business.”