LIMA — Jim Stippich recalled farmers whiling away the time in his family’s hardware store while their wives joined the Saturday shoppers at the Leader or Montgomery Ward or other downtown stores. In those days, Stippich said, the floors above the hardware store housed doctors’ and dentists’ offices and, later, apartments.
“I had my first tooth pulled up there as a child,” Stippich said, adding that, in 1946, he posed for wedding pictures at a studio upstairs.
By December 1987, when Stippich sat down to reminisce with a Lima News reporter, times had changed downtown. Gone to the malls were Montgomery Ward, the Leader store and most of the other downtown retailers, taking with them most of the shoppers who had crowded the downtown sidewalks on a Saturday evening. Gone, too, were the offices and apartments. The upper floors now saw more pigeons than people.
Soon to be gone, or so it seemed late in 1987, was the then 98-year-old Metropolitan Building itself, which stood on the northeast corner of Main and North streets, and which Stippich Hardware had occupied for so long it was referred to as the Stippich Hardware building. Described as the city’s finest surviving 19th century commercial block, it was on track to be leveled to provide parking for a new county jail.
When the five-story building was constructed beginning in 1889 by James Ohler and Robert Mehaffey on property formerly occupied by Dr. William McHenry’s home, it was the tallest building in the city. It also was the first with an elevator, which, according to a March 1915 article in Lima’s Republican-Gazette, some thought a little too modern. “Cautious people told Ohler that he was making a foolish mistake, that his building would lack for tenants because the farmers of the county would be afraid to use the new-fangled lift,” the newspaper wrote.
They weren’t. “The country people took to the elevator more quickly than city folks,” the Republican-Gazette noted. “Farmers soon got the elevator habit and came to town to have the fun of riding in Ohler’s machine. They would take a trip and then gravely offer to pay the elevator boy for the fun.”
The tenants didn’t stay away either. “The Metropolitan Block, corner of Main and North streets, is filling up rapidly. The first firm into it was that of Marsh & Heim, with a fine stock of dry goods, to which constant additions have been made,” the Lima Daily News reported Feb. 28, 1890, adding that “the Metropolitan Bank, a new monetary organization, is fitting up headquarters there. The new passenger elevator, the only one in the city is quite and acquisition, and attraction, to the building.”
On a February Sunday in 1926, a band of “yeggmen” (burglars) found the bank in the building quite attractive. They broke into the Metropolitan Bank and made off with an estimated $100,000 to $750,000 in cash, jewelry and negotiable securities, kidnapping a St. Johns resident after their car broke down and leaving the car and 1,300 silver dollars in a field north of Uniopolis, according to a 1951 article in The Lima News on the 25th anniversary of the heist. Neither the remainder of the haul nor the burglars, who disappeared in Columbus after being dropped off by the St. Johns man, were ever found. The Metropolitan Bank remained in the Metropolitan Block until 1931, when it moved to North Elizabeth Street.
“The (Metropolitan) building was intended to accommodate the flood of businesses and residents coming to the city as a result of the oil boom four years prior,” The Lima News wrote in a 1998 article.
“The Metropolitan Building housed dentist offices, doctors, photographers and apartments for locals. Through the years, the building also was home to barbershops, paint stores, hardware and clothing stores, a dry goods store, music store, Metropolitan Bank and even a bowling alley.” In 1915, the 50-member Lima Motorcycle Club opened offices in the building, which was by then also home to Evans and Thomas Hardware store.
Meanwhile, about 1927, Ted Longmeier and Walter Stippich Sr. opened a small hardware store at 705 S. Main St., near the intersection of Main and Kibby streets. They eventually moved their store to 337 N. Main St., just across from the Metropolitan Building. In 1934, Longmeier and Stippich Hardware moved into the northern portion of the Metropolitan Building’s first floor.
Longmeier, who had at one time worked for Evans and Thomas, was killed in August 1940 when he was struck by a car “while rounding up cattle which had strayed from a field” at his farm on Harding Highway. The store would continue to be referred to as Longmeier and Stippich for several years after his death.
In January 1944, Walter Stippich Sr. and his brother, Richard Stippich, purchased the north half of the Metropolitan Building, adding the south half that September for their growing hardware business. In 1963, the Stippich family opened a second store at 1300 Bellefontaine Ave., which had formerly been the home of Ballard Hardware.
By then, both Stippich brothers were dead. Walter Stippich Sr., a native of Landeck, died of a heart attack in 1953, followed by Richard Stippich, who suffered a fatal heart attack while going home at noon one day in May 1962.
Jim Stippich, the oldest son of Walter Stippich Sr., told the News in 1992 that he had spent most of his life in the hardware store. “One of the memories Jim treasures most is of Walter Sr. as he directed customers through the store,” the News wrote Jan. 12, 1992. “From a chair near the back stairs, Walter used a cane (acquired when his left leg was amputated) to point shoppers to the various nuts and bolts and other supplies.”
Jim Stippich was joined in running the store by his brothers Norbert Stippich and Walter Stippich Jr. While he worked with the hardware departments, Walter Stippich Jr. handled paints and finishes, and Norbert Stippich handled the finances, Jim Stippich said, adding that Norbert Stippich’s wife, Vera, managed housewares.
In 1979, the Metropolitan Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that failed to shield the Romanesque Revival style building from the threat of the wrecker’s ball when the county came looking for parking in 1987.
In stepped the non-profit American House which purchased the building with the help of a $100,000 loan from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and began renovation work. Stippich Hardware closed its downtown and Bellefontaine Avenue stores in January 1992. Jim Stippich died in 1995, Norbert Stippich in 1997 and Walter Stippich Jr. in 2011.
In 1995, Karen Barrington and Liz Leis opened a women’s apparel and general alteration store called Nitza’s in the south portion of the Metropolitan Building’s ground floor. Nitza’s closed in February 2019 to accommodate expansion of The Met restaurant, which occupies the north portion of the building.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.