LIMA — The southeast quadrant of Lima’s Public Square had been a gathering place since 1832 when John Porter Mitchell cleared the land and built a tavern there. Into the early 20th century, local farmers brought fruits and vegetables, livestock and feed to an open-air market there.
By the 1870s, barely four decades after the city was organized and Mitchell built his tavern, Lima’s log-cabin past was rapidly fading. Around the city, bricks and mortar were replacing the old wood buildings as new commercial blocks with new businesses sprang up.
In the southeast quadrant the Square the three-story Union Block went up on the spot where Mitchell’s tavern served settlers and, in the early 1830s, been visited by the occasional Shawnee. “A number of mechanics from Toledo arrived here on Monday last, to work on the Union Block,” the Allen County Democrat reported May 24, 1877, “The contractors will put the work through on the ‘fast line,’ as the entire structure is to be finished by the first of September.”
The building was barely up when Civil War veteran Samuel L. Bowlby, also apparently on the “fast line,” moved in with his clothing store, offering, according to an 1877 ad in the Allen County Democrat, “something new and no humbug.” Haberdashery free of humbug would slowly supplant horses and hay in the southeast quadrant and the store opened by Bowlby in 1877 would become a fixture in the Union Block.
Bowlby, however, did not become a fixture in Lima. “On Monday last the clothing store of S.L. Bowlby & Co., was purchased by Mr. Edwin Braun of Bucyrus, who will still continue to carry on the business in the Union Block,” the Democrat reported Jan. 22, 1880. “Capt. Bowlby,” the Democrat added, referring to Bowlby’s Civil War rank as a member of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, “has been a resident of Lima only about three years, but during that time he has made hosts of friends both in and out of the business world, and such men we always regret to lose.”
Despite the regrets, the Democrat extended a “warm welcome for Mr. Braun,” who was born in Germany and had operated a store in Bucyrus prior to arriving in Lima. “Ed Braun, the live and wide-awake clothing man tells the readers of the Democrat what great bargains he can give the people. Braun will do just what he promises,” the Democrat wrote Nov. 25, 1880.
In Braun’s employ was another “wide-awake” young man, Gus Kalb. Kalb was a salesman in Braun’s store and, like Braun, was born in Germany. “Gus is one of the exemplary young men of Lima and has hosts of warm friends here,” the Democrat declared July 22, 1880.
By the end of the following year, Ed Braun’s clothing store had become Gus Kalb & Co. Kalb’s tenure in the Union Block would be longer than either of his predecessors. “Gus Kalb today celebrates his eighth anniversary of his engaging in business in Lima,” the Lima Daily Democratic Times wrote Oct. 13, 1888. “Gus is a hustler and has made great headway during these eight years.” Both Bowlby and Braun would leave Lima. Bowlby died in Wisconsin in 1907 and Braun in Toledo in 1910.
Kalb and his wife, Sadie, whom he had married in 1883, put down roots. “Gus Kalb has bought the Market and Metcalf street corner of the Brice property and will build a residence on it, with a frontage on Market Street,” the Democratic Times reported Dec. 4, 1888.
In early March 1894, a small fire damaged Kalb’s store — and prompted a fire sale. An ad in the March 9, 1894, edition of the Times-Democrat called the sale “the chance of a lifetime,” noted the men’s and boy’s clothes were “only slightly damaged” and went on to remind “those who were not fortunate enough to visit our immense reduction sale on the first day, we merely wish to state that our stock is completely inexhaustible …”
All of which left one competing store smelling something other than smoke in what became a lengthy fire sale. Michael’s, a store in the Opera House block at Main and High streets, began publishing competing ads for a “Knock-Out Sale,” adding that it was “no fake-fire scheme cut-in-half-after-being-marked-up sale.”
Shortly after the fire, on May 15, 1894, the Times-Democrat reported, “There are rumors to the effect that the organization of a new bank will be one of the ventures of the near future. Those mentioned as being at the head of the enterprise are Joseph Goldsmith, late proprietor of the Lima House, and Gus Kalb, the clothier.” On July 2, 1894, the firm of Goldsmith & Kalb opened their business in the Opera House Block. “Messrs. Goldsmith & Kalb will both give their entire attention to the banking business,” the Times-Democrat wrote.
“Gus Kalb is preparing to retire from the clothing business after 15 years close attention to that line of trade,” the newspaper noted Oct. 15, 1894, adding that Kalb had operated “one of the most successful clothing stores in Lima” for 15 years. During the Christmas season of 1895, a janitor made off with $18,300 from the bank. This loss affected confidence in the bank, and it was dissolved shortly thereafter.
In 1919, Kalb and his wife moved to California. He died in 1923 in Cuyahoga County, but left behind something for young Lima scholars. Beginning in 1924 and continuing several decades, a Gus Kalb scholarship was awarded annually to an outstanding scholar from the Lima schools.
Meanwhile, in early 1895, the clothing store opened under Ben and Leon Loewenstein, who were born in New York City, and became known as Loewenstein Brothers. According to a July 20, 1916, story on Leon Loewenstein in the Times-Democrat, his arrival in Lima “came about in a rather strange way.”
Leon Loewenstein, according to the account, was looking to relocate from the East and had “inquired of a traveling salesman for a location in some energetic booming city.” The salesman told Loewenstein Lima was the place he was looking for. On Oct. 4, 1894, “Mr. Loewenstein arrived in Lima and entered what was then known as the Gus Kalb Clothing Store. Feeling more than satisfied with Lima, he purchased the stock and location of Mr. Kalb on the very spot he is now operating under the firm name of Leon Loewenstein,” the Times-Democrat wrote.
On April 24, 1900, the Times-Democrat reported that Ben Loewenstein “has sold his interest in the business to M.J. Wertheimer, of Deadwood, South Dakota, and the firm will hereafter be known as Loewenstein & Wertheimer.” Wertheimer was Leon Loewenstein’s brother-in-law. Less than three years later Loewenstein & Wertheimer became simply Loewenstein’s as Wertheimer retired.
Leon Loewenstein operated the store until 1920, announcing on Jan. 6 of that year that he was “winding up” his “commercial interests in the immediate future.” Leon Loewenstein died in 1932.
The space in the Union Block that had housed a clothing store for more than four decades became a furniture store.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.