LIMA — With a little more than three weeks to go until Christmas in 1911, Edna Hanna-Armstrong, writing in the Lima Daily News, observed that the one thing “mothers, sisters, sweethearts and wives” could agree on was that “the hardest thing in the world to buy is a gift for a man.”
Hanna-Armstrong continued that it was “just such an errand” that brought her to the Hofeller and Hiatt men’s store in downtown Lima.
“A look about convinced us that buying men’s gifts this year ought to be an easy matter,” she wrote, “for there were fascinating things of all sorts to please the sterner sex, who, believe me, have their little vanities as well as the feminine contingent.” Hofeller and Hiatt carried men’s apparel “in all grades and kinds,” she wrote, concluding, “Sounds easy to buy a gift now, doesn’t it?”
Although many fashion trends have come and gone since Hanna-Armstrong’s 1911 shopping trip — including the much-maligned leisure suit, which The Lima News in 1974 proclaimed a “growing trend” — the shop started by Maurice Hofeller in the late 19th century remains a North Main Street fixture.
Born in Buffalo, New York, in 1867, and educated in Stuttgart, Germany, Hofeller came to Lima in January 1897 to manage the Mammoth Clothing store, which stood in the southwest quadrant of the Public Square. A year after his arrival, he set out on his own.
“Maurice Hofeller, formerly manager of the Mammoth, has decided to begin business for himself. He proposes soon to open a new gents furnishing store in this city and will probably occupy the place now occupied by King’s Café …,” the Lima Times-Democrat reported on Jan. 28, 1898. By March of that year, Hofeller’s store had opened on the east side of the square, with the Daily News proclaiming the store “would be a credit to a city of twice Lima’s size.”
In a Daily News ad from late July 1898, Hofeller, noting that summer was a quiet time for retail, implored all his friends to visit the store “whether you want to buy anything or not and help us kill time.” Hofeller then quipped, “Of course, if you want to contribute anything towards paying the rent, it will be thankfully received.”
He paid the rent at his shop on the east side of the Public Square until Feb. 1, 1905, when he moved his shop into new quarters at 236 N. Main St. on the first floor of the five-story Hotel Norval, which dominated the southeast corner of Main and North streets.
In the early 20th century, Hofeller stayed busy with civic and Jewish causes, joined bank boards, sold woolen underwear for 75 cents and hats for $2 in his store and, in 1909, signed a petition opposing the removal of hitching posts from downtown because, business leaders believed, it would inconvenience customers from outside the city.
Hofeller, who had gained a life partner in 1900 when he married Emma Tigner, of Lima, added a business partner in 1911. “Charles A. Hiatt and Maurice Hofeller, who have enjoyed a friendship of many years standing have formed a new partnership that promises to be a strong and popular one in the business world of Lima,” the Daily News reported on June 14, 1911.
Hiatt had worked with Hofeller at the Mammoth store before accepting a job at the Michael Clothing and Shoe Co., where he had worked since about 1900. “He is an excellent salesman, is untiring in his efforts to please patrons and is one of the best posted men in his line in the city,” the Daily News noted.
“He is popular socially and is active in three of the leading secret order organizations of the city — the Elks, Knights of the Maccabees and Home Guard of America.”
As a member of the Elks Club, Hiatt, through his club connections, was instrumental in obtaining a living breathing pair of elk from the state of Washington for the zoo in Faurot Park. “In preparation of their coming the section of the city park formerly fenced in for the deer which were killed in some unaccountable manner, will be re-enforced by additional fencing, placing it beyond the power of any animal to get over,” the Daily News reported Nov. 9, 1915. “The pair of elk to be given the Lima lodge are included in a herd of some 15 or more that will be shipped to different parts of the country.”
The shop was on the move in 1924. To make room for, in the words of The Lima News, “a tea-room and cafeteria of a type entirely different from any now seen in the city,” Hofeller and Hiatt packed up and moved directly across the street from the Hotel Norval. On Nov. 2, 1924, the News reported, “Remodeling of the rooms formerly occupied by the New System Baker in North Main Street will be started at once by Hofeller and Hiatt.”
About the same time, the shop at 236 N. Main St. became Hofeller, Hiatt & Clark. Paul Clark, who was born in Lima in 1898, the year Hofeller opened his clothing store, had joined the staff as a salesman. In 1918, as a sailor on the U.S. Arkansas at the end of World War I, he witnessed the surrender of the German Fleet. In a letter to his parents reprinted in the Lima Sunday News on Dec. 8, 1918, Clark wrote, “This morning at 3:00 o’clock we got underway to meet the ‘Germans High Sea Fleet’ and to acknowledge their surrender. That was something worth seeing and which one can only witness once.”
With the deaths of Hofeller in 1942 and Hiatt in 1950, Clark, who had slowly bought out his partners’ heirs, became the sole owner of the store.
In March 1962, work on a porcelain enamel front for the building housing Hofeller, Hiatt & Clark was completed, giving the building, according to the Lima Citizen, a “new, bird-free look.” The new look, the newspaper noted, “includes an angle at the top which prevents birds from perching on the edge. The angled top was designed after consultation with a Toledo zoo ornithologist.”
At about the same time, Frank Wellman and David Lammers joined the sales force at Hofeller, Hiatt & Clark. In 1966, Wellman and Lammers bought out Clark, who died in 1974. They decided the name of the store would remain unchanged.
The size of it did change, however, after the partners bought the adjacent building and expanded the clothing store in 1970.
Current owner Phillip Osmon started at the shop in 1966 and, in 1980, bought a small share from Wellman and Lammers. “When Lammers (who died in 1990) eventually left, Osmon bought a larger share of the store,” the News wrote in March 2011, “and about 12 years ago, when Wellman (who died in 2014) retired, he became a co-owner with James Gaugh, who is now retired from daily operations of the store.”
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.