LIMA — After more than three decades operating a women’s ready-to-wear shop at 128 W. Market St., Elsie Flammer decided it was time to retire. She thanked her customers in an ad in the Oct. 22, 1950, edition of The Lima News. “Thirty-two years of pleasant association are wrapped up in the history of our store — we have enjoyed every opportunity for service.”
That history, it turned out, was not quite wrapped up, and Flammer was not quite done.
“You know I had the shop downtown for more than 30 years,” she told the News on July 26, 1953, “opened it up the day after Prohibition came in. Then about three years ago I decided I decided to retire. And I did for a couple of months. Somehow, I got into this location (706 W. Market St.) and here I am again.”
This time retirement was going to stick, the 71-year-old Flammer swore. “It’s for good. I won’t say forever, but 35 years of my own retail business and 20 working for someone else — you see I was a mere child in arms when I started — is enough,” she told the News, adding that she would miss the shop. “I already feel empty inside. But this is the real finale. Elsie’s friendly service is no more.”
Elsie Flammer’s cheerful attitude covered a past filled with more than her share of sadness.
She was born in July 1882, one of five daughters and two sons of George Flammer and his wife, the former Elizabeth Seder, who had married in 1870 in Shelby County. The family arrived in Lima around 1880, settling into a home at 948 W. High St. Tragedy seemed to stalk the family.
On June 9, 1904, the Lima Times-Democrat announced that Elsie Flammer had resigned her position at Bauer’s dry goods store and took a job at the G.E. Bluem store, which had just moved from the Public Square to a new, larger store in the 200 block of North Main Street.
The following day, June 10, 1904, the Times-Democrat reported that Elsie Flammer’s youngest sister, 20-year-old Dilla Flammer, “an estimable young lady and a teacher of the local public schools, died very suddenly near the home of her father, George Flammer, shortly after 6 o’clock last evening, death resulting … from an attack of neuralgia of the heart.”
The Time-Democrat wrote that Dilla Flammer, who taught at “the West Spring street school building,” had spent the day reviewing end-of-the-school-year examinations, when she was called to the aid of a neighbor “stricken with a slight stroke of paralysis.” Dilla Flammer, rushing to the neighbor’s aid, “suddenly staggered and fell unconscious upon the ground.” The funeral was attended by many of her fellow teachers and her graduating class of 1902 from Lima High School.
Less than three years later, in January 1907, Elsie Flammer’s 29-year-old brother, George, who had moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1906, died suddenly. Another brother, David Flammer, moved to Montana sometime before 1900 and died in Sacramento, California, in 1935.
In 1917 and ’18, death visited Elsie Flammer’s family three more times. “Three deaths in a family in 16 months, taking the parents and one sister, is the toll of the Grim Reaper in a Lima home with the death early this morning of George Flammer at his residence, 948 W. High St.,” the News wrote Sept. 13, 1918.
“A year ago, June last, Miss Elizabeth Flammer (the eldest Flammer daughter who was born in 1872) passed away and the death of the mother occurred last November (Elizabeth Catherine Flammer was 67). Mr. Flammer was taken ill a week ago but previous to that time had been unusually well. He was 69 years and nine months old. He had been a resident of Lima for more than a quarter century.” The 1915 Lima City Directory showed George Flammer worked as a janitor, while daughters Elsie and Lavina worked at G.E. Bluem. Daughter Elizabeth Flammer had worked as a hat maker.
In 1919, Elsie Flammer opened her shop in partnership with George Robson. An ad in the May 23, 1919, edition of the News announced the shop, to be known as Flammer & Co., would be open for business the following day. According to the 1920 census, sisters Elsie, Lavina and Catherine were sharing the family home at 948 W. High St.
The partnership between Elsie Flammer and George Robson was dissolved in January 1924 and the shop became known as the Flammer Ready-To-Wear shop. In 1943, Catherine Flammer died at the age of 67, leaving Elsie and Lavina at the family home.
On May 14, 1950, an ad in the News announced the Flammer shop’s 32nd anniversary sale, before announcing two months later the shop would close. Then, just in time for 1950 Christmas shopping, Elsie Flammer reopened at 706 W. Market St.
Finally, in July 1953, Elsie Flammer, who told the News she went into business on “a shoestring and a song,” decided it was time to get out of business for good. Flammer credited her success to “good common sense,” knowing her customers, what they wanted and what they wanted to pay.
When Elsie Flammer died at the age of 90 on Oct. 3, 1972, she was living in a nursing home along with her sister Lavina, who died at the age of 89 on Nov. 11, 1977.
The sites upon which Elsie Flammer’s shops stood — at 128 W. Market St. and later at 706 W. Market St. — are both now beneath parking garages. Even the family home at 948 W. High St. in which she and her sisters grew up and lived for years, was swallowed up by change. The home site now is part of the approach from the north to Mercy Health-St. Rita Medical Center’s main parking lot.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.