LIMA — Menno Basinger arrived in Lima in 1890 with a single $5 bill in his pocket, “but in addition,” according to the 1906 history of Allen County, “he possessed youth, health, ambition and persistent industry and, in time, this strong combination of qualities brought about a large degree of prosperity.”
That prosperity would last through the 20th century with Basinger’s Jewelry Store becoming a downtown fixture, operated by succeeding generations of Basingers.
Menno Basinger was born near Pandora in Putnam County in February 1867 and “remained on the home farm until he had reached the age of 19 years, alternately farming and attending the local schools,” according to the history. “He accompanied his mother when she removed to Ada, and remained there three years, then coming to Lima. For the first six month, after contracting with D.A. McComb, then a leading jeweler of Lima, the young man worked for the sum of $4 per week.”
When McComb retired in 1893, Basinger and his business partner, William Melville, took over the business. In 1897, Menno Basinger sold his interest to Melville and went into business on his own for a year before again entering a partnership, this time with Hugh Cameron. The firm of Basinger & Cameron lasted until February 1903 when Basinger sold his interest to Cameron.
In May 1903, Menno Basinger opened a jewelry store at 63 Public Square. The store, a 1910 article in the Lima Daily News noted, “is one of the show places of Lima,” carrying “diamonds, silverware” and other cutlery as well as “watches, optical goods, umbrellas and many other articles carried in a well-appointed store of this character.”
An ad for Basinger’s in the Aug. 30, 1905, edition of the Lima Times-Democrat advised, “If you’ve a little money to invest, buy a diamond. There’s nothing more stable in value; they never wear out or become second hand; and you can always turn them into cash.”
By the summer of 1912, Menno Basinger was again moving his jewelry store, this time to the southwest corner of High and Main streets. On announcing the opening of the new store, the News noted that Basinger’s former location on the northwest corner of the Public Square “will be occupied by two Greeks coming here from Middletown and Dayton, who will put in the finest equipped Kandy Kitchen in the city.” The Elite Confectionary was the first of several candy stores to occupy the site.
As for the new Basinger’s store, the News wrote June 29, 1912, “while everyone knew it was to be converted into a handsome store they never dreamed that it was to be what their eyes beheld when it was formally opened Friday. Modern in every respect with fixtures of the very latest and handsomest pattern the store itself is metropolitan in every respect.”
From his new location, Menno Basinger continued his practice of supporting local athletics. An early and enthusiastic backer of the Lima YMCA, he often put up trophies and prizes for athletic events such as bicycle races. In the summer of 1913, the jewelry store offered a silver bat to the best hitter and a silver ball to the best fielder on the city’s minor league baseball team.
However, Menno Basinger’s health soon began to fail. In September 1917, the News reported, “Mr. and Mrs. M.U. Basinger and family have returned from New York. Mr. Basinger has been taking treatment from Dr. Cook, a famous specialist, and he is much improved in health.”
Two months later he died at the age of 50. “He had been in the jewelry business in this city for a quarter of a century and conducted one of the most exclusive and up-to-date store in Lima,” the News wrote Nov. 2, 1917, noting he was also known for “much philanthropic work” and “figured prominently in the recent campaign” for a new YMCA building “now in the course of construction.”
In addition to his widow, Blanche Douglass Basinger, who would live another 32 years and remain involved in the operation of the store, Menno Basinger was survived by a daughter, Helen, and a son, Warren. One of Menno Basinger’s brothers, Calvin Basinger, also was a jeweler. He died in 1966.
Warren Basinger, born in 1896, took over operation of the jewelry store upon the death of his father.
Since its earliest days, Basinger’s Jewelry Store was noted for its window displays, which occasionally attracted those not necessarily interested in making a purchase. Such was the case in 1919 when, as the News wrote on March 12 of that year, “just when police believed they had the crime wave which has been sweeping Lima under control it broke out with renewed vigor.
“Hundreds of dollars-worth of jewelry was stolen from the show window of Basinger’s Jewelry store, 145 N. Main St. at about 5 o’clock Wednesday morning,” the newspaper reported.
The thief, who was captured several days later in Lorain, where he had gone, he said, to kill the police chief, was a man named Herschel Grant Dunn. Returned to Lima, Dunn promptly pleaded guilty to the theft, but not before penning a letter from jail to the “Merchants and Business Men” of Lima in which he suggested better lighting downtown as a deterrent to people like him and praised the Lima police force as “one of the most efficient in the country,” according to a story in the March 31, 1919, edition of the News.
As the new year dawned in 1922, Basinger’s Jewelry Store moved across the street to 140 N. Main St., the location it would occupy until it closed nearly eight decades later. The new location, the News wrote Jan. 15, 1922, was “better by far than the old place of business,” upon which it had heaped praise just a decade earlier. The new store, the newspaper reported, had its own vault, a modern optical department, and a state-of-the-art repair shop.
“Altogether the Basinger Jewelry Store is one of the most modern in northwestern Ohio,” the News concluded.
Warren Basinger would oversee the store, which eventually phased out appliances and optical merchandise from its sales inventory, until his death in 1967. The jewelry store was then operated by his sons Bob and Ken Basinger. Robert Warren Basinger Sr. was born to Warren and Helen Margaret Johnson Basinger in 1926, while brother Kenneth Douglas Basinger followed in 1935.
“Bob Basinger, 74, has been at the business since 1945,” the News wrote Oct. 29, 2000. “Ken Basinger has been at Basinger’s Jewelers for more than 40 years. Both joined the family business after serving in the military.”
In 1993, Basinger’s marked 100 years in business and was recognized by the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants as one of about 100 remaining 19th century specialty retail stores.
By 2000, the Basinger brothers were ready to retire, but there was no one ready to replace them. “The young generation goes off to college and they learn a new occupation,” Ken Basinger told the News. “They find employment in a bigger city and they don’t come back to the family business, whether that business is in Lima, Mansfield or Toledo. Farmers have the same problem.”
Basinger’s closed after 107 years in business in January 2001.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.