Reminisce: ‘Lima’s Big Store’

George Newson arrived in Lima in 1891 with a head full of dreams and nearly empty pockets.

Although he arrived with “no capital except a few dollars on his person, and no experience except that of a country schoolteacher,” he did have “grit and purpose,” the Allen County Republican-Gazette wrote 18 years later. Newson soon found work at a furniture store at a salary which “scarcely paid a very modest board bill.” Four years after arriving he organized the Newson-Deakin-Bond department store, and four years after that the Newson-Bond store, both of which were in the 100 block of South Main Street. Each enterprise, the Republican-Gazette noted, was “larger in scope than its predecessor.”

By 1909, Newson had parlayed his “energy, perseverance and indomitable pursuit of a purpose” (not to mention his friendship with prominent Lima attorney James Halfhill, who not only offered Newson counsel but also invested in his dream) into a department store of the largest scope.

“When George Newson stands on the Public Square Monday night,” the Republican-Gazette wrote December 3, 1909, “and sees the biggest electric sign ever erected in this part of the country, blazing his name against the sky, and looks into that brilliantly glowing bee hive of activity which is the product of his determination and planning and work, then he may reflect with some satisfaction upon the contrast afforded by his worldly estate and prospects when he walked into the same Public Square in 1891.”

The name blazing on that sign was “Newson-Hawisher,” though the Republican-Gazette declared it had been “happily named as ‘Lima’s Big Store.’” And the “Big Store” it would remain through several hyphenated ownership groups before ultimately coming under the control of Lima’s Deisel family, better known for cigars than sundries.

The “Big Store,” like a turn-of-the-century Wal-Mart, seemingly sold everything. The store had 16 departments, including groceries, dry goods, furniture, drugs, jewelry and shoes. It occupied most of the Cincinnati block, which itself occupied most of the southwest quadrant of the Public Square, where thousands of potential customers were dropped off daily by city trolleys, interurbans and steam trains.

Built in 1889, the three-story Cincinnati block was at the heart of Lima and Lima, the Republican-Gazette wrote, was at the heart of a territory which extended “for some sixty miles in every direction” and had a population of a quarter million. That territory, the newspaper proclaimed, was “Lima’s Garden of Prosperity.”

The Newson-Hawisher company was born in the spring of 1909 with the merger of the Newson-Bond company with the Hawisher Brothers Grocery, which was in the 200 block of South Main Street. Newson later credited the three Hawisher brothers with the idea of the merger.

Newson-Hawisher then acquired smaller business blocks which were tucked away between the Cincinnati block and an alley to the south. These blocks, the Republican-Gazette reported in April 1909, would be “razed to the ground” and replaced by a new building, which “will exactly match the Cincinnati block adjoining it on the north, making the whole one mammoth structure …” The Cincinnati block, which was also home to loan companies, dentist offices and the like, would be a fitting home for the Newson-Hawisher “Big Store,” which opened its doors in the block December 6, 1909.

“This is a week of unusual importance in Lima’s mercantile history,” the Republican-Gazette enthused December 10, “because of a magnificent store joining the ranks of the city’s already superior assemblage of establishments. This store, the most completely equipped and conveniently arranged department store between Toledo and Dayton and a store the quality of which is not excelled in the state of Ohio, has been the source of delight to thousands who have visited it so far this week.”

Over the next four years, however, the ownership of the “Big Store” changed as had the names on both sides of the hyphen. Newson-Hawisher became Hawisher-English when Newson stepped down in 1913 and William E. English was made general manager. Then, in November 1914, Hawisher-English became Deisel-English when Henry Deisel Sr., president of the Deisel-Wemmer Cigar Co., bought out Halfhill, the Hawisher brothers, Newson and others.

Deisel’s son, Henry Deisel Jr., was named president with English remaining as general manager. “The store is now the largest of its kind in any city in Ohio of the size of Lima and one of the largest in the state,” the newspaper added. “Under the policy of improvement and expansion of the new management, its size and scope will be raised to a still higher standard.”

In a January 1916 Republican-Gazette ad, Deisel-English claimed it had “Fifty-Seven Stores Under One Roof” and had done “thousands of dollars more business than in any previous year since its origin.” A month later, the Lima News reported that English had “resigned to take up a business proposition in the west.” Meanwhile, back in the Midwest, Deisel Sr. took over English’s shares and the Deisel-English company became simply the Deisel company. The store was still referred to as “The Big Store” or the Deisel store.

In the summer of 1927, Fred Uhlman, of Bowling Green, who operated a chain of men’s clothing stores and conducted a wholesale clothing business, bought out Deisel. In February 1933, Uhlman’s shut down its Lima operation. In later years, Montgomery-Ward and Sears-Roebuck would occupy the Cincinnati block, which was demolished in 1969 after those stores moved to the malls.



This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.


See past Reminisce stories at

Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected].