Christmas shopping in 1899
Tuesday, December 6, 2016 6:26 PM
“A pair of hop-along boots and a pistol that shoots is the wish of Barney and Ben, dolls that will talk and will go for a walk is the hope of Janice and Jen…” – From “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” by Meredith Willson (1902-1984)
Ladies and gentlemen, don’t look now, but Christmas is a little more than a fortnight away.
And if the weather men and women are veracious, it will really look a lot like Christmas in the very near future.
So on that note, how’s the Christmas shopping coming? Thankfully, most of my shopping is finished, and I’ll freely admit the fact that my better half, my lovely wife, Helen, is the sole reason this is a true statement. She’s a real gem.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had several folks tell me that they appreciate and enjoy my “ghost stories” and the trips back to the days of yore – and I certainly appreciate their kind words.
So in the spirit of the holiday season, let’s take a trip back to 1899 for a bit of Christmas shopping in uptown Hillsboro. A time where more than half of the people in the United States lived in small towns of fewer than 3,000 people; a time before television or radio; and a time when horses and buggies traversed the town’s streets.
As we look upon the historic Highland County courthouse in 1899, opposite the county jail is a store with name very familiar to me – Feibel Brothers.
You see, my great-grandfather, Chauncey Gross, was a founder of the Gross-Feibel Safe Company in Hillsboro back in the early 1900s. The old Gross-Feibel factory is still standing off of North Elm Street, much to the annoyance of some.
But we digress.
As a bit of background on the Feibel Brothers’ uptown business, our good friend and historian Pamela Nickell wrote a piece a year or so ago saying that the store started as Ike S. Meyers’ store for gentlemen and was located on West Main Street. His son-in-law acquired the store and renamed it I.P. Strauss and Brother and Company.
Strauss’ son-in-law, Isaac Adolph “I.A.” Feibel, managed the store for several years before becoming sole owner and naming the business Feibel Brothers. After I.A. Feibel’s death in 1892, his four sons: Jacob, Michael, Julius and Louis continued to operate the business. Nickell added that Feibel Bros. was the first such store in Hillsboro to employ lady clerks.
According to the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, a great-grandson of I.A. Feibel, James Barnett Feibel, said that in the 1920s, a Feibel Brothers department store opened in downtown Columbus.
So without further ado, let’s step inside the Feibel Brothers store in Hillsboro in December of 1899.
“Good morning, sir,” I am greeted as I walk inside. “At Feibel Brothers, we take pleasure in having you see our beautiful new store. Our whole large store is now one beautiful Christmas store, filled with useful presents – and the prices are most reasonable.”
“Wonderful,” I reply. “Have any suggestions for the lady in my life?”
“All the goods in our dry goods department are entirely new, and were bought in New York especially for the holidays. Everyone has been delighted with the showing,” the clerk says with a smile. “We have silk petticoats. These are luxuries, but almost considered necessities by well dressed women. Ours are elegant, high-grade garments, in all stylish shades.”
“How much do these cost,” I inquire.
“Five dollars to 12 dollars,” the clerk replies.
“Wow,” I exclaim. “I’ll take two!”
“Could I interest you in our line of ladies Harvard mufflers,” the clerk asks. “Nothing is more popular this season than these useful wraps, and with the bright colors makes a charming contrast with a neat jacket. We know every girl wants one or more, and they’re priced anywhere from 25 cents to a dollar fifty.”
“Sold,” I say with a smile. “I’ll take two or three.”
“Great,” the clerk replies. “And could I interest you in a pocketbook for your lady? We’ve got the swellest you’ve ever saw. They haven’t been in our store for two weeks, and they are the admiration of every girl who sees them. These range from 25 cents to four dollars.”
“I love this place,” I say. “Got any suggestions for the gentlemen on my Christmas shopping list?”
“Our store has always been recognized as the ‘Gentlemen’s Christmas Store,’” the clerk says matter-of-factly. “Courteous attention is at your service, and we will take pleasure in assisting you to select a suitable gift.”
“How about these ties,” I ask.
“Ah, our neckwear,” the clerk says “He won’t make fun of a tie bought here. We think we know what men like, take a look at our Puffs, Ascots, 4-inch Hands, Bows, Strings and Tecks. The assortment is handsomer than ever, the colorings and weaves the newest. A large shipment arrived Monday, and they are priced from 25 cents to one dollar.”
“Holy cow,” I declare. “I’ll be buying several of these. Very old school.”
“Never mind,” I mutter. “Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve bought myself a new overcoat”
“We have an overcoat sale, $15 values for $10,” the clerk informs me. “These overcoats come in back and blue Kersey, and an elegant all-wool Kersey at that, and these elegant new light colored Coverts and Herringbone effects, made with ‘raw edges,’ silk velvet collar, extra quality lining and are first quality overcoats in every way. We should get $15 for them.”
“You certainly drive a hard bargain,” I tell the clerk. “This one here looks perfect. And I’ll also take this sharp-looking red Harvard muffler for $1.50 and I think that will do me for today.”
“OK, sir, we’ve got two ladies silk petticoats, a men’s overcoat, a pock book, three ties and four Harvard mufflers,” the clerk says. “That will be $39.50.”
“Outstanding,” I respond, “here’s forty dollars and please keep the change. This has been the best shopping experience of my entire life.”
“Merry Christmas, sir, and thank you for shopping at Feibel Brothers,” the clerk says with a wide smile.
“Merry Christmas to you,” I reply as I head toward the door. “I might have to do a little more shopping in uptown Hillsboro…”
To be continued…
Steve Roush is a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press.