Schlanderer's on Main Street

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, October 1993,
Ocrober 1993

Author: Grace Shackman

Four generations of selling watches and jewelry

In four generations of selling watches, jewelry, and silver, the Schlanderer family has seen jewelry sales go up, silver sales go down, and watch sales remain steady. The need to know the time evidently remains a constant in most people's lives, regardless of economics or fashion.

Schlanderer and Sons, 208 South Main, was founded in 1933 by C. Henry Schlanderer and his two sons, Paul and Arthur. But the family story really starts much earlier. By the time he opened that store, Hank Schlanderer had already been in the watch and jewelry business for forty-seven years.

Schlanderer was born in 1870, the son of German parents. His father, also C. Henry, was born in a small town near Tuebingen and immigrated to Ann Arbor with his family in the 1850's. He found work as a baker, a trade he had learned in Germany, married Fredericka Rauscher, and bought a house at 504 South Main. A volunteer firefighter, he was mortally injured on his way to a fire in 1871. Fredericka was left with four young children and another on the way. To make ends meet, she moved the young family to the basement of their house and rented out the upstairs.

As soon as he finished sixth grade, Hank Schlanderer went to work; collectively the children managed to earn enough to allow the family to reclaim the upstairs of the house. When he was fourteen, Hank joined his brother working at the Keck furniture factory on Fourth Street. Two years later, he left to apprentice as a watchmaker with George Haller.

Schlanderer could not have chosen a better teacher. George Haller, trained in Germany, came from a long line of skilled clock and watchmakers. His father, Jacob Haller, even had several horological inventions to his name. Schlanderer was paid a dollar a week as an apprentice, and he graduated when he could make a watch from scratch. He stayed on with Haller for twenty-five years, rising to manage Haller's store at 216 South Main.

When Haller died in 1911, Schlanderer formed a partnership with another watchmaker and jeweler, Fred Seyfried. They called their store Schlanderer and Seyfried, or sometimes S & S. They bought the Henne jewelry store at 113 E. Liberty, then moved in 1922 to 304 South Main. In 1933, when both men wanted to bring their sons into the business, they dissolved the partnership. Fred Seyfried stayed at 304, while Hank moved a block north to 208. Both stores have been there ever since. (Seyfried's today is owned by brothers Bill and Jim Hart.)

Schlanderer's two sons, who joined him at the new location, brought their own skills to the business. Paul had been working as a silverware buyer for J.L. Hudson, while Arthur had a master's in business and could take over the accounting. Both were graduates of the U-M, where Arthur was captain of the hockey team.

The building that Schlanderer and his two sons moved into was almost eighty years old. Paul Christman built it in 1854 for his tin and stove shop, which remained there until his death in 1913. After Christman's death, the building became a confectionery, then a drugstore. For a time, the Staffan Funeral Home occupied the former Christman family apartment upstairs.

Schlanderer and Sons opened in the middle of the Depression. Arthur Schlanderer remembers that during their first year they didn't earn even $25 a week. Things turned around during World War II. In the 1930's they had stock to sell but not enough customers. In the 1940's they had customers but not enough stock, since many factories had switched to war production. Most of their watches came from Switzerland, which was neutral during the war, but shipments took so long that the watches were often sold before they even arrived. Some of the store's best customers were workers at the Willow Run bomber plant, who had extra money for the first time in their lives and came in to buy fancy items like diamond-encrusted wristwatches.

Hank Schlanderer died in 1941 at the age of seventy. His son Paul died in 1949, leaving Art the sole owner until 1957, when his nephew Chuck joined him after graduating from Hillsdale College with a business degree and spending two years in the service. Chuck's son, Chuck Jr., joined the business in 1989, after finishing at his dad's alma mater, Hillsdale. In addition to his regular liberal arts studies, Chuck Jr. studied jewelry making, both in high school (Huron has an excellent program) and in college. Arthur retired two years ago at age eighty-two.

The store's inventory continues to evolve as demand changes. It started as primarily a watch store with jewelry as a sideline, but sales of both are now about the same. Chuck Schlanderer says people used to have just a few good pieces but now like to have jewelry for every occasion. Because customers also prefer better quality pieces these days, Schlanderer's no longer carries costume jewelry. Another item that has disappeared is the compact, a small mirrored case for loose face powder. Back when most women had at least two, one for special occasions and one for every day, it was not unusual for Schlanderer's to sell twenty a day.

Sales of silver hollowware and flatware, once a major part of the business, have also declined, partly because per ounce silver prices have gone way up, but mainly because of changed lifestyles. People used to feel they needed silver serving pieces for entertaining, and they were common wedding gifts. Young women began collecting silver in their "hope chests" long before they ever met their future husbands. Now few women have time even to polish silver.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: Hank Schlanderer stands next to his boss George Haller (far right) in this 1891 photo. Schlanderer opened his own store after Haller's death in 1911. Three subsequent generations of Schlanderers have sold jewelry downtown: (from right) Art Schlanderer, Chuck Schlanderer, and Chuck Jr.