John Haarer Photography Studio

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, June 2002,
June 2002

Author: Grace Shackman

Continuity and change on Liberty Street

John Haarer, one of Ann Arbor’s early photographers, showed that his artistry went beyond photography when he built an elegant brick storefront studio and home at 113 West Liberty. After surviving an attempt to tear it down for parking in the 1960s, the 1888 building is today home to the West Side Book Shop, with the upper stories a wonderful urban apartment.

Haarer was born in 1840 in Öschelbronn, in the German state of Württemberg. The son of a farmer, he was educated from ages eight to fourteen in the village school, where he “became thoroughly familiar with his native tongue and also quite adept in Latin,” according to his sketch in the 1891 county history. At age twenty-one he immigrated to Ann Arbor, where he worked as an agricultural laborer and then as a section hand on the railroad. In 1861 he opened a photography business on the third floor of Mack and Schmid’s store on the corner of Liberty and Main.

Ann Arbor’s first photos were taken by traveling daguerreotypists. Introduced from France about 1840, Louis Daguerre’s process produced a direct, mirrorlike image on a polished silver surface. Although these instant portraits had to be held in certain ways to be discernible and images were reversed, they quickly caught on all over the country. By 1846 Ann Arbor had its first resident photographer: an ad that year announced that “L. C. Goodale, having furnished himself with a supply of best Material, is now prepared to take Likenesses at his residence, corner of Catharine and Fifth street.”

Photograph of Liberty Street with Haarer's
Photograph Gallery

Haarer moved his studio to the modest frame building, left, in the mid-1870s. He replaced it in 1888 with the Romanesque structure that still exists.

Haarer started out making ambrotypes, a newer type of photograph that replaced daguerreotypes in the mid-1850s. Ambrotypes were easier to view than daguerreotypes and cheaper to make. Working with collodion, a newly developed base, spread on a piece of glass, the photographer produced an image that yielded a positive view when turned over and mounted on a black background. But like daguerreotypes, each ambrotype was unique and could not be reproduced.

The next step, which Haarer soon took, was to expose the glass plate longer and then use it as a negative to make paper prints. The photo still had to be taken when the collodion was wet, though, so the photographer had to stay close to the darkroom. That’s why most early photographs are studio poses. (To get his wonderful Civil War photos, Mathew Brady built a portable darkroom in a horse-drawn wagon.) Haarer had several backdrops that he could use to vary his shots. One extant picture, owned by the present occupants of the upstairs apartment, Bill Read and Tony Harris, shows palm trees in the background. Another one, owned by Carolyn and Joseph Arcure, owners and restorers of the apartment, has a woodland scene with trees and flowers.

Haarer took both carte-de-visite and cabinet photos. The carte-de-visite became popular after 1854, when a French photographer devised a multiple-lens camera that allowed a number of poses to be recorded on a single plate, thus reducing printing costs. These small individual pictures were mounted on stiff cards about four inches by two and a half and used as calling cards. People began collecting them and saving them in albums. Cabinet cards--larger mounted photographs, usually four inches by five and a half--were introduced in 1866. Both the Arcures’ photo and an early self-portrait of Haarer at the Bentley Library are cartes-de-visite; the one owned by Read and Harris, and another owned by Jay Platt, the owner of the West Side Book Shop, are cabinet cards.

Sometime in the mid-1870s Haarer moved his studio from Main Street to a two-story wooden building on Liberty midway between Main and Ashley. As was common at that time, he worked downstairs and lived upstairs. He married for the first time in 1871, but his wife died a year later. In 1875 he married Katherine Zimmer, a native of Canada, and they had seven children.

In 1888 Haarer built a beautiful new building to house both his business and his growing family. The story that has been passed down is that Haarer and Martin Noll, a shoe repairman, chipped in to buy a German lottery ticket and won. (Noll used his share to build the gorgeous Queen Anne house at 921 West Huron.)

Haarer moved his existing building onto another lot and then spared no expense on the new one. It was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, then much in vogue, with rounded arches above the windows, multicolored brick in ornate designs, and a front gable. Transom windows and fancy brass hardware were used both inside and out.

The upper two stories, which formed the family living quarters, included two parlors (one for everyday and one for important visitors), a kitchen, and a dining room on the second floor. An impressive marble-faced fireplace dominated the front parlor, which was separated from the rear parlor by pocket doors and beadboard. On the top floor a front master bedroom had room for a nursery; five smaller bedrooms were used by the older children. “I’m amazed they could raise so many kids there,” says Genevieve Haarer Vergari, the widow of the couple’s grandson Ernest. “The streets were dirt then. So was the alley. They turned kids loose. You couldn’t keep them cooped up--they had to go out and play ball. There were no cars, just horses and buggies.”

Haarer ran his business on the ground level, locating his studio and darkroom in the back with a reception area in front. His darkroom, now the restroom for the bookstore, still has amber transom lights. A door led to the staircase going up, so Haarer didn’t have to leave the building to get to the family quarters.

The new store was large enough that Haarer added books and stationery to his offerings, with German books a specialty--Platt found a window shade in the basement that reads “German Book Handler.” The books quickly became central to the business, as Haarer’s biographical sketch in the county history three years later indicates:

"There is nothing more fascinating to a love of ideas than a bookstore filled with the choice works of ancient and modern writers. Within their uncut pages are the treasures of all the ages. One of the most popular resorts in the city of Ann Arbor to the man or woman who loves books, is that of which Mr. Haarer is the proprietor, he having a fine book and stationery establishment in the college city of Michigan."

Haarer was wise to develop this second line of business to fall back on, because the year he moved into his new building, the Eastman Company introduced a dry film that could be put in a camera and used anytime. It freed the professional photographer from staying so close to the darkroom--and also launched the mass market for amateur photography. In 1888 Eastman began selling Kodak cameras that came with a 100-exposure roll of film inside. After the film was shot, the customer would send in the whole camera, and Eastman would develop the film and send it back with new film inside. Suddenly almost anyone who wanted to could take photographs.

By 1898 Haarer was still selling books but had given up photography. Instead, he had begun selling insurance--a business that would stay in the family for three generations.

Haarer died in 1916 at age seventy-five, five years after suffering a paralyzing stroke. Two of his sons took over the business--Julius handling the insurance sales and Ernest the bookstore. (Ernest was later joined by his son, also named Ernest.) Two other sons, George, a partner in a clothing store, and Oscar, a pharmacist with Eberbach and Son, also lived in town. Julius and Oscar never married and shared the former family quarters above the store for the rest of their lives.

Photograph of John Haarer posing in front
of his studio

John Haarer posed proudly in late 1880s in front of his impressive new photography studio and bookstore on West Liberty.

Oscar may not have strayed as far from the family business as it appears; it is likely that he got interested in producing medicines by seeing his father mix photographic chemicals. He sold some of his own creations out of his brothers’ store. Platt found a blue bottle in the basement bearing a Haarer label, which appears to contain some type of liquid medicine. A box of tins of Wonder Salve was also found. According to the label it was quite a panacea, recommended to treat “burns, sores, cuts, eczema, piles, rheumatism, carbuncles, ulcers, and wounds.”

Leroy Ehnis recalls buying his schoolbooks in the 1920s and 1930s from Haarer’s. But the main business in the years that followed was insurance of all kinds. Ads say the Haarers sold fire, auto, and casualty insurance. Vergari recalls the setup in the days when her husband was involved. There were two desks in the front room, with Julius sitting closest to the door on the right, and Ernest, her husband, at a desk farther back. The back rooms were used for storage; display cases took up the rest of the front room. “Julius used to put sayings in the window, and people would stop and read and chuckle,” recalls Vergari. “I think he got them from an old book.”

In 1964 the city bought the building with the intention of tearing it down for a parking lot but gave Oscar and Julius permission to stay there for the rest of their lives. Julius died in 1966 and Oscar in 1967. By 1974 the city still had not torn down the building, so the Sesquicentennial Commission established its headquarters there (Ann Arbor, founded in 1824, turned 150 that year). After a year of events, displays, and meetings in the building, the city dropped the plan to demolish the building and sold it to Carolyn and Joseph Arcure.

The Arcures rented the downstairs to Jay Platt for his bookstore and began work on restoring the upstairs apartment for themselves. They brought back the fine features, still there but run down by years of neglect. They also made a few changes to open the place up more, creating a two-floor atrium by taking out the ceiling above the dining room, and a new master bedroom on the third floor by combining two of the small bedrooms.

By the time the Arcures did their restoration, the custom of store owners’ living above their businesses had been virtually forgotten. Upstairs space downtown was usually relegated to storage or sometimes offices. Proponents of a stronger downtown wanted to encourage renewed residential use of the area, arguing that it would make for a safer, more vibrant urban environment. Habits and regulations stood in the way, but downtown living finally caught on in the 1990s. Today the numbers of downtown apartments--and the prices people are willing to pay for them--have soared.

The Arcures recently moved to New Mexico and have rented their apartment to Read and Harris, who love the space and have made it their own with an entirely different look. The Arcures’ style was classic and elegant, but Read and Harris’s 1950s decor makes a pleasing contrast with the 1880s woodwork and other accoutrements.

Downstairs, Platt is equally enthusiastic about his space, appreciating its history and character. He hired artist John Copley to create a sign appropriate for the age of the building, and also to paint the name of the store on the window in a form that mirrors the architectural features of the building. In the back room where John Haarer had his studio, Doug Price now sells antique photographs.


[Photo caption from book]: More than a century later, the restored storefront is home to Jay Platt’s West Side Book Shop; in the back room, Doug Price sells antique photographs. “Courtesy Adrian Wylie”

The West Side Dairy

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, January 1995,
January 1995

Author: Grace Shackman

From creamery to music

Two connected buildings at 722-726 Brooks, nestled at the back of a driveway in a residential neighborhood, are puzzling to people passing by unless they know it was once a family-run dairy. The front part was constructed in 1919 and the large part in back in 1940. Brothers-in-law Adolph Helber and Alfred Weber owned and operated the West Side Dairy for thirty-four years, delivering fresh dairy products to city residents until 1953.

Adolph Helber, born in 1886, grew up in a large family on a farm on Dexter Road in Scio Township. He left school in the seventh grade, not uncommon at the time, and worked as a hired farmhand until 1904, when he went to work delivering milk for Jake Wurster, a brother-in-law. Wurster's dairy was on the corner of Catherine and North Fifth Avenue.

When Helber started in the dairy business, milk was still sold "raw," or untreated, fresh from the cow. (Although pasteurization equipment, developed to kill milk-borne infections, was available in the 1890s, it hadn't yet been universally adopted.) The raw milk was stored in a big tank at the front of the horse-drawn delivery wagon and scooped out into a pitcher or milk can supplied by each customer on the route.

In 1912 Helber married Alma Weber, the sister of a fellow driver, Alfred Weber. The Weber family house was at 809 Brooks, then the last residential street off Miller. Alma and Alfred's father, Jacob, owned much of the land in the area. In 1914 the Helbers moved to 720 Brooks, and in 1919 Helber and Alfred Weber opened a dairy out of a small one-story cement-block building they built in the Helbers' backyard. Milk was supplied by Helber's brother Carl, who had stayed on the family farm, and also by the Seyfried and Hanselman farms.

Helber and Weber started their days at 4 a.m., feeding and harnessing the horses. They delivered milk in the morning and in the afternoon pasteurized and bottled it for the next day. Because neither the farmers nor the customers had good storage, the partners accepted and delivered milk seven days a week. Their only time off was Sunday afternoon. Their wives, Alma Helber and Rose Weber, ran the office, did the bookkeeping, handled over-the-counter sales, and helped with production.

In the days before cholesterol worries, dairies competed for the richest milk the farmer had. Before homogenization, customers could see at a glance how rich the milk was by the thickness of the cream on top. (Narrow-necked milk bottles were developed to exaggerate the visible cream.) The West Side Dairy made skim milk (or buttermilk) only as a by-product of butter making, selling it back to the farmers for a penny a gallon as feed for their pigs and chickens.

Photograph of West Side Dairy buildings

The West Side Dairy buildings in 1994.

As the number of their customers grew, Helber and Weber were able to hire help, giving priority to relatives. The delivery men included Eddie Weber, Alfred's brother, whose route included what is now known as the Old West Side; Leon Jedele, Rose Weber's brother; and Henry Grau, who was married to Alma's sister Clara. After relatives, neighbors were hired. The employee who probably lived the farthest away was Fred Yaeger, who walked to work every morning from his home on Pauline.

The family employees built houses in the neighborhood near their work. Alfred Weber's neighbor, Will Nimke of 827 Brooks, built him a house at 730 Brooks. Eddie Weber lived at 727 Gott, where he grew wonderful dahlias. When the Helbers' sons grew up, they lived in the neighborhood, too, Erwin at 706 Brooks and Ray at 725 Gott. Jacob Weber owned and rented other houses, one at the corner of Brooks and Summit and three others on Gott Street, right behind the dairy. Weber and Helber owned the house between their two houses and rented it to the Moon family. The Weber property also included a big field west of the house, where the horses sometimes grazed.

Making deliveries, the milkmen would walk along the sidewalk as the horses plodded alongside them in the street. Sam Schlecht, who helped out on the routes as a teenager, recalls that the horses "knew more about the route than the human beings." If milk was delivered on a dead-end street, the horses would turn around while the men delivered to the last houses. If the milkmen cut through a backyard to deliver milk on the next street over, the horses knew to meet them there. Schlecht remembers that at the end of the route, as they went down Chapin toward Miller, the horses would pick up their pace, eager to get home for their oats and hay. When Helber and Weber switched to trucks in 1934, the milkmen found them a mixed blessing. They no longer had to feed and harness the horses each morning, but their routes took them longer without the horses' help.

Deliveries were made every single day except Christmas and Thanksgiving. On the day before those holidays, the milkmen would go around twice, in case a customer had forgotten anything that morning. Henry Michelfelder, a relative of Leon Jedele's, remembered that if his family ran out of something during the day, they could call the dairy and it would be brought over.

The milk and cream delivered for sale by retail stores was very fresh, since every day the milkmen would take back any that wasn't sold. The day-old products were used to moisten the cottage cheese the dairy made. In the 1940's, when refrigeration had become common, the dairy scaled back to three deliveries a week. Marian Helber, Ray's wife, remembers that "people had a fit. They thought they needed fresh milk every day for their coffee or cereal."

Erwin and Ray Helber grew up working in the dairy part-time and summers. After graduating from Michigan State Normal College (now EMU), Ray worked bottling and also delivering. During World War II he left to work at King Seeley (he learned of the job opening because the plant was on his route) and ended up staying there until 1975, when he retired. Erwin stayed at the dairy, gradually taking over more of the responsibility from his father and uncle. In 1953, when the brothers-in-law retired and sold their business to United Dairies (later Sealtest), Erwin stayed with the new owners, eventually moving to Flint with Sealtest.

Today the buildings looks similar from the outside but have totally new uses inside, mostly related to music. Four Davids (Orlin, Sutherland, Collins, Peramble) between them teach or repair guitar, violin, pianoforte, and piano. The neighborhood is also filled with evidence of the dairy for people who know where to look: a four-car garage (used for delivery trucks) at the corner of Summit and Brooks, a barn at 809 Brooks (later used for a construction business), and a big lot at 827 (now a big private garden). After the dairy moved out, tenants included a sugar packing manufacturer and a bookbinding operation. In 1964, Robert Noehren, a U-M organist and a pioneer in the organ revival movement, rented it for a pipe organ factory, presaging its present use. The field behind the Weber house is now the site of the Second Baptist Church.


[Photo caption from book]: The West Side Dairy in the mid-1930s. Left to right: Henry Grau, Alfred Weber, Eddie Weber, Adolph Helber, and Leon Jedele. All are related by blood or marriage. The dairy had just switched from horse-drawn milk wagons to trucks and was experimenting with various models-three different makes are visible.
“Courtesy Paul Helber”

The Artificial Ice Co.

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, February 1990,
February 1990

Author: Grace Shackman

Delivering coolness door to door

Before the days of electric refrigerators, people kept perishable foods in ice chests cooled by blocks of ice. For most of Ann Arbor's early history, the ice was harvested from frozen lakes and rivers. But after 1909, natural ice was supplemented, and then totally replaced by, artificial ice, so named because it was manufactured rather than gathered.

439 Fifth Street: From Drinking Spot to Play Yard

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, January 1992,
January 1992

Author: Grace Shackman

Bach School's new playground was once a West Side bar

Children playing on the Bach School playground probably have no idea that it was once the location of adult recreation. From 1901 to 1919, a beer distributorship and popular West Side drinking spot was located behind Jacob Dupper's home at what was then 439 Fifth Street, now the north end of the playground. In those pre-zoning days, he ran several businesses from out-buildings on the property. His barn was the Ann Arbor distributorship for Buckeye and Green Seal beers, both made by a Toledo brewery. And a small structure usually called "the shop" was the neighborhood bar.

Photograph of Dupper children in front of
house and barn

The Dupper family lived at 439 Fifth Street, now the north end of the Bach School playground, and ran a beer distributorship from their barn.

The shop stood across the driveway from Dupper's house and farther back from the street. Neighborhood men came in the evening to share a companionable drink, to chat, and to play cards. Dupper's grandson, Henry Velker, from whom most of this information was obtained, remembers that the clientele came from all over the Old West Side, then still known as the city's Second Ward.

The building (also sometimes called "the caboose") was furnished with tables and a short bar. It had room for about thirty or forty people, who could buy beer, wine, or whiskey. Velker remembers that customers came in all seasons, although in the summer they usually came later in the evening after their chores were finished. In the winter, when darkness descended sooner, they came earlier and stayed longer.

The customers were all men. Erna Steinke Jahnke, who grew up on nearby Jefferson Street in the years that Dupper's business was in operation, says that she never heard of any women going there. Parents also discouraged their children from hanging around the neighborhood bar.

Photograph of George Voelker posing with
his horse and delivery cart

George Voelker delivered beer with the aid of a horse named Sam.

Jacob Dupper was born in 1860 in Bondorf, a small town thirty miles south of Stuttgart. According to Velker, Dupper learned the brewery and distributing business while still in Germany. When he moved to Ann Arbor in his twenties, his first job was working for the Northern Brewery on the north side of town.

In 1901, Dupper obtained the Ann Arbor franchise for Buckeye and Green Seal beers. Although there were two local breweries, many local residents disloyally claimed that the Toledo brands tasted better. Dupper kept them supplied, delivering the beer to stores, restaurants, fraternities, and private parties.

As a sideline, he also delivered ice. He had his own icehouse on the property, stocked with ice cut and shipped in from Whitmore Lake. The barn served as his beer warehouse and also housed the horses and wagons he used for deliveries.

The beer was shipped from Toledo, in both bottles and kegs, via the Ann Arbor Railroad and was unloaded at the Ashley Street station on a First Street spur of the tracks. From there it was taken by horse and wagon the five blocks to the Dupper house.

Photograph of Fred Dupper posing with
bottles and brewing vats

Fred Dupper behind the counter of his shop.

When Dupper died in 1907, his son, Fred Dupper, took over the business with his wife, Minnie. Fred Dupper's brother-in-law, George Voelker, who lived across the street, worked as a driver for the company. (George Voelker was Henry Velker's father. Velker changed the spelling of the name to more closely match the pronunciation.)

Though the shop and the distributorship closed with the beginning of Prohibition in 1919, the Duppers continued to live in the house for many years. Sam Schlecht, who lived on Fifth Street in the 1920's, remembers the painted ads for Buckeye Beer on the sides of Dupper's barn long after the beer itself had disappeared.

Fred Dupper died in the early 1940s. The house was used as a residence for about twenty more years, until it was torn down to make room for an expansion of the Bach School playground.

The Athens Press on Main Street

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, December 1997,
December 1997

Author: Grace Shackman

From hand-set type to desktop publishing in five generations

In 1933, when Adam Goetz moved Athens Press to 308 North Main Street, the technology he used was not much different than it had been in Gutenberg’s day. The simple brick-fronted building was essentially one big room. The printing press was in front, while in the back, Goetz stood at a desk setting lead type by hand, one letter at a time.

By then, Goetz had already been a printer for fifty years. Although he’d been a part-owner in the business since 1900 and sole proprietor since 1907, the 308 North Main shop was the first plant built specifically for his company. It would not be the last. Now known as Goetzcraft, Ann Arbor’s oldest job printer currently employs eighteen people at its 12,000-square-foot plant on the south side.

Born in Germany in 1866, Goetz came to the United States with his family at age five. At fifteen he began working in the print trade, no doubt learning on the job. He started at the Washtenaw Post, a German-language newspaper, then worked at the Register Publishing Company and the Inland Press before joining with three fellow workers to form Athens Press. The name came from their location, a room on the second floor of the Athens Theater on North Main.

The Athens Press took all sorts of small assignments. An early scrapbook passed down to Larry Goetz, Adam’s great-grandson, includes letterhead and business cards, party invitations, political literature, and jobs for the university. Those items are still familiar to job printers today, though many of the clients memorialized in the scrapbook, such as the Germania Club and the Ann Arbor Boat Company, are no longer in existence. There’s also not much demand anymore for such once-popular items as commemorative ribbons, restaurant meal tickets (bought in advance for a certain number of meals, they were often used by single men or immigrants here without their families), and advertising blotters (a common freebie when people wrote with pens dipped in ink).

Photograph of Adam and Pauline Goetz
standing in front of Athens Press at 208 North Main

The Athens Press second home was a storefront at 208 North Main.

In 1906, the press had to move because the theater was being remodeled and expanded (a process that included a name change to the Whitney). They ended up across the street and one block north, in a now-gone storefront at 208 North Main.

Larry Goetz was told by his great-aunt Hermina, that her father was often razzed by his partners for working too hard and earning all of the money. Athens Press’s original account book bears out her story. There are countless references to Goetz getting extra pay for working nights or on Sundays. Not surprisingly, soon after the move, Goetz was able to buy out his two remaining partners, Clyde Kerr and Alfred Schairer. Both men opened their own printing companies; Schairer teamed up with Oswald Mayer to form Mayer-Schairer office supply store (they got out of printing in the 1950s).

Adam and Pauline Goetz’s children, Herbert and Hermina, helped in the shop from an early age, pulling their red metal wagon down Main to make deliveries. Adam was happiest working in the back setting type, so when Herbert got old enough to work full-time, he took over the business end, talking to customers and doing the books.

After 1938 the shop sent out big typesetting jobs to Ben Burkhart, who had one of the city’s only Linotype machines in his shop on the other side of the alley in what had been the City Garage. The Linotype, named for its ability to set a full line of type at a time, was very expensive and hard to operate, but Burkhart had taught himself to use it by fooling around with one while a student at Ann Arbor High. Much like computer companies do today, in the 1920s, manufacturers would sell typesetting machines to schools at very reasonable prices so that students could learn how to operate them. Burkhart, who is still in business today, thinks he is now the last working Linotype operator in the Midwest.

Herbert Goetz was interested in modernizing the business, but his dad refused to retire. As he always had, Adam Goetz continued to set type by hand, chewing tobacco as he worked (he sent his grandson, John, to buy it for him at the cigar store on Huron). Finally, in 1943, Herbert threatened to enlist in the army unless his dad let him buy the business. It was an empty threat (Herbert had a health condition that made him ineligible), but his father finally agreed to sell. Adam Goetz never retired, however, continuing to work until two months before he died at age seventy-seven. According to his obituary, he had been the oldest living member of the typographical union, which he’d joined in 1885.

In 1944 Herbert Goetz changed the name of the Athens Press to Goetzcraft, since by then it had been thirty-six years since the business had been in the Athens Theater. Five years later he built a new, larger building across the street, at 307 North Main, adding new machinery and doubling the staff to about ten people. While his father never changed his way of working, Herbert kept up with the evolving industry. In the 1950s, the company bought its own Linotype machine and, when they came out, photo offset printing presses.

Like his father and grandfather, John Goetz started working at the press at a young age, coming in after school when he was a student at Slauson Junior High. He started out sweeping, feeding hand-fed presses, and baling. As soon as he got his driver’s license he was sent on deliveries, and he came to work full-time when he graduated from high school.

Since his dad had a firm control on the business end, John concentrated more on the machinery, learning how to run and repair the presses, bindery, and--especially challenging--the Linotype. Herbert retired more gracefully than his father had, moving to Florida in 1962, and leaving John in charge. A workaholic like the rest of the family, Herbert opened a liquor store there, where he worked the rest of his life.

John’s son Larry, like the previous three generations of Goetz men, started working at a young age, riding his bike to the shop after school to help out. Although he studied printing at Ferris, he says he really learned on the job. He joined the company full-time in 1971, in time for the next printing revolution: computer typesetting. His father, guessing this was the way to go, invited his foreman and wife to dinner, and over a good meal that his wife, Evelyn, had cooked, suggested that Evelyn and the foreman’s wife work together to find out whether photo composition (a then-new technique for setting type on film) could replace the Linotype. “It drove us nuts, but we mastered it,” Evelyn recalls. Goetzcraft was the first printer in Ann Arbor to offer the new technology.

Five times faster than the Linotype, photo composition “was the hottest thing in town,” John recalls. “Other machines became obsolete while people still owed money on them.” By the mid-1980s, Goetzcraft sold its Linotype to a man in Charlevoix for $3,000. According to John, “It was a fraction of what we paid, but we were lucky to get that.” By then, Goetzcraft was already moving into desktop publishing.

Since 1979, Goetzcraft has been located in the Ann Arbor Industrial Park at 975 Phoenix Drive. They do fancier work than Adam Goetz could have ever imagined: brochures, catalogs, and posters, printed in an array of colors. But one thing hasn’t changed. The family continues to make up about half of the workforce. Larry Goetz, now president, is assisted either full- or part-time by ten family members: his father and mother, John and Evelyn Goetz; his wife, Paulette; his sisters, Julie Trevino and Lee Ann Haynes; his brothers-in-law, Jeff Haynes and Jeff Swanson; and his three children, Britton, Bryan, and Brooke.

The original plant that Adam Goetz built at 308 North Main became a dry-cleaning business after Goetzcraft left. Eureka Cleaners is now owned by Steve Hur, who also owns College Cleaners on North University. Like Adam Goetz, Steve Hur is an immigrant, and his craft, too, runs in the family: He bought the business from his sister, who originally had bought it from their brother.


[Photo caption from book]: The Athens Press was named for its original location upstairs in the Athens Theater.

[Photo caption from book]: In 1933 the press finally got a building of its own at 308 N. Main, now Eureka Cleaners

[Photo caption from book]: The press moved across the street, to 307 N. Main, in 1949. “Courtesy Larry and Paulette Goetz”

Henry Krause’s tannery

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, September 1994,
September 1994

Author: Grace Shackman

It was the forerunner of Hush Puppies shoes

In the late nineteenth century, Henry Krause was one of the city’s biggest taxpayers. The leather-making factory he built on Second Street stood into the 21st century and his name lives on in Krause Street nearby. But his real claim to fame is that his Ann Arbor tannery was the forerunner of Hush Puppies shoes.

Krause was born in Treffurth, Prussia, in 1820, to a family who had been tanners for two centuries. He learned the trade from his father and traveled over the greater part of Germany on foot as a Handwerkebursche—a journeyman—before immigrating to America at age twenty-four. Krause worked briefly in New York and in Liverpool, Ohio, before coming to Ann Arbor in 1845. With its large German population and several tanneries, Ann Arbor was a natural choice for an immigrant with his skills.

Krause’s first Ann Arbor job was with Emanuel Mann, who also had been born in Germany and learned tanning from his father. The next year Krause went to work for another German tanner, C. Kusterer, whom he soon bought out. In 1850 he moved the business to Second Street between Liberty and William, where he built a wood frame tannery next to a tributary of Allen Creek.

A source of water was essential for a tannery. Tanners soaked hides in water to clean them, then in a solution of water and lime to loosen the hair, and finally in water and tannin to preserve and soften the leather. The tannin came from oak bark, and in addition to water for soaking, early tanneries used water to power the mills that ground the bark.

Krause prospered, and in 1868 replaced his wooden tannery with a brick one, 30 by 120 feet. A separate storehouse held 225 cords of oak bark, and a third building housed a steam engine for grinding it. By now, Krause was selling leather throughout the state, principally for harnesses. His factory used 7,000 hides a year and its annual sales were about $45,000.

Three other nearby tanneries competed with Krause. The Weil Brothers’ tannery was on the southwest corner of First and Huron, on land that was once the home of Elisha Rumsey, Ann Arbor’s co-founder. The five Weil brothers, Jacob, Solomon, Moses, Leopold, and Marcus, were the nucleus of Ann Arbor’s earliest Jewish community, but they moved on to bigger cities in the 1870’s. Jacob Heinzmann, another German immigrant, set up a tannery in 1851 on the corner of William and Third, on the same Allen Creek tributary as Krause’s. (Its site is now a parking lot for the Argus Building.) On the other side of the tributary, also on Third but closer to Liberty, Christian Duttenhofer, a former Weil Brothers’ employee, started his own tannery in the 1860’s. Duttenhofer’s was probably a smaller operation, since the address was also his home.

Krause also built up a retail operation. In 1849 he built the first brick building on the block of Main Street south of Washington, adding to it in 1861. (In the nineteenth century, most businesses were still clustered around the courthouse to the north.) Besides selling his leather there, he made shoes and boots.

Photograph of Henry Krause's Tannery
Building

Tannery building shortly before it was torn down.

Krause married Catherine Hirth in 1846, just a year after he arrived in Ann Arbor. As his business prospered, they were able to move to a seventeen-room house on the corner of Third and Liberty, now the location of St. Paul’s. (They used the house as a parsonage and school before razing it in 1929 to make room for the church.) The Krause property ran well north of their home down to Washington and west to what is today a U-M parking lot.

In 1881 the Krause tannery was incorporated with $40,000 in capital and was subsequently outfitted with new equipment. But by then, Krause and Heinzmann were the only tanners left in town. Local tanners were probably beginning to feel the competition of large industrial tanners with lower prices and national distribution. Wildlife in Michigan was also becoming scarce, and both Krause and Heinzmann included in their ads offers to buy pelts. Krause’s ad claimed that he paid “more for hides and pelts, furs and tallow than any other man in the state.” He also began selling other brands besides his own custom-made shoes.

Krause was a respected tanner. In 1850, early in his career, he won a first place at the Michigan State Fair. The Ann Arbor Register Weekly said of Krause at the time of his death in 1893, “As a tanner of superior leather he had a wide reputation,” adding, “Although meeting with financial reverses in later years his integrity was unquestioned.”

The City Directory hints at the rest of the story. Krause seems to have given up control of the company in the 1881 incorporation, apparently the price he paid for the capital to finance the tannery’s final renovation. Beginning that year, others are named as the company’s officers, while Krause is identified only as the plant superintendent. The Krause tannery disappears entirely from the directory in 1888. In the 1890 directory, Henry Krause is listed as a clerk for Samuel Krause, his son, at the Main Street store.

The store closed a few years later, ending the Krause family’s fifty years in the leather business in Ann Arbor. But by then, another of Henry and Catherine’s sons (they had seven children) was flourishing in western Michigan. In 1883, G. Adolph Krause, known as G. A., had bought a leather shop in Grand Rapids in partnership with his mother’s brother, Fred Hirth, also a tanner. In 1901 the Hirth-Krause Company, as it was then known, moved to Rockford, a small community close to Grand Rapids, and expanded their tanning and manufacturing. G. A.’s sons, Victor and Otto, and his grandson Adolph continued in the firm. Today the company is Wolverine World Wide, Inc., the world’s largest tanner of pigskin and the makers of Hush Puppies, the shoes with the sad-eyed basset hound trademark. Henry Krause’s 1850 award from the Michigan State Fair is prominently reproduced in the company’s official history.

Meanwhile, the Krause tannery building in Ann Arbor continued to be used as a factory, first to manufacture brass goods, then car accessories, vapor lamps, and windshields. In 1925 the newly formed King Seeley Company moved in to begin manufacture of gas gauges, using the tannery building but adding a modern factory in front of it. Purchased by Chrysler in 1968, it became GT products in 1982, manufacturer of diesel governors and fuel vapor valves, and ended its life as Eaton Corporation. The tannery building was razed in 2005 to make room for an adaptive reuse condo project in the newer factory building.

The Ann Arbor Co-operative Society

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, August 1992,
August 1992

Author: Grace Shackman

Argiero's restaurant was once one of the Midwest's busiest co-ops

Argiero's, the cozy Italian restaurant on the corner of Detroit and Catherine streets, was from 1936 to 1939 the site of a social experiment: a co-op gas station and grocery store. They were run by the Ann Arbor Co-operative Society, a group that organized during the Depression to seek alternatives to capitalism to distribute the necessities of life.

The co-op was started by a small group meeting in the Hill Street living room of Harold Gray, the millionaire idealist who started the Utopian Saline Valley Farms. Their first project, in 1933, was to purchase coal in bulk, thus eliminating the middleman. At the time, coal was a necessity of life, since it was used to heat most homes. Neil Staebler, who with his father, Edward, ran the Staebler and Son Oil Company, was very sympathetic to their cause. (He later became chair of the Michigan Democratic Party and served a term in Congress.) Staebler helped arrange for the co-op to buy coal by the train carload. One of the founding members, William Kemnitz, an attorney who had lost his job at a Detroit bank during the infamous bank holiday, served as the co-op staff person, calling all the members and taking their coal orders by phone. At about the same time, the group also began buying food in bulk.

In 1936, the co-op expanded into a full-time enterprise. Neil Staebler rented the group his Detroit Street gas station, as well as the brick barn behind it on Fifth Avenue. Bill Kemnitz became general manager, with his office in the gas station. Kemnitz's three sons, Bill Jr., Milt, and Walt, all worked there as gas station attendants at various times. Walt, then in high school, remembers his salary was 29 cents an hour. Milt, now an artist well known for his pictures of local scenes, painted the sign, the first in a long career.

The co-op grocery store was set up next door in the old barn, which dated to 1887. An extensive remodeling included installing indoor plumbing and adding plate glass show windows to the Fifth Avenue side. The goal of the grocery store, according to manager Abe Rosenkrantz, was "honest consumer value." Rosenkrantz, who had worked in retail as manager of an office supply business before coming to EMU as a student, walked a tightrope, trying to offer the best products available, such as oranges without coloring, while keeping prices competitive with the chain stores, which could afford a low profit margin.

Employees outside the Ann Arbor
Co-Operative Society Gas Station

Employees posed proudly outside the Ann Arbor Co-Operative Society's gas station in the late 1930. (I. to r.) Milt Kemnitz, Zilpha Olson, Bill Kemnitz Jr., Bill Kemnitz Sr., and Winifred Proctor.

Charter co-op member Helen McCluskey chaired the board of directors' store committee, leading tasting sessions where prospective store items, such as canned peas, were opened and sampled, with the group voting on which brand they thought best.

Rosenkrantz says that to the casual consumer "the store looked like other supermarkets of the day except for labels they wouldn't recognize." He says in some ways the store was like a Meijer, in that it also offered nonfood products such as aspirin (Consumers Union had recently reported that Bayer was no better than off-brand aspirins) and some appliances. In 1937, the group also started a credit union.

Members felt they had a personal stake in the co-op. Says Bill Kemnitz Jr., "Everyone who bought owned the place. There were not many dissatisfied customers. If there were, we would work it out to everyone's satisfaction." Mary Hathaway, daughter of members A. K. and Angelyn Stevens, remembers, "It was our store. We felt very proprietary. Even as a small child you sense where your parents feel connected."

The Ann Arbor co-op soon became the second largest in the Midwest, with Chicago's the only bigger one. In 1939, pressed by a shortage of parking, needing more room, and wanting its own building, the organization moved to 637 South Main Street. It stayed there until 1955, when a Kroger opened across the street and put the co-op out of business.

The Detroit Street gas station reverted to a for-profit station during World War II. In the late 1940's and 1950's, it and the store buildings housed a used-car dealership. In 1965 Tony Argiero bought both buildings; he rented the gas station to a fish market and the store to an air-conditioning shop. In 1977, Argiero decided to use the buildings himself for an Italian restaurant he would run with his wife, Rosa. Tony had met Rosa in 1960, on a visit to his mother's village, Castelsilano, in the southern Italian province of Calabria. Rosa, obviously an authentic Italian cook, got her professional start cooking at Perry Nursery School.

Tony and Rosa enclosed the overhanging drive-in part of the gas station and built an addition on the back. They later put an addition on the west side. In 1985, they sold the restaurant to their four children. Amelia dropped out after two years, but today sons Sam, Carmin, and Michael still run it.

The Ann Arbor Co-operative Society still exists. Though it no longer has a gas station or a grocery store, its credit union is still thriving as part of the Huron River Area Credit Union, located on West Stadium. Member number 2 on the membership list is Helen McCluskey.

109-113 Catherine

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, September 1988,
September 1988

Author: Grace Shackman

From humble garage to elegant office

The Farmers’ Market Bounces Back

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, July 1998,
July 1998

Author: Grace Shackman

The city-owned market turns eighty next year. Its future looked bleak a decade ago, but today the biggest problem is competition for space.

“I have been to markets all over the world,” says Al Kierczak, a farmer who’s been coming to the Farmers’ Market since 1927, “and Ann Arbor is the nicest. It has the most variety.” His wife, Florence, confirms that wherever they travel, Kierczak spends part of their vacation taking a busman’s holiday, checking out the local markets in Europe, South America, and Japan.

Kierczak started coming to the Ann Arbor market with his parents when he was eight years old, riding in from their farm near Milan in an open Model T pickup. In those days the market was held around the old courthouse at Main and Huron, which had sweeping lawns on all four sides. Kierczak’s dad and the other farmers would back their trucks up to the sidewalk and set up tables to display their produce. If it was a hot day, they’d put up umbrellas.

The curb market, as it was originally called, was started in May 1919 by the Community Federation, composed of representatives from several women’s organizations. The group believed it could cut food costs by eliminating the middleman. In fact, several grocers, fearing the competition, went to the common council to object to the plan. They were overruled, and the council and the board of public works approved the federation’s request to let the farmers sell from the streets adjacent to the courthouse.

Photograph of farmers' trucks backed
up to the sidewalk to make a market along the sidewalk on North Fourth Ave

The Curb Market on North Fourth Ave.

The original market began with ten farmers on the Main Street side of the courthouse. According to Rudy Weiner, each farmer sold something different: Adolph Weiner, Rudy’s father, sold flowers (he had emigrated from Austria where he was head gardener for Emperor Franz Joseph); Flora Osborne sold celery, Chinese cabbage, and onions; and the Riecherts of Chelsea sold fruit. Many of the farmers came in horse-drawn wagons. They’d leave their wagons at the curb and stable the horses in the dairy barn on the corner of Miller Avenue and First Street. If they had any produce left at the end of the day, they’d hitch up the horses and peddle it around town.

The city’s growth has long since overrun some of the early growers’ farms. The Weiners’ farm was on Packard, near where the Darlington Lutheran Church is now. The Osborne place was near today’s city airport, and the Dickinsons, another early market family, had a farm on Broadway. The market organizers talked of limiting the market to only Washtenaw County farmers, but since one of the early participants was from outside the county, they decided against it. But another rule they made at the time is still rigorously enforced: everything sold at the market must be produced by the vendors themselves.

The early vendors sold everything their farms produced--not just vegetables, fruit, and flowers, but also honey, eggs, dairy products, baked goods, and poultry--chickens were the most common, but turkeys, ducks, and geese also could be found at the market. Esther Kapp remembers that her family sold beef and pork that her father butchered. Several people even remember seeing dressed muskrat for sale.

With so many things for sale, it’s obvious why some of the local merchants were worried about the competition. But, bowing to the inevitable, some began buying market produce--such as seasonal strawberries, or Flora Osborne’s onions--by the crate or bushel to resell in their stores. Not wanting to sell out and disappoint their regular clientele, some of the farmers set aside a certain amount for wholesale or brought in an extra buggy-load for the stores.

As the number of farmers increased, people objected to clogging up Main Street, so the market moved to the Fourth Avenue side of the courthouse, then eventually wrapped around onto Ann Street. The market never used the Huron Street side, since it was too busy a street to block off. (Before expressways, Huron/Washtenaw was the main highway through town.) During the peak of the growing season, there were so many farmers that the market expanded to the far side of Fourth Avenue, in front of what was then the YMCA and is now the county annex. To limit traffic congestion, the farmers who used that space had to move their trucks out of the way after they unloaded. The market was such a success that in 1921 the common council decided to take it over. It has been a city market managed by a council-appointed commission ever since.

Anna Biederman was the city’s first market master. Born in Germany, she moved to Ann Arbor with her husband, John, and raised nine children. “She knew all about growing,” says Warren Staebler, who remembers her as the director of the victory garden he was involved in as a child during World War I, on land between Seventh and Eighth streets. Biederman did the same in World War II, and between the wars directed the children at Bach Elementary School in gardening on their own plots on what is today the school’s playground.

Biederman traveled to other markets around the state and became an authority on how to organize a community market. “Throughout the trying early years and the development into the present large market Mrs. Biederman has been the ruling spirit,” claimed a 1934 Ann Arbor News article. Her grandson, John Biederman, remembers her as “a little, short, chubby woman, very outspoken. When she ran the market, she ran the market.”

John remembers that his family benefited from one of the perks of Biederman’s position. “On market days we would get a call from grandma saying, ‘I’ve got a whole bunch of cabbages, or carrots, or beets. Come get them.’ The farmers would give them to her, and there would be too much for two people to eat.”

As the amount of traffic and the number of sellers increased in the 1920s, the courthouse square became a less satisfactory location for the market. In 1931, Gottlob Luick, a former mayor (1899–1901), solved the problem by donating land for a permanent site between Fourth Avenue and Detroit Street, which had been used by his lumber company. Adolph Weiner worked with Luick to design the market.

It was the midst of the Depression, so the city didn’t have money to develop the site, but the farmers made do, selling their produce from the sidewalk that fronted Detroit Street. They used wooden sheds from the old lumberyard for protection in rain and to keep warm in the winter. They created more space by adding a boardwalk along the northern edge of the property, creating an L-shaped layout. The wooden walkway protected people from the mud and also helped level a sloping piece of land. “It was three feet at the highest and then tapered down,” recalls fruit grower Alex Nemeth, who, like Al Kierczak, started coming to the market with his parents when he was a child. “I’d crawl under it with the other kids, looking for coins that dropped through.”

Photograph of Allen's Creek passing
Dean and Company warehouse

WPA Construction of the Farmers' Market in Kerrytown.

From 1938 to 1940, the present 124-stall market was built by the federal Works Progress Administration, a Depression-era jobs program. WPA workers roofed and paved the market and added another short wing extending west from Detroit Street. A market headquarters, a small tan brick building, was built in the middle, where the parking dynameter is today. Market managers used the back room for an office, while farmers used the lounge in front to get warm and to eat sack lunches.

Shortly after the market was finished, Charles McCalla built a cinder-block building just north of the market for his Washtenaw Farm Bureau store. He used the new building as a store and feed mill, and the old lumber warehouse on the corner of Fifth and Kingsley for storage and parts. (Both buildings are now part of Kerrytown.)

McCalla ground grain into livestock feed and sold prepared feeds, seeds, pet supplies, and penny candy. With such a convenient location, many market farmers bought supplies there. In 1962, McCalla’s son and daughter-in-law, Ray and Shirley McCalla, took over the business and renamed it Washtenaw Farm and Garden Center. In 1969, they sold the buildings to Kerrytown’s developers and moved their operation to Dexter.

Another nearby business that catered to the farmers was a small eatery run by Bill Biederman, Anna’s son. At the time the WPA market was built, there were still four houses along Fourth Avenue west of the market. Bill Biederman lived in one of the houses and ran a modest restaurant in his kitchen, serving breakfasts and light lunches--hamburgers, chili, soup. John Biederman worked as a dishwasher and cook for his uncle when he was a teenager. He remembers there were about nine stools and some little armchairs. When Anna Biederman retired, Bill took over as market manager.

During the food shortages of World War II, the market was busier than ever. Mildred Parker remembers customers lining up five or six stalls back to buy her chickens. “Finally,” she remembers, “I counted how many were left and then came out and said I’d sell one to each and the rest should go home.”

From its inception through the 1960s, market stalls were in great demand. “Quite a few [growers] would stay all night the night before to get a preferred spot,” Alex Nemeth remembers. Bob Dieterle, who still works the family farm near Saline, remembers that his mother used to go at 2 a.m. and park across from the armory to make sure she’d get a stall.

Once they had secured a spot, many stayed up all night, or close to it, getting ready for the market. Dieterle’s wife, Luella, used to spend the night picking flowers, a flashlight under her arm. Esther Kapp remembers harvesting until 1:30 a.m. and then rising again at 4 a.m. for the trip to town. Her three brothers stayed behind on the farm on Northfield Church Road to continue picking; while Kapp and her mother sold, her dad would drive back and forth all day to pick up fresh produce.

Winter was an even more trying time. Bob Dieterle didn’t miss a Saturday for fifty-seven years. “People depended on us to bring eggs,” he says. “Once when there was a big snowstorm, when we still had horses, I knew my dad’s ’34 Ford couldn’t reach the corner [to the main road], so I had the horses pull it there. I met him there with the horses when he returned at three.” Mildred Parker remembers selling eggs on a day when it was nineteen degrees below zero. “I had just the empty containers on the table. When I made a sale, I’d go to the truck, but every carton had at least one cracked egg. I could see they were frozen, so I just went home.” The farmers dressed warmly and rigged up homemade stoves, called “salamanders,” to keep warm.

Over the years, fewer and fewer people were willing to endure such hardships. For one thing, health regulations kept limiting what the farmers could bring to the market. In the 1950s, stricter standards stopped the sale of unrefrigerated dairy products: butter, milk, cottage cheese, buttermilk. Next, the state barred the farmers from selling meat. Kapp recalls, “We always had the meat in ice. It was a Lansing problem, not the meat inspector’s. We went up to Lansing to complain, but they had made up their mind.” In 1977 baked goods were banned unless they were prepared in a separate, licensed commercial kitchen.

The market went through a low point in the 1970s and 1980s. With farmers finding it harder to stay in business and local retailers luring shoppers away with more and better produce, the number of vendors plunged 40 percent between 1976 and 1988. That year, the Observer published an article asking, “Will the market survive to the year 2000?”

To keep the market going, the commission implemented two important changes. Some veteran growers were allowed to spread out, renting three or even four stalls. And for the first time, a dozen booths were permanently rented to craftspeople--woodworker Coleman Jewett’s Adirondack chairs, for instance, are now a fixture at the market’s north end.

Today the market is again full. According to Maxine Rosasco, market manager since 1987, there is even a waiting list: the `54 produce vendors and 144 craftspeople, who currently rent daily as space permits, want to be assigned permanent stalls.

While the turnaround is good news for the market, it also means that the two stopgap changes in the 1980s have become a problem. Pointing to their numbers, the craftspeople are lobbying for more space. “We set up Sunday for an artisans’ market, but they’d rather come on Saturday,” says Rosasco. And there is also friction among the growers themselves.

The waiting list for produce vendors is surprising--after all, farming has only gotten tougher in the last decade, and farms around the city have continued to be gobbled up by new subdivisions. But those losses have been more than made up for by growers coming from farther afield, as far away as Allen and Coldwater. And despite increased competition from supermarkets and produce markets, shoppers have continued to flock to the market for specialties, like Ken King’s organic produce and George Merkle’s Chinese vegetables.

“Buyers are more sophisticated,” says Florence Kierczak. “Years ago we didn’t sell kohlrabi, people didn’t know what it was. Now they do.” The Nemeth family has expanded its variety of fruit, offering customers different tastes, and also gaining a longer harvest. And many growers have responded to shoppers’ demands for bedding plants, especially perennials, as well as for cut flowers and herbs. The downside of the market’s resurgence is growing tension between longtime vendors and newcomers who’d like to get into the market. Some of the growers on the waiting list think that the vendors with four stalls should be made to give one up.

That, of course, isn’t going over well with the veteran growers. Says Mildred Parker, “They think they should get a stall right way. Some of us waited four or five years, or even ten, to get where we wanted.” The growers with multiple stalls say they need the space because they have to sell more now to make up for rising costs--for instance, new state health rules require that farmers making apple cider to have a separate press building with a cement floor. “One stall was adequate for each farm in the early days,” says Alex Nemeth. “Now you need two or three to make a living.”

Physically the market’s layout hasn’t changed much since the WPA finished its work, except for gradual expansions as houses on Fourth Avenue were acquired and demolished or moved. In 1980, city voters turned down a bond proposal to rebuild and winterize the market, apparently feeling the changes would make it too glitzy (although most of the farmers would have appreciated the warmth!). But by saving up vendors’ fees, the market commission was able to replace the roofs and gutters and build a new office at the market’s south end.

Crowds at the market remain strong, especially in midsummer when foot traffic gets so thick shoppers sometimes find it hard to move. The farmers for their part have warm feelings for the market beyond just making a living. Many have been involved for several generations and have become close friends, almost family, with their fellow farmers. Parker first brought her daughter in a playpen. In later years, her daughter became such good friends with the Kapps’ daughter that people didn’t know which kid belonged with which stall. The farmers have also made friends with their customers over the years. Says Olive Conant, “They’d talk to you, tell you things they wouldn’t tell others—they think farmers have a more down-to-earth life.”

Mack & Company

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, May 1982,
May 1982

Author: Grace Shackman

The Nieman-Marcus of Ann Arbor

Urged by Elsa Goetz Ordway, for years we have intended to do a piece on Mack & Company, the big department store that once occupied four floors covering the larger part of the west side of Main Street between Liberty and Washington, from the sites of the present-day DeFord's department store to the Parthenon.

Mack & Company was Ann Arbor's counterpart to downtown Detroit's big J.L. Hudson store. It sold everything from furniture and carpets to cosmetics and lingerie, from dry goods to insurance, from health food to postage stamps. It had its own pharmacy. And it even had its own bank. Weakened by the Depression, Mack & Company finally closed in 1940. Its story would die out with the last generation of old Ann Arbor who remembered it, Mrs. Ordway feared. Thanks to the energetic investigations of Grace Shackman, who talked with twenty Mack & Company employees and patrons, we are happy to have finally produced this piece.

The history of Mack & Company, like the history of most major Main Street retail stores and banks in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is closely connected with Ann Arbor's large German community. The store's founder, Christian Mack, immigrated from the region of Swabia in the kingdom of Wuerttemburg, where most Ann Arbor Germans are from. He worked in John Maynard's dry goods store for five years before starting his own business at the age of twenty-three. Three years later, in 1860, he formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, Frederick Schmid, Jr. Schmid was the son of Pastor Schmid of the Bethlehem Church, the first German-language minister in Michigan. Mack & Schmid, like many downtown stores back then, sold a big variety of merchandise including yard goods, crockery, carpets, and groceries. In 1881 it was the first Ann Arbor store to replace its wooden sidewalks with stone ones.

Both Mack and Schmid were active in business and civic affairs, as would be expected, and both were deacons at Zion Lutheran Church. Schmid was president of Ann Arbor Piano and Organ, the factory founded by David Allmendinger. Mack served on the school board for twenty-five years and had an elementary school named in his honor two decades after his death. In 1895 Schmid left the firm. Christian Mack's youngest son, Walter, became a part owner, and the store was incorporated as Mack & Company.

Walter Mack had joined the store as a clerk, but soon "his natural abilities manifested themselves and demanded recognition," according to the quaint but not entirely straightforward write-up in Past and Present of Washtenaw County, a 1906 publication which described prominent citizens who agreed to underwrite the cost of publication. Some employees remember Walter Mack as charming; others considered him condescending and unfair. He was at the top of a clearly ordered store hierarchy, with clerks at the bottom, going up to department heads, to floor managers, and finally "the boss." Former employees agree that his word was law and also that he was careful with money. Some idolized him, while others could not stand him. Some complain that he gave preferential treatment to favorites and that he refused to pay for overtime. But others loved the store, working there for years, even during the worst years of the Depression when they were no longer paid salaries, just commissions. Because Mack was willing to hire young people, many have fond memories of the store as their first place of employment. Also, women could find work there in a day when few jobs were open to women.

The high-caliber employees were what many customers remember about Mack & Company. Many were already specialists in their fields when hired; others were trained to be. In the Schwaben Verein building on Ashley, where Mack had warehouse space linked by hovered ramps, regular classes were held to demonstrate new products and to give pep talks on being nice to customers. In those days Ann Arbor was small enough that most customers were known by name. The store altered garments and offered free delivery and even free pick-up for items purchased on approval which customers wished to return. The wagons and horses used for deliveries until after World War One were housed in the building on Washington at First, which was erected in the 1840's for Bethlehem Church.

One of the best-remembered salespeople was Myrtle Dusty, who ran the art department. She taught many Ann Arborites to knit. Another favorite was Mary Rogers of the sheet music department, who often demonstrated pieces on the piano. Music teacher Geraldine Seeback remembers going there as a child and singing the songs being played as a crowd gathered round. Many of the store's employees later started businesses of their own, notably Mae Van Buren, who ran the corset department; Walter Mast of the shoe department; and Charles Hutzel and Guersey Collins, both of women's ready-to-wear.

Mack & Company went all-out for special events. Many longtime Ann Arborites like Ted Heusel recall the store's outstanding toy department. Christmas featured a real Christmas tree on a revolving music-box stand and Santa Claus, played year after year by Grandpa Brooks, the bewhiskered elevator operator. Two or three times a year fashion shows presented the latest styles, especially those from the store's exclusive "French Shop." Big-name bands were hired for them, and once Walter Mack paid five hundred dollars for a woman to come from New York to coach the models, who were always selected from among the prettiest employees. At these shows Mrs. Mack, a Southern belle from Kentucky who lived a reclusive life in the Macks' big house on Haven Street, was the guest of honor, smiling at the models as they made their appearances.

Mr. Mack spent much of each year at his cottage on Whitmore Lake, where he raised dogs and gladioli. The glads, planted by the acre, were sometimes used for decoration at the store. After World War One Mr. Mack employed many German refugees, using them in the store as painters, custodians, drivers for the delivery trucks, and as chauffeurs. They also worked at keeping up the grounds at Whitmore Lake and in digging up, dividing, and replanting the gladioli bulbs.

During the Depression years Walter Mack struggled valiantly to keep his store afloat, employees recall, but as sales went down, he no longer could afford to replenish the stock, so sales decreased even further. He tried renting out on a commission basis departments such as furniture, rugs, and china, but the new operators could not do any better. By 1939 the store was in too bad a financial shape to continue, and Mr. Mack announced that he was "quitting business forever, and everything must be sold to the bare walls in the shortest time possible." Chauncey Ray tried running the store for another year as Mack, Inc. but did not succeed, either.

In the last years of his life, Walter Mack continued to run the insurance business which had once been a small part of his big department store. Since he had rented out the rest of the building on Main at Liberty, the owners of the Liberty Inn let him enter his second-floor office through their restaurant. Mr. Mack died in 1942 with almost no money and his store only a memory.

Many former Mack employees were interviewed for this article: bundle girls Eleanor Snow, Fern Braun Shaffer (who later worked in the approval office), and Mabel Marie Seyfried Sager (who was an occasional model as well); ribbon department manager Rowena Schmid; elevator operator Don Hough; Elsa Weber St. Clair, who did alterations and made draperies from scratch, including some extremely large ones for the Michigan League; Elizabeth Maier and Betty Smith in cosmetics and drugs; Elsie Feldkamp and Agnes Wright, basement clerks; window trimmer Frank Pardon; Helen Rice, office; Alfred Graf, carpenter; Erma Jahnke, the cashier in the "cage" on the mezzanine; and Gertrude Druyoer, who woked in the commission furniture department after Walter Mack left the store. Former customers Edith Staebler Kempf, Louella Weinman, and Geraldine Seeback were also contacted.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: In 1905 Made & Company occupied five storefronts on Main 'Street just north of Liberty. "The Leading Furniture and Carpet House," proclaimed a large sign on the south side. (Top right) In 1899 fire destroyed an earlier location of Mack & Company on the southwest corner of Main at Liberty. (Above) The present-day site of the old Mack & Company. The store extended from the corner of Main and Liberty through part of the site of DeFord's.


[Photo caption from original print edition]: 85 store employees posed for this 1924 group portrait in the meeting rooms of the Schwaben Verein on Ashley. (Inset) Walter C. Mack, store president.

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