This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Shopping at Steffen's Jewelry Store

Valentine's Day is coming so this week should be a busy one at Steffen's Jewelry, the only jewelry store in Rensselaer.
Steffen's Jewelry is the only real retail store on the 200 block of West Washington. If we start from the parking lot on Front Street and walk north east, we will find an empty store that used to be TJs unfinished furniture, Dr. Pellicore's office, Steffen's Jewelry, the Artisan Gallery, and Lyon Insurance. In the old JC Penny Building there are three businesses, Cornerstone Real Estate, Manpower, and Lawyer Title Insurance. Landmark Realty, the Randle and Sammons law firm, and Halleck and Beaver law offices finish the block.

Steffen's is located in the beige building below. The Jasper County Interim Report has the two buildings on the right listed as functional neoclassical both built around 1900. The building to the left of Steffen's is newer, built around 1930 in an Art Deco style, and the building only partially shown with the rounded windows is listed as oldest, an Italianate building from about 1895. (If you remember anything about the past of any of these buildings, feel free to share in the comments. The Art Deco building was a clothing store, then was a store for interior decorating, then a photographer had signs that it was to be a photography studio but I do not remember if it ever opened as such, and now is an art gallery.)
Steffen's Jewrely has been in downtown Rensselaer since 1956. It opened in the tiny building next to the old Fendig Drug store. Both the old Fendig Drug store and this tiny building were destroyed in a fire quite a few years ago. Ray Steffen was trained as an electrician, but found that he was allergic to the dust that electricians often encounter. He trained at the Elgin Watch factory, and then with a loan from his sister opened a tiny jewelry shop. Rensselaer had two other jewelers at the time. (Daryls Bakery also opened the same year.)

His stay next to Fendigs was short, and he soon moved to a location that is now part of Janet's Kitchen. I vaguely recall a jewelry store in that location. It was not until the College Square mall was built, and businesses started leaving the downtown, that Steffen's moved to its present location. The business that occupied the building before Steffen's was King the Clothier, a men's clothing store. It was probably there when we came, but I have no memory of it.I noticed parking meters in this picture. The history and economics of parking meters is a topic I would like to explore if I can ever find the time.

I do not shop much for jewelry. Actually, I never shop for jewelry. So even though Steffen's Jewelry has been in Rensselaer for all the years I have lived here, I have no recollection of having ever been in the store. It is long and narrow, as are a lot of the stores in downtown Rensselaer. An impressive display of figurines greets the shopper when he or she enters.
They have lots of figurines. I might mention that the current owner, Roger Steffen, is the son of the founder, Ray Steffen. Some of his children and some of my children went to school together. Also, Roger is well known among runners in northern Indiana.
They also have some glass vases and other decorative glass pieces, and clocks, only some of which are shown below.
And naturally, they have jewelry. Jewelry is hard to photograph, so I am only including this picture of rings. The store also had the other stuff that a jewelry store should have. (Can you tell that I know nothing about jewelry?)
Watches still are an an important item of jewelry. People use watches not just to tell time but to show status. A hundred years ago, pocket watches were popular, and if you can find old catalogs from that era, they have pages of pocket watches. I have not seen anyone actually use one in years, but there were several for sale at Steffen's. Even wristwatches seem to be declining. Digital watches are cheaper and more accurate than mechanical watches, but they do not have the class that the mechanical watches have. Now the young generation uses their cell phones to tell time, so many of them do not even own watches.
In the back is a work area. Steffen's repairs broken jewelry and re-sizes rings, among other services.
Roger Steffen said that one day someone came in with the picture below and told him that it was of a butcher shop that was in his building in the late 19th century. Almost all the buildings in downtown Rensselaer have had many businesses in them over the years. It would be interesting if someone could put together a complete listing of the businesses that have occupied each site over the years. I wonder how one would even begin such a project.

Update: Stephanie's Interiors was at one time in the building that now houses Lyons Insurance. Then the owners of Stephanie's bought the building next door, to the left of Steffens, and moved there. One of the previous occupants was a bridal shop. There is currently an apartment above the building Lyons Insurance is in, but before that there was a karate studio there.

Also, the building to the right of Steffens was at one time the Ritz Theater. What is now the Ritz Theater was the Palace Theater.

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