Merchants and a Walk around the Square in Old Grinnell by Dave Adkins 4-21-17


The old Grinnell High School just one block east of the main square of the town and where many of the people discussed here today received a diploma many years ago.


I come back to Grinnell after nearly a life time’s absence, park on the west side of Main St. in front of the Iowa Theatre and take a deep breath recalling the 10-cent Saturday matinees and the long lines of kids waiting to get in for the 2 pm “show”.  I walk south down Main and pass (Harry) Ritter’s Maytag, the Model Lunch, McDowell Insurance, Buck Reynolds’ dry cleaners and check out the movie showing at the Strand, “Whispering Smith” with Alan Ladd. I decide to head on to Woolen’s Shoes past Charlie Safris’s Goodyear Shoe Repair, Ritter Hardware and McNally’s. I check the Buster Brown shoe display, but Leonard Woolen isn’t around.   If I turned right and headed west, I would find Russ’s Tavern and Goodyear Tire, but instead I cross the street at 4th and Main going east to have a word with Stub Preston and maybe pick up something on sale or grab a dime bag of popcorn from the Nichols red wagon parked in the street just west of Preston’s Corner.

I shade my eyes and look across 4th Avenue southwest to check the A and P Market on the corner, Zimm’s Coast to Coast, the tavern, the P and M Cafe, Weiss’s Produce and Kearney Coal and Seed on down the street just north of the railroad tracks. Now looking south and southeast from Preston’s Corner I get a glimpse of the Rexall Drug, the Rex, Elks Club above the Rex, Sanitary Barber Shop, Clindinin Insurance, Doc Porter’s office, the State Bank, Western Auto and the Gamble store.  Then I decide to head back north on Main to compare Stub’s sale prices with what Ikey Bucksbaum has at the Star Clothing thinking I might like to see Rex Millslagle.  Not much going on there, nor at Penny’s, where I was looking for Runt Long.  McGregor’s is dark.  I peer in the front window of the Raven and recall the hours spent at Clark Wilson’s Academy, the pool hall over the Raven. I pass Joe Marchellino’s shoe repair.  It’s kind of quiet, but an ice cream cone sounds good, so I make my way to Smith’s Dairy at corner of 5th and Main passing Ted’s Place, (where my mother, Irene Adkins, used to eat breakfast before going to work at the Clindinin Insurance Agency as a “stenographer” in 1924). I pass Lyle Goodwin Insurance and Lee Bullock’s Barber Shop on route.  Nothing doing, no Dairy, no ice cream.

From 5th and Main on Smith’s Dairy corner, I glance across the street northwest and see the new enterprise of the Dairy Freeze, with Eddy Halstead, Lyman Walters and Jerry Hagen as partners.  The DF is just south of Ben Mitchell’s Nash dealership and just north of the gas station on the corner.  I check back across the street east from the Nash showroom and see the Hatcher Row apartments and Frank Mitchell’s Buick garage, knowing that Van’s 66 on old 6 and across the street east from Cecil Brim’s Skelly station are open for business and that Gene McCurry is probably at the 3 Elms.  I am still at Smith’s Dairy corner and I look straight north from Smith’s corner and see the  Korfmacher and Brobyn medical building and recall a tonsillectomy and an appendectomy (and the ether) at hand of Doc Korfmacher. The medical building, Claire’s Cleaners and Grinnell HR, in addition to the telephone company are lined in a row and wonder what happened to the old vacant hole to the east of the telephone building. A few years later I would have seen Reinsurance and Davis Ice Cream.

I cross the 5th Avenue going north from the Dairy, arrive in front of medical building stroll east and stop a minute in front of the cleaners, from there I can see Mullins Gift Shop, Squires and Ave’s Barber Shop on the other side of the street. Across the alley, I notice United Food, although I smell pizza cooking from that building (an old armory), and Shafer Music close to Dr. Parrish’s office which faces Broad St.  I don’t need to go any further to visualize Broad Street, in my mind’s eye I see the Doc Parish’s office, the bakery, Metz Auto store with local softball expert, George Turney, behind the counter, probably reminding the young phenom pitcher, Norm Dille, that Roger Zimmerman always lets the first pitch go and to pray when Art Grosenbach picks up his bat.

Then there’s George’s Hardware, the Laros Newsstand, the Wes Ahrens North Market and the Iowa Southern backed up to Poweshiek Bank facing 4th Ave.  On the other side of Broad, I see the post office, Stewart Library, part of the high school and the old stone Congregational Church and gazing across Central Park catch a glimpse of the Monroe Hotel, Rock Island Depot, B of RT and the Rite Spot.  I notice two guys painting the 110 foot high flagpole in Central Park with the Wilson and Clark paint truck parked nearby.  My mind’s eye of Broad Street and its surrounds has served me well and saved me a few steps.

Still standing in front of Clair’s Cleaners, curiosity gets the best of me and I saunter back across 5th Avenue in front of the barber shop and walk down the alley south between Claire Strand’s United and George Mickey’s Produce attached to the barber shop to the west.  After the one block stroll behind Main and Broad Street buildings, I am now on 4th Avenue and cross it going south to stand in front of the Western Auto, across the alley east from the State Bank to the west of where I stand is Hamilton Insurance and the Gamble Store.  From my spot in front of Western Auto, I have a better view back north of the Poweshiek Bank, Cunningham Drug, Candyland, Bartling and Nuchols Jewelry Store, Turner’s Pharmacy and the cleaners on the alley. I look west of the alley and see only Arnold’s Shoes, Sanders Dime Store and the Edwards Grocery. While standing there, I find the first familiar face, Fox Hamilton, who greets me and says he’s on his way to Iowa City, or Des Moines. My day now seems complete and I return to my car back north one block thru the alley and back west a half block down 5th Avenue to my parking spot in front of the Iowa Theatre.  I am satisfied.  Things haven’t changed at all in downtown Grinnell, a view that will never change for me.


(Written by Dave Adkins, an excerpt from More Home Memories) 2014.

Grinnell Merchants

In the 1940’s and 1950’s a merchant,  the owner of a business on the town square,  held prestige in the community.  They admirably filled the vital role of providing the goods and services to keep the town running successfully – food, clothing, shelter, services and much more.  It was small business that made this country grow. (There was no Walmart and no I-80, gateway to Des Moines shopping malls.) There were also doctors, lawyers, educators, tradesmen and women,  blue collar factory workers and laborers who rounded out the economic picture of the old Grinnell.  This article focuses on some selected merchants shown alphabetically.

Avery Adkins (1904-1967) graduated from GHS in 1923, before leaving school he was already practicing his lifelong trade that of a barber.  His first shop was in the backroom of the Laros News Stand on Broad Street. He had a 15 x 15 space set off by temporary partitions.  There was one barber chair and a backdoor which was a great asset to access his business.  As a young barber, still in high school and then later just graduated, he attracted both high school and college students as customers.  He had a great memory and kept in touch with GHS and Grinnell College grads who were his customers through the years.   Ave was one of 7 children and one brother, Roy Adkins won the state 880 yard run in 1922 at the Iowa State Track and Field Meet.  Word from Roy to his son, Rick, was that Ave was actually faster than Roy, but never participated in track as his commitment was to work.  Irene Adkins was a partner in the 5th Avenue Barber Shop as she did all of the laundry which was considerable used in the business.


Inside the 5th Avenue Barber Shop in 1954 directly across 5th Ave from the Herald Register was Ave Adkins giving Pierre Mendes France, French diplomat,  a trim.  He was in town to give a speech at Grinnell College.

Well known businessman and entrepreneur,  Joe Buffum (1910-1982) was one of Grinnell’s wheeler-dealer business men of his day.   His journey included work as a U.S. mail carrier,  operator of Colonial Oil and in 1943 he bought the White Spot and ran that business successfully until 1958.   The White Spot was located just east of the corner of Broad and 6th avenue on the south side of the street.   It had great hamburgers and tenderloins and was a place that students worked and hung out and everyone stopped after a game or a movie for a snack.  Joe not only provided great “cuisine” but  the place was also a source of employment to many young guys still in school.  Upon selling the famous Spot,  Joe owned and operated the Bowladrome until his death in 1982.  His son, Gary, was a USN veteran and a member of the GHS class of 1957.


Joe Buffum well known for his ownership and management of the White Spot Care and the Bowladrome.

In the same location on 4th Avenue next to the Poweshiek Bank from 1938-1980, and formerly the Talbott Pharmacy, Don Cunningham and his business, Cunningham Drug, provided non-stop service for 42 years to Grinnellians. Having attended Creighton University and then completing his senior year at the University of Iowa, where he graduated 2nd in his class in 1929.  His son, Jim, GHS class of 1956, was prominent in the business as a pharmacist.  Don Donohoe, Mike Hotchkin, Ken Isenberg and other pharmacists at Cunningham’s provided a strong professional supporting cast.  The fountain was a popular meeting place for business people working in the downtown area and featured sandwiches, ice cream and “nickel coffee.”


Photo of Candyland and Cunningham Drug with a door inside adjoining the two businesses.   1948 college homecoming from Pioneering by Alan Jones.

Howard Edwards (1901-1980) was owner-operator of Briardale Foods for 61 years (1919-1980),  a small grocery business which was located just east of Preston’s Clothing Corner (NE corner of Main and 4th Avenue) and the Arnold Shoe Store.   He was ably assisted in the business by his wife Margaret and two sisters, Hazel and Marie Edwards.  Howard’s daughter, Barbara, was in the GHS class of 1957 but died in 1979.

Unique to his grocery business was home delivery and a big key to his success, but also unique was the fact that Howard, the owner, majored in Greek and Botany and also was out for football and basketball at Grinnell College graduating in 1924.  In addition to his grocery store, he bought a used Greyhound bus, built a garage for it in a vacant lot north of his home at 1332 East Street and drove the bus as a charter for GHS and Grinnell College groups, especially athletic teams.   For budding GHS athletes, one of the big perks was graduating from a yellow school bus on road trips to the luxury of the Greyhound with Howard behind the wheel.  It was used on longer high school trips to Ames, Boone and Cedar Rapids.

According to GHR obituary, Howard Edwards was born in Lorimor, Iowa in 1901 graduating from that town’s high school in 1919,  the year his family moved to Grinnell and purchased Williams Ideal Grocery Store then located on Broad Street.

Howard Edwards

Howard Edwards, student of Greek, in his senior year at Grinnell College in 1924.

German Plumbing, Heating and Cooling: Phillip German started the family business in 1898 when he specialized in repair and installation of windmills and water systems.  Son George and his wife, Fidelia, purchased the business in 1927 and continued under the name of Farm Water Supply.  The baton was passed in 1963 to Larry and Donna German and in 1986 they changed the name of the business to German Plumbing, Heating and Cooling.  Scott and Randy German, shown below, great grandchildren of Phillip,  are current owners and operators and assisted by Susan German, company operations manager.   2018 will mark the 120th year that this amazing family business has served Grinnellians.


Hamilton Insurance and Travel: One of Grinnell, Iowa’s most memorable and popular citizens has made his last trip to Iowa City to watch his beloved Hawkeyes line up on the Big Ten gridiron.  His health had forced him to cut short his most recent trip to an Iowa game in the 2012 football season. One of Dave Hamilton’s high school buddies was in Grinnell from Colorado for the GHS All Class Reunion the week-end of July 4, 2012 and commented as follows, “Had I just stayed in The Fox’s room at The Mayflower during my visit I may have seen a greater number of individuals than I did mingling among those out on the street. David Hamilton lived 83 years passing away at the Mayflower Home in Grinnell on March 16, 2013. He was a member of the GHS class of 1947 and he played some football for the Tigers.  He attended the University of Iowa where he must have developed his enthusiasm for Hawkeye teams, especially football.   You could always get a ticket for a home game from “Fox” Hamilton as he carried around town an attaché crammed with tickets. After Iowa U. he was in USAF during the Korean Conflict.  He frequently said he defended the country from America’s northern most outpost in Bangor, Maine.  He also loved the Knoxville Races and was a regular there Saturday nights summer after summer.  Dave was a familiar figure on 4th Avenue, site of Hamilton Insurance and Hamilton Travel.  He knew everyone and was a very popular guy throughout the state of Iowa.   Babe Hamilton, his dad, and Bob, older brother, were mainstays in the insurance business along with Pat, the long serving secretary and administrative aid.

Main St 1940

Main Street Grinnell 1940’s looking south from 5th avenue with Iowa Theatre on the right operated by George Mart.  The Iowa Theatre had matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday and the Strand matinees only on week-ends.  Ticket prices were .10 for 12 and under and .55 for 12 and over.  Popcorn was .10 and most candy .10. 

Another scholarly merchant of the day was Gerald Laros (1898-1962) who graduated from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California in 1920 after receiving high school diploma at GHS.  He married Josephine Kutish (1898-1961) in 1922 and took over Kutish News Stand, current site of Saint’s Rest Coffee, and changed name to the Laros News Stand in 1931 running it until 1961.  Mrs. Laros was a Grinnell College scholar who graduated in 1921 and was Phi Beta Kappa and on the Mortar Board after her 1916 graduation from GHS as class valedictorian.  She taught Latin and Spanish at Grinnell High School for several years. Their son, Gerald, became a distinguished orthopedic surgeon, M.D., at Duke Medical School – a graduate of GHS, Stanford, like his dad, and of Northwestern Medical School.  At time of his death in 1992 he was 62 and a member of Duke Medical School faculty.  His sister, JoAnn, class of 1944 at GHS, lives in Jacksonville, Florida.


Dr. Gerald Laros as he appeared at GHS in class of 1948 and his mother, Josephine as a Spanish and Latin teacher at Grinnell High School in 1946.



Shineland Shoe Shining on 4th Avenue, Grinnell, just west of Cunningham Drug in 1925:  left to right – Howard Curry,  Ted Staffanou along with Gail Burke and Roy Adkins, both standing.

Joe Marchellino (1892-1966) came to Grinnell from Palermo, Italy in 1909.   Harold Moyer, class of 1957, worked in the early fifties before and after school for Joe in the location on the east side of Main Street just north of Ted’s Place.  Harold, who put his school work experience to practical use as he later operated his own shoe repair shop on 4th Avenue for 10 years. He said recently that Joe was a good boss, spoke good English and showed him a few tricks in the shoe repair trade.  Charlie Safris, another Italian immigrant, had the Goodyear Shoe Repair shop just south of the Strand Theatre at the time also.    The Marchellinos, in their home at NW corner of 8th and Prairie, were known for their Sunday evening spaghetti dinners served to college and town groups. Harold Moyer mentioned that he and his wife, Bev, had dinner there when Bev was working for Harry Crowder at the Budweiser Distribution warehouse and Harry took his employees to the Marchellinos for the famous Sunday evening dinner.  It was a common site in those days to see 20-25 college students walking west on 8th Avenue on their way to Joe and Marie’s home.   He lived in Grinnell for 54 years and ran his business for 38 of those years but returned to his home Palermo in retirement where he passed away in 1966.


Joe Marchellino, hard working Italian immigrant,  operated a shoe repair shop on Main St. for 38 years.  For baseball fans of the past,  Joe physically resembled Phil Rizzuto,  the short stop of the Yankees in the 1950s – wiry, dark of small stature.

A popular restaurant “between the theatres” in Grinnell was the Model Lunch, owned and operated by Wilbur “Bill” Noel (1907-1975) for 30 years.  After returning from WWII service in the USN, Noel was owner of the Rex Cigar Store for 30 years, which was located the second business east from the corner of 4th and Main on the south side of 4th.  It was later known as Wayne’s Steakhouse and later just The Steakhouse operated by two Hammond families.  Noel served meals, beer and had the famous “ticker tape” which ran sporadically during the day kicking out the latest breaking news and sports scores.  Bill was always seen close to the cash register of his two businesses looking each dollar into its safety,  the mark of a wise businessman.

The third generation business of Preston’s Clothing Corner occupied a prominent spot on the NE corner of Main and 4th Avenue.  Long and lean Stub Preston (1903-1999),  GHS class of 1922 and a graduate of Drake University,  was a familiar sight at the helm of the business for 38 years until 1965.   He had arranged for display and sale men’s wear on the main floor and work clothes in the basement.  Stub and Carmen Preston had a son, Stan “Frank” Preston, who was an outstanding football player at Lawrence College before embarking on a business and sales career in Georgia.


Photo from Dorothy Pinder’s “In Old Grinnell” of the principals of Ramsey-Weeks,  seated the family matriarch,  Anna Ramsey,  and standing Bill Weeks and Rick Ramsey.

Fred and Rick Ramsey, Ramsey-Weeks Insurance and Real Estate, are the father son team which started the insurance company in 1933 (Fred) and kept ownership in the family with Rick Ramsey at the helm and now Rick’s son, Jim.  Marjory Reeves Kaloupek was a mainstay in the company’s office for many years.  Born in Grinnell in 1907 Fred passed away in 1965 of a heart ailment, he graduated from GHS and was a member of the Grinnell College class of 1930.  Rick Ramsey joined his father in business in 1962 and Bill Weeks, former GHS principal,  became a realtor in 1969 and remained in that position until his retirement in 2008.  Participation and achievement in football, in addition to the family business, was another link for Rick to Fred’s father, Grant Ramsey who was a Tiger athlete in the 1890’s;  Fred himself was captain of the 1926 GHS grid team;  Rick started as a freshman at GHS in football and logged 4 solid years of achievement carrying his abilities to a standout at Lawrence College.  Jim, the current Ramsey in charge of the company operations, was also a Tiger gridder and a starter at Knox College in football.

Ritter’s Hardware held a prominent spot on the Grinnell square – situated in the middle of the block on the west side of Main Street between 4th and 5th Avenue. It was a family business and Frank Ritter (1903-1983) worked with his father, Harry Sr., and brother Bill Ritter.  Frank and Helen were  parents of Dick and Dennis, two outstanding basketball players at GHS in the late forties and early fifties.  Dick Ritter used his family business instincts to own and operate Dodge Equipment Company of Eldora, which manufactured athletic uniforms and accessories.  Frank Ritter retired in 1966.

Jack Sangster owned and managed the famous Broadway Department Store which was on the west side of Broad St. between 4th and 5th Avenue just south of Laros News Stand in the 40’s and early 50’s. Salesman from Chicago would use the Rock Island Railroad between the Windy City and Omaha and make their sales calls along the way including stops at the Broadway.   They either allowed a couple of hours between trains for their calls on Sangster or stayed over night at the Monroe Hotel and caught the next morning’s train.   Jack and Hattie Sangster were a popular couple in Grinnell.   They had a daughter, Sisie, and their son, Tom, ran the 880 yard run for the University of Iowa and they lost their older son, John, in WWII  Bob Beach took the reins until 1958 from Jack Sangster, when he moved to Golden Colorado, and operated the store for several years before it closed.

Queen and Olson Furniture Store, owned and operated by John Queen and Omar Olson (1903-1969) but had bad luck in their classy Broad Street store as fire struck on two occasions.   John Queen was from Oskaloosa and Omar Olson attended school in Grinnell and later worked the family farm near Brooklyn.  After the farm, he was employed by DX station, Grinnell Beverage and the U.S. Post Office.  During WWII, Omar and John Queen struck out to Alaska and worked on the famous Alcan Highway Project.   After the war, he returned to Grinnell and spent his most productive working years from the late 50’s until his death in 1969 as a manufacturer’s representative with Prior Products of Dallas, Texas.   Helen “Saundy” Olson was a Grinnell College graduate and a popular and talented English teacher for many years at Grinnell High School.   Their son, Wayne, who worked in sales and management for Miracle Equipment, lives in Salinas, California.


Omar Olson, extreme right, and John Queen, fifth (face) to reader’s left of Omar,  setting off for Alaska and the work on the building of the Alcan Highway with Lundeen Construction Company in early 1940’s.   

Ted Staffanou (1897-1981) was born in Athens, Greece and came to Grinnell when he was 19 years old.  Two years later he joined the U.S. Army and served in WWI.  He and brother, Pete Staffanou (1889-1971) owned and ran the iconic Candyland along with Jim Joris.  It was a favorite meeting place for cokes and the famous Candyland Sundae (marshmallow and chocolate topping mixed with nuts) and also served meals for lunch and dinner.  Ted also ran Ted’s Place, a great hamburger, coney island and chili restaurant located south of the corner of Main and 5th Avenue on the east side of Main.   There was a front and back entrance, in which many customers walked through a parking lot to the east owned by Clair Strand and into the backdoor of Ted’s.  My mother, Irene Adkins, recalls that she and her best friend, Louise Raffel, after graduating from GHS in 1924,  walked from their homes on 3rd Ave. and Prairie Streets to their jobs in downtown Grinnell.  They frequently stopped at Ted’s for a hamburger for pre-work breakfast.  Ted’s son, Bob Staffanou, wrestled at Cornell College after GHS graduation and became an M.D. in Charleston, S.D.  Pete’s daughter, Helen, GHS class of 1945, married Bob Johnson of Grinnell, a Maytag industrial engineer, and worked as a school counselor in Newton at one time.  Ted and Pete Staffanou were European immigrants who came to Grinnell in the early 20th century – both assimilated, learned English, raised families and were definitely valued and respected members of the Grinnell community.

Clair and Beulah Strand were owners and operators of the iconic United Food Market in Grinnell, located on the south side of 5th Avenue between Main and Broad Streets, which Clair ran hands-on for 33 years.  He opened Grinnell’s first laundromat in 1958 and also served as a State Representative from 1967-1972.   The United was located in the old Armory building and was probably Grinnell’s most popular and progressive market of its day.   Kenny Strand, Clair’s brother, also worked at the United.


Photo of Clair Strand, long time Grinnell businessman and owner with his wife, Beulah, of the United Food Market for 33 years.   Strand was an energetic, professional business operator and entrepreneur in Grinnell during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s into the 70’s.   His daughter, Charlotte, was of the GHS class of 1957.

Honorary Grinnell Merchant:  E.T. “Beany Jenkins”,  night watchman for the town square

Although not a merchant himself, Beanie Jenkins (1899-1968) huffed and puffed his way around to all Grinnell retail businesses, toting his six-gun, on the square rattling doors and stopping to chat with anyone available for many years, most notably in the 1950’s and 60’s.  He was a big guy, tattooed and famous at Arbor Lake for his ability to float on his back like a log while reading the newspaper and keeping his cigarettes dry resting on his chest as he puffed away.  He served in WWI and upon return worked as motion picture machine technician in Grinnell and later on with the M and St. L and Rock Island Railroads, but it was his work as night watchman where Beanie Jenkins gained his local fame.


Ninth Avenue Cardinals 1950  Home Field:  vacant lot at 1332 Main St.


Left front:  Rick  Ramsey,  Frank James,  Joel Prescott, Wayne Olson,  Dave Adkins,  Eldon Thompson Backrow: Bill Kearney,  Gerry Ross, Dennis Ibbotson, Lowell Hockett,  Jack Ransom.  Bat boys: John Hoefort and John Tomasek (deceased)


2 thoughts on “Merchants and a Walk around the Square in Old Grinnell by Dave Adkins 4-21-17

  1. Andrew Evans

    Interesting mention of The Strand’s (Clair and Beulah) as they were dear friends of my Grandparents Leonard and Clara Evans. My Dad Dennis Evans, Uncle Evan Evans and thier much older siblings Max and Joanne graduated Grinnell H.S. in the mid-late 1950’s.

    1. dAdkins Post author

      Andrew – thanks for the note. As I recall, Dennis Evans was a brilliant student at GHS and active and productive in drama and football. . Dennis was a year ahead of me in class of 1956 and Evan I believe 3 years behind me. . . Dennis went to Ottawa U. in KS I believe. . where do you live?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s