The Original Rockford Nostalgic Website
Retail Stores Of The Past
Photo Courtesy of Dave Blake
Frank Rhomberg founded the company in Iowa as the Dubuque Tanning and Robe Company in 1907 where they concentrated in tanning and manufacturing coats and fur blankets for the wholesale trade. The Rockford store opened as the Rhomberg Fur Company at 324 North Main Street in the new Coronado Theater building in 1929, shown above. The awnings were supplied by the Blake Awning Company.
After Rhomberg opened a retail store in Dubuque in 1924 many people from Rockford patronized the store and a decision was made to open a store in Rockford. In addition to selling furs at the local store they also specialized in repairing, relining and remodeling furs. They also offered a state of the art cold storage plant in Dubuque where 5000 garments could safely be stored in freezing temperatures so the garments could be kept in the best condition. Carl J. Stevenon was selected to be manager of the local store.
In July 1938 The Rhomberg Fur Store moved to larger quarters in the new Times Theater Building at 234 North Main and Jefferson Streets. The store had a frontage 25 feet and a depth of 94 feet. In addition the store had a large, modern, fire-proof basement. The store now had double the floor space it formerly had at its former location, in addition the new store was air conditioned.
After declining traffic in the downtown area they would follow the eastward shopping trend and in 1984 made a move out to the Mulford Village Mall at East State Street and Mulford Road. In 1995 they would move into a large free standing building at 4602 East State Street across from the Sweden House Lodge. In 2005 after being a fixture in Rockford for 75 years the company would close its Rockford location. The two stores in Iowa are still in operation.
The Manson Tea Company
John M. Manson who had been employed with the Grand Union Tea company for six years opened the Manson Tea Company store at the corner of East State and South Third streets, across the street from the State Street Baptist Church, on December 28, 1895. Manson hired his daughter Clara as an associate. In a March 1896 advertisement the store was offering for one day only, your choice of the following gray steel enamel ware: Preserving kettle, pudding pan, shallow stew pan or wash basin, free with the purchase of one pound of baking powder. In April of that year the store underwent major renovations to the interior and exterior of it's building, including moving the newly enlarged doorway to the corner of the building and larger windows permitting more light into the store. In May of that year while Mr. Mason had just went into a house to deliver an order, the horse commenced to rear and tipped the cart over, throwing the driver to the ground. The horse then started running and turned west on State Street, spilling tea, coffee and other items along the way until he ran head on into a watering trough. The horse became all tangled up in the harness and when he fell down he was captured. The cart was just slightly damaged in the incident.
Mr. Manson had been in the tea and coffee business seven years, and had been conducting his store for only eighteen 18 months. In that time the trade had increased to such an extent that it outgrew the quarters where the business was started, and he was compelled to move. In April 1897 they would move into larger quarters in the newly constructed Peacock Block. The new store at 326 East State Street held their grand opening on May 8, 1897. The additional room afforded in the new store made it possible to keep up with the growing demands of their fast increase in business. At the opening every boy who made a purchase was given a kite absolutely free of charge and were also given the customary tickets that were good for premiums. Each girl that made a purchase were given a folding fan along with the premium tickets. It did not take long to fill the space vacated by the Manson Tea Company on State and Kishwaukee as Norman Clark and Arthur North leased the store for a flour and feed business in May 1897. The store opened a second location in Dubuque, Iowa in November 1898, where his daughter would manage the store. On February 12, 1900, Mr. Mason's wife passed away and in August of that year he sold the store to long time grocer D.S. Coonrad who had a store on North Madison Street. Manson wanted to re-join his daughter and turn his entire attention to his store in Dubuque. Mr. Coonrad combined the store with his grocery business on Madison Street shortly afterwards. On February 14, 1904, John Manson died at Dubuque at the age of 53. On August 19, 1905, Clara Manson, who ran her fathers store in Dubuque after his death, sold the store and moved to Chicago, thus ending the Manson Tea Company business.
Blomberg & Swenson Bakers
In May 1883 August Blomberg and Charles M. Swenson opened a bakery at 603 Seventh Street. Swenson would retire from the business in 1889 to open a flour and feed store on Seventh Street, but August Blomberg continued the bakery under the same name. The bakery would close in 1891.
Every Day, Come What May –We Keep Truckin’ For You! Rockford based Insurance Liquidators, the brainstorm of Leo and Kate Wagenknect, began operating in November 1969 at 221 North Madison Street, selling fire, storm, hail, truck, railroad salvage, insurance losses and surplus closeouts.
Selling a wide variety of ever changing merchandise the chain went on to operate stores at numerous locations over the years. It once had 12 stores operating at one time, including stores in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Some locations over the years included 1115 Broadway, 309 West State Street, 5502 North Second Street, 1125 Fourth Avenue, 128 North Pierpont, 1233 Sandy Hollow Road, 1020 9th Street (North American Carpet Brokers, a division of Insurance Liquidators) 1401 West Fourth Street, Sterling, also in Peru, Kewanee and Carpentersville, IL and 135 West Grand in Beloit.
The company was progressive in its efforts offering such things as a discount card where you would get a punch for every dollar you spent with double punches on Wednesdays. The card was good toward future purchases at the stores. They also offered check cashing privileges with a per-approved check cashing card. To attract business they often sponsored many events in the parking lot in front of the East State Street store including the Kiwanis Brat Days, and the Rockford Flea Market every Sunday from April until November. The chain also had a telephone ‘Hot Line' where you could call and find the latest information on new arrivals at the stores, plus tid-bits about happenings in Rockford and the surrounding areas.
In the 1980’s the financial picture took a turn for the worse for the company, when the last two remaining stores at 3925 East State Street and 1233 Sandy Hollow Road in the Southgate Shopping Center were shuttered in July 1986 due to bankruptcy.
Picture courtesy of Ken Michaelis, circa 1962.
Sam and Virginia Gulotta operated the 15th Avenue Food Mart located at 501-15th Avenue. The sign on the front is only partially there as part of it blew off during a storm. Not only did the little store sell conventional grocery items, they would sell choice meats, fresh fish and homemade Italian sausage, the same sausage they would use on their take-out pizzas, which were advertised in several locations on the building. Not sure what year the little store closed. Later one of their sons was attending college and decided school was not for him, so he talked to his father about opening another pizza place and his father encouraged him to do so, and they found a former beauty parlor on 11th Street where that son opened a pizza place in 1978. Nick and his mom still operate Gulotta’s Pizza to this day.
Joseph and Irene Logli would travel to America from Italy and eventually ended up in Rockford in 1909 where they opened at meat market on Morgan Street. Around 1914 they sold the market and moved back to Italy. They moved back to Rockford in 1916 and opened a grocery on West State Street near North Johnston Avenue. Joseph and Irene had five children, three sons named Angelo, John and Albert, and two daughters named Nellie and Mary. Four of the children would open their own grocery stores and for at least five years there were five separate stores each owned by a different family member. Joseph opened a store on North Main Street; Angelo along with his wife, Mary opened a grocery at 819 Kilburn Avenue, Nellie and her husband, Eugene C. Wilson, opened Logli's Finer Foods at 605 Kishwaukee Street. Mary and her husband, Clarence Druger opened a store on Forest Avenue and John opened his market at 2019 Broadway. As the others closed their stores, he was the only one who kept his store. In 1951, he formed the Pacemaker grocery store chain with other local supermarket owners. The picture shows the Logli Market on Kilburn Avenue with Angelo Logli, his wife Mary and a cousin. The store operated from 1930 until 1942. This article will be expanded soon.
Robert Hall Clothes was a pioneer of the low-overhead, large-facility merchandising technique, and combined inexpensively made goods with extensive radio and television advertising. Many Americans who grew up in the 1950s and 60s recall the commercial jingles of the time. Robert Hall came to Rockford in 1949 with a store located at 202 South Church Street. In 1957 the store would relocate to a new building along Rockford’s growing retail area at 4315 East State Street. There it would remain in business until the chain of stores filed bankruptcy in 1977 and the stores were closed.
Carl G. Sydow was born in Sweden in 1855 and came to America in 1888 settling in Elgin, Illinois. During his time in Elgin he was employed by the Elgin Watch Company but removed to Rockford in 1899 where he went into the jewelry business for himself. He would open his first store in 1899 located at 607 Seventh Street. Sydow’s store was one of the first three stores to locate in the Seventh Street area. He carried a full and up-to-date line of watches from the most celebrated factories of the world, clocks, jewelry, etc. and excelled at watch and clock repairing.
In January 1901 Sydow would move his jewelry store to the new Olander Block at 512 Seventh Street in a double front store he shared with a tailor. In 1902, The Hill - Ekberg Dry Good store wanted to expand and Sydow would relocate his store to a new building across the street at 517 Seventh Street in the Woodruff Block where he expanded his line of wares in the larger location.
On August 2, 1908, a fire caused by spontaneous combustion would break out in the basement of the Nelson Brothers Bakery at 515 Seventh Street destroying two three story buildings on Seventh Street known as the Woodruff Block. Along with the bakery the C. G. Sydow Jewelry store, P. O. Anderson grocery, Haegg & Lundquist grocers; The Star Tea and Coffee Company, Schmauss Company, the Century Store, G. O. Johnson shoe merchant, Runblade & Johnson were destroyed while the Boston Clothing Store was damaged.
He would relocate his store to a storefront at Seventh Street and Third Avenue while the Woodruff Block was being rebuilt. He would move into his newly rebuilt store at 517 Seventh Street in early 1909. On June 16, 1914, Carl G. Sydow passed away at the age of 59 after a sudden illness. His son Carl, Jr would assume ownership of the business but would end up selling the store to two gentlemen from Elgin in April 1915. The store was known afterwards as Lundgren and Enequist.
The Rockford Cleaning Works was incorporated March 14, 1913 by owner A. M. Guenther and began business in the 400 block of South Main Street. The concern grew rapidly, and a new building designed by Rockford architects Peterson & Johnson, was erected at 316 South Court Street (shown here) in 1919 for the Rockford Cleaning Works. After 29 years of serving the Rockford area the business would close its doors on January 1, 1942 after 29 years in business.
Arlan's Discount Department Stores
Arlan’s Department Store was the anchor store for the Southgate Plaza Shopping Center. The shopping center was built on a portion of the former Camp Grant property at Eleventh Street and Sandy Hollow Roads. The 125,000-square foot store opening in 1967, was the seventy-eighth store in the Arlan’s chain and also the largest store in the chain at the time. Arlan’s would open a second store in Rockford in the former Spartan Department Store space at 3915 East State Street in 1970.
Arlan Foods opened in early 1968 just east of Arlan’s Department store on Sandy Hollow and Eleventh Street. In early 1971, the store changed to a 24 a day format. The store would close in late 1972. It was replaced by Southgate Super Foods (1972-1975), Piggly Wiggly (1976-1980) and eventually Southgate IGA, Kuhnen’s IGA (1980-1988) and finally Food Country.
The East State Arlan's Discount Department store closed in 1973 while the Sandy Hollow location closed in 1975 after the chain went bankrupt.
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