by Mark Meyer
In storefronts across Fort Wayne lie stories of our city's past. That insurance office down the street may once have housed a business that offered a quite different product to its surrounding neighborhood. Grocers, druggists, realtors and other professionals may well have come and gone from that building as the city changed around it. If you arm yourself with a handful of Fort Wayne City Directories from the Allen County Public Library, you can track the occupancy of that corner building that stands in your neighborhood. It way well pique some memories for yourself and neighbors and provide another view of the growth and development of the area you call home.
For me, the building that drew my attention is the storefront on the corner of East State and Woodward Ave. I vividly recall pulling back the heavy plate glass door of Lapp Brothers Pharmacy and rushing back to the fifth aisle to check for a new shipment of Topp's baseball cards. I was part of the St.Jude's after-school rush that descended on the store and made the owners just a wee bit nervous. If a new box of cards had arrived my pockets were soon emptied of change. If the box had not appeared, my pockets were emptied anyway at the little soda fountain in the front corner of the store. There, one of the owners, Harold or Leonard Lapp, would mix a cherry phosphate, root beer, or a Suicide (a mix of three flavors).
If the cards and phosphates didn't call me, the store immediately to the west did. Feustel's Grocery was home to the finest collection of penny candy in the known world. A long counter ran along the east wall for what seemed to be a hundred feet. The shelves held such a variety of candies that a ten-cent purchase required several minutes of careful indecision before yielding a bag of goodies big enough to share.
At age ten we're blessed with a sense of permanence. I believed those stores had been there forever and would be there long after I grew up. Of course, I was wrong on both counts. Currently the storefront that housed Lapp Brothers Pharmacy (1937 E. State) awaits a new tenant after the recent closing of a smoke shop. Next door, the former Feustel's space (1935 E. State) is home to a bicycle shop. Of course the building had several other uses since it was constructed in 1926. The before-mentioned Fort Wayne City Directories provide a glimpse of how the building served the neighborhood through the years. What follows is a chronological list of occupants per the city directories. The directories reflected the occupants by address as of November of the given years. In some cases there was no entry, or the space was indicated as Vacant. It is interesting to note the presence of a neighborhood grocery in one of the two store fronts up until the days of the Supermarket arrived:
1935 E. State
Hoosier Grocery Corporation Store #41
Kroger (Yes, the same corporate grocer that returned to Fort Wayne in the 1980s. At this time Kroger had several neighborhood groceries in the city.)
Kwikie Mini Market
Roger's Formal Wear
Stan's Shoe Repair
Shaver & Pen Center
No occupant indicated
Hungry for Home (Restaurant/caterer)
Art Werks Bike Shop
1937 E. State
William H. Rupp Druggist
Reed & Long Grocer
Ralph Baker Grocer
John Funk Grocer
Thrift Home Store
Lapp Brothers Pharmacy
(Sadly the store closed after the murder of one of the brothers during a robbery)
2006 - 2012
If you have an interest in tracking the occupancy of a building in your neighborhood, you'll find the resources at the downtown Allen County Public Library in the Genealogy Department. You'll also find a Help Desk staffed with knowledgeable folks who can refer you to other research materials that can be helpful in your search. Granted, it’s a bit of a nerdy thing to do, but if you’re lucky, it will stir up interesting memories for those you share it with and add to your neighborhood's sense of community. To me, any information that adds to my sense of place is information well received.