Source: NMHS Newsletter May 1998
North Manchester, Once Upon a Time
by Shirley Wilcox N. Manchester, IN
When I saw by the newspaper that Harry Wible was dead,
it made me sad, though I hardly knew the man.
Perhaps because it signaled the end of an era; perhaps
because in a small town, where everyone knows everyone
else in an edge-of-consciousness way, Harry represented
the final vestige of something we are never going to see
When Main Street was an assortment of honest, ugly
storefronts that no one had yet tried to 'restore' into
a harmonious whole, downtown was the place you went for
shoes, a new suit, groceries, to find a dentist or
doctor or banker, and to pay your electric bill. The
ill-matched buildings may not have been aesthetically
pleasing, but no one cared whether or not they were
scenic as long as they were serviceable and sturdy - and
sturdy they were.
Wible's being the sole (sorry!) shoe store, you went
there in September for school shoes. Harry himself might
wait on you, or one of his dependable clerks, and they
made sure the shoe fit with reasonable toe space for
room to grow: You could wear the same pair of shoes the
entire school year and no nonsense about it. For new gym
shoes or shoes to wear on Sunday, they brought out
colors - white, black, brown - and style until you found
a pair that suited you of a price that suited your
mother, the latter taking precedence. And if the fit
turned out not to be quite right, or the shoe revealed a
flaw the first week or two, you returned it and Wible's
made it right. That was the way things were then.
Next door at the Ritz and Marshall, you could see a
movie for a quarter, and further on was Oppenheim's. Ike
and Ben Oppenheim, though they seemed a million years
old, were first to their store in the morning, last to
leave at 5:30 in the afternoon. Ike, slender and coldly
aristocratic-looking, was usually occupied in the upper
office, but Ben, plump, with a shiny bald head and
chewing a big cigar, was likely to pop up anywhere. He
sold overalls in the back of the building, or waited on
you in the lingerie department (embarrassing a poor girl
to death; I much preferred Nettie Fern Comer). Neither
Ike nor Ben ever seemed to take vacations. Perhaps they
never needed them, for they lived and breathed business.
Across the street, Brady, once a clerk at Oppenheims,
had his men's clothing store. Everyone in town knew and
liked Brady. When buyers presented their new line of
Hart, Schaffner and Marx's men's furnishings, Brady did
not simply fill the racks of his store. He chose this
suit with Ad Urschel in mind, and that one for Doc
Hornaday, and then he proceeded to sell Ad and Doc (and
others) exactly what he had in mind for them.
Oppenheims, Brady, Wible, and all the merchants up and
down Main Street, banked at the Indiana Lawrence bank
presided over by Ad Urschel. Ad's son and heir
presumptive worked there too, but Mildred Heeter, canny
and imperturbable, had more than a small share in the
bank's prosperous standing. Had she been a man, Mildred
surely would have been bank president when Ad stepped
down, but in those days, women in small towns just did
not head up banks (nor do they now). Mildred never got
above vice-president - a high office in those days for a
Around the corner, Ace Hardware was a different story.
Ivan Little's attractive daughter worked by his side and
inherited the business. Under Mary Louise's capable
hand, with her dour cousin Higgins as handy man, the
business prospered as much as - or perhaps even more -
than in Ivan's day. Busy as she was, Mary Louise Little
managed to exude good will, a gracious friend to all. To
me, she was a romantic figure, for it was rumored that
she carried a heart bruised by a faithless sweetheart.
Who knows - she may have been relieved, but I never
thought of that then!
Her rival in business also prospered, though Urschel's
did not confine its trade to hardware, but sold
congoleum, 'dry goods', a smattering of work clothing
and practical dresses.
When you bought, the charge slip and your money went
zinging to a dim back balcony where an office girl
recorded the sale and sent your change back down the
humming wires. Later, this charming system was discarded
for more efficient cash registers placed at intervals on
the long, scarred counters.
Thread was kept in wide, shallow drawers and fabric
shelved in gaudy bolts behind the counter. Owner Lew
Urschel wandered about, peering over his clerk's
shoulder during a transaction. Like the employees at
Oppenheim's and Wible's, Lew's help had been there
It was common knowledge that certain of the Main Street
merchants had a weekly poker session. Brady usually came
out to the good. A certain store was supposed to have
temporarily changed hands at one game, but if so, the
surface on Main Street remained unruffled - business as
On the corner of Walnut Street, Gresso's favorite
inducement to grocery customers was bananas, six pounds
for a quarter, the fruit to be cut from a five-foot
cluster hung in one corner.
When two young, aggressive brothers moved in from their
father's successful market in neighboring South Whitley,
they expanded Gresso's grocery from basement to first
floor, and later built a supermarket at the edge of
town. Some predicted that Snyder's IGA would never make
it way out there, that stodgy Kroger's still on Main
Street, would swallow up all the trade. It was Kroger's
however, that died, and Main Street as well.
A couple of smaller markets continued to offer personal
service on Main Street - Lautzenhizer's, Faurote's. All
of them bought milk, cream and butter from the local
dairies. There were two - spotless and sweet- smelling:
Manchester Creamery perched on the edge of the riverbank
and perpetual insolvency, and Shively's. Bill Shively
and his wife may have been sharper at trade, but were
nowhere as universally known and liked as Roy Rice.
Main Street had two dentists. Dr. Damron later turned
from plotting dental charts to platting lots at Sunset
Acres north of town. Easy-going Doc Hornaday always held
bitewings in place. No one knew the dangers of X-ray,
and eventually Doc forfeited his index finger.
Toward the end of Main Street's business section were
the offices of Dr. Cook and Dr. Balsbaugh. As boys, they
were supposed to have played together on the town's
near-championship ball team - the one that almost made
it to the state finals. General practitioners, their
style is unheard of today. They would answer the phone
at night, make housecalls if it seemed really necessary
and they saw patients directly, not being shielded
behind a platoon of office staff. Each managed with a
single office girl often called 'nurse' but not
necessarily one, in those pre-insurance paperwork times.
Their fees were in touch with those non-prosperous
times, and though no doubt each had his share of unpaid
accounts, neither seemed to find it appropriate to sue
Mike's gas station sat on another corner. A
semi-circular glass front allowed Mike to see customers
driving in from either direction, and there always
seemed to be a few kids hanging around the pop cooler
and candy supply. Mike was their special friend, and
though his eyes had a twinkle and he knew as many jokes
as anyone around kids knew better than to use bad
language at Mike's.
Kids who were "in" - and who had a bit of money to spend
-were across the street at Belsito's. Pete Belsito and
his nephew, Louie Longo, dark and Italian, made the best
sundaes in town. Every afternoon the polished wood
booths overflowed and they were packed deep after ball
games. Pete and Louie and Louie's wife Lex could whomp
up a mean toastie cheese, but mostly they served lemon,
lime and cherry cokes, black cows and sodas to the
thumping rhythm of a jukebox turned up loud.
Louie knew every kid that crossed his threshold - and
his brother, sister and probably cousins as well. After
40 years, sometimes he can be seen, standing between
window displays of delectable homemade candies, watching
passersby, most of whom he can still identify.
Each Saturday night at 6:00 p.m., Hall's drugstore
rolled out a big popcorn machine, and people strolled
along Main Street munching the 10 cent bags of popcorn.
Along the outside wall of Landis' corner, a clanging
iron stairs led to upper rooms that sporadically -
whenever town fathers were prodded into 'doing something
for the kids' - held teen canteens. The effort was
usually short- lived and unappreciated.
There was also Lavy's jewelry shop from which the best
graduation gifts came. A big dime store. Weimer's locker
All by himself, Paul Hathaway was the law. Marshall
Hathaway could be seen patrolling Main Street's
sidewalks most any hour, looking official enough that
boys and girls walked straighter past him. I never saw
him patrolling in a car.
Harry Wible must have been quite a young man when he
joined this Main Street ring of entrepreneurs, and he
was the last of them to go (except for Louie). Part of
I miss them all.