Put-in-Bay Gazette Mar. '24- Remembering Schnoor & Fuchs

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Remembering Schnoor & Fuchs

There aren’t too many islanders who remember the Schnoor & Fuchs Store that was located where the parking lot of the Island General Store is now located. For many years, this was the primary grocery and dry goods store where islanders did their shopping.

Early in the a.m. on Thursday, March 12th, 1964, 60 years ago this month, fire broke out in the brick structure that also served as the newsstand, drug and hardware store. The alarm was called in by Margaret Fox, the mother of then fire chief Dick Fox, at 1:15 a.m. The loud sirens that alerted the volunteer firemen rang for what seemed like forever.

The fire station at that time was in the Town Hall directly across the street from the Schooners as islanders called it. As the story goes, there was some confusion as owner Lynn Schnoor and Chief Fox got into a confrontation as to how to fight the fire. Lynn didn’t want the smoke-filled building ventilated so the firemen could locate the fire, a standard practice to this day. The heat built up and fire pretty much engulfed the structure. Apparently, there were issues with the building having a double ceiling which also made the fire difficult to fight.

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Among the many volunteers who fought the fire were Tim Reinhardt, Tommy Brennan, Joe Parker, Dick Powers, Bill Market and Harold Wilhelm who tended the Model A fire truck, one of three in the department which also included an old Deluge built in the 1920s and a 1959 Ford pumper.

After the volunteers battled the fire and the blaze was put out, it was declared a total loss. Chief Fox estimated the loss at $100,000. Adjusted for inflation, that’s just shy of $1 million dollars in today’s dollars.

Fortunately, no one was injured, but islanders were left without a store for the rest of the winter, plus the fire “ruined half of the island’s food” according to one mainland newspaper article.
The story of the Schnoor and Fuchs General Store goes to 1913 or 1915. It is believed partners Sahnke Johannsen and Wm. Schnoor built the brick building that was just west of the property occupied by the second “Put-in-Bay House” that burned in 1909. In 1915, Johannsen sold out to Schnoor and Frank Fuchs, though Carl Johannsen retained a fifth interest which he later sold to Schnoor and Fuchs. The name of the business was changed from Johannsen & Schnoor to Schnoor & Fuchs.

Fortunately, there are still a few people around the island who remember Schnoors. John Titchener from Shore Villas worked at the store for several summers in the 1950s. Here are some of his memories.

The general store bought by Bill Schnoor and Frank Fuchs in 1915 was built by Schnoor and Sahnke Johannsen in 1913. The brick building faced the Post Office in the Odd Fellows Hall directly across Catawba Avenue. It was flanked to the north by the Colonial from which it was separated by a narrow gravel alley used mostly by incoming delivery trucks. That alley turned right behind the store and right again to parallel the south side of it. The alley ended at Catawba and shared an open lot with the new Parker’s Garage run by Earl and Joe Parker. The Town Hall containing the Fire Department and Village offices sat almost directly across from the store.

Some called it “Schners,” others simply “The Store.” It sold almost everything. In the 1940s my family arrived around Memorial Day and stayed until the first OSU football game, usually played on the last Saturday of September. Except for medical emergencies (broken tooth, dog bite) we did not go to the mainland for anything. The store provided meat, potatoes, vegetables, fruit, bread, milk, canned goods, flour, sugar, salt, soaps, beer, paper products, hardware, clothing, paint, tobacco, ice cream sodas, shoes, magazines, newspapers and more.

The Schnoor and Fuchs building was divided into two unequal sections, the drug store and the larger general store. The drug store opened seven days a week from nine to nine and was staffed by two women who worked six hour shifts: noon to six o’clock, or 9 to 12 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. Sis Nissen managed it and paired herself with the least experienced of the three young girls who completed her summer staff. A single aisle ran from the front door to the back. On the left side as one entered there were glass display cases, a soda fountain with four stools and then two booths. A wide door connecting the drug and grocery stores separated the booths from an area with shelves containing beach shoes, souvenir captain’s caps, beach towels and footwear. My summer began when I went to the drugstore to buy a pair of powder blue canvas shoes with inch thick art gum eraser brown soles. After the shoe section came the door to the office which had doors opening into the drug store and the grocery store. On the right side of the aisle a continuous row of display cases containing tobacco products, candy, notions, make up, patent medicines, etc., ran almost to the back of the store. Sis was often to be found standing behind the last of the cases neatly writing the names of subscribers on the top right corner of the front page of each of the daily papers. Since she generally worked in the back of the store, her younger colleague working in the front was normally the first to be seen by an entering customer. On one occasion a man dressed in a red shirt, white tie, blue blazer, yellow pants, white belt and white shoes approached the front girl and softly enquired if the store sold condoms. Not knowing how to answer, the girl shouted “Sis, do we have any condoms?” The man disappeared, his face matching his shirt. Unflappable Sis gently explained that it was not polite to publicly broadcast personal orders. I did not know the answers to Red Shirt’s question because, when asked, I was to send the customer to Harry, the butcher.

The drugstore shift schedule freed one (or two) girls at noon and two (or one) at 9 p.m. Since the boys knew this, dates or social events often started at the front door of the drugstore. Marriages eventuating from this social center that I attended included Zoe Langlois and Brad Titchener in 1952 and Shirley Rudy and Ray Skelton in 1957. There were more.

Daily customers? “Mail and paper!” was what we got, twice a day as the Plain Dealer appeared in the morning and the Blade in the afternoon. Not everyone got both papers, but mail also came twice a day so almost every islander came to town for mail and paper, bread and milk. Perhaps beer and tobacco.

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I began to understand how the store really worked in June of 1954 when I got up the nerve to ask Frank Fuchs for a job. He hired me for $140 a month six days a week and every other Sunday morning. My duties included (but were not limited to) receiving goods, stocking shelves, waiting on customers, sweeping the floor, refreshing the produce, operating the freight elevator, carrying ice cream to the drugstore, tarring the roof, lowering the awning, straightening the box room and more tasks as required.

Arriving at 8 a.m. I normally entered by the back door and swept the floor. The delivery guy (John Borman or Eddy Wulkowicz or Chuckie Kindt or Ronnie Geitheman or . . . ) drove the green store pickup to the Miller (downtown) dock. Sometimes he returned with a loaded pickup; other times he drove a Miller flat bed stake truck loaded with cardboard boxes of produce or iced cases of milk or boxes of bread. The supply chain began at Catawba Point where in 1945 Lee Miller and Mick Arndt acquired the controlling shares in the company owning the dock. The first Miller Boat Livery ferries I remember were the side loaders South Shore and West Shore. These boats were 65’ long and docked across the end of the downtown Miller dock. They had cut outs on each side large enough for trucks to move on and off the boat. Normally, Miller employees drove all vehicles on and off the ferries. When a boat arrived (three times a day in 1945), the dock and boat crews would manhandle two wooden gangplanks which, when secured, allowed trucks to drive on and off the boat. But it was not easy. Vehicles aboard the ferry were often parked three abreast all facing forward at a 90 degree angle to the exit gangplanks. The last vehicle loaded drove straight up the planks and parked without turning so it plugged the space needed by earlier vehicles to make their turns to the gang planks. Beer trucks were good for this. When the plugging truck was removed the Miller flat beds could exit or the store pickup could drive aboard to load up. The trucks went to the back of the store for the driver and me to unload.

Perishables were first, so cartons of milk went into the cooler behind the butcher counter. Milk could be accessed from the front and loaded from the rear. Or snitched from the rear door by growing employees. The plastic milk cases were stored for return. If the flatbed contained produce as well as milk, the vegetables were shipped in large cartons which went via the freight elevator to the walk-in cooler in the basement. When meat was received, butcher Harry Schillumeit logged it in and stored it in the milk and meat cooler. If Esmond Ice Cream arrived, it came in dry iced boxes each containing two five-gallon tubs of chocolate, vanilla or strawberry. We saved the dry ice and delivered the boxes straight to the soda fountain.

Then hardware clerking might be required. We sold rope in 50-ft. hanks of cotton clothes line and manila hemp. Hemp came in various diameters and was sold not by the foot, but by the pound. I cut the amount requested, looped it into a coil and put it on the scale. The same scale was used for brads, roofing nails, common nails, finishing nails and spikes which were sold by weight. When I first started I was confused by one of the elderly owners who insisted that I weigh lamp cord (cloth insulated double wire used to connect electric lamps and electrical outlets). Later I understood that he might have confused rope and cord.

Things sold by the foot included lamp cord, of course, galvanized pipe which was cut and threaded in the basement, glass for window panes, also cut on a designated table in the basement, and various kinds of screen and hardware cloth. Paint in the can was easy. If you did not like the Sherwin Williams colors available, we might be able to order a gallon of something else. But there was no mixing. There was a small display case with fishing tackle — #6 Snell hooks, eight ounce trolling sinkers, miscellaneous leaders, perhaps a Red Devil spoon. On the wall shelf behind the counter ammunition was stored for sale in the Fall hunting season. But I did not sell it. I could cut screen and thread pipe, but Frank was disappointed in my feeble efforts at glass cutting. With one hand and one swipe he could cut an intricate curving line where the glass broke perfectly when he covered it with butcher paper and applied even pressure by hand. I did better with vegetables which were brought from the basement cooler to the white enameled vegetable case in the front corner of the grocery side. They were spritzed with a gentle mist dispersed by nozzles topping slender tubes on either side of the case. The apparatus to pump the spray and cool the vegetables was contained in the lower half of the case. Every day I peeled brown leaves from the lettuce and trimmed carrots and celery as appropriate. The vegetable waste was saved for Old Bill Market (Billy’s grandfather) who came by at 5 p.m. to get it for his chickens. He also collected small bits of scrap metal, particularly brass.

After a hardware sale was made, I rang it up on a cash register which showed the amount of the sale – if I pushed the right keys. No checks. No credit cards. No adding machines. On a cash sale I must have calculated the sales tax in my head and made change after adding it to the total. There were no printed receipts. I suspect that the register was loaded with a fixed amount of cash each morning and the daily cash received tallied each night. Regular business customers such as the contractors Wulkowicz & Hite or Wa-Li-Ro (usually Reverend Casseta) had credit accounts. Their purchases were written on a slip taken from a 3 x 5 inch order pad. The slip showed the name of the purchaser, the item(s) purchased and the amount of the sale. A carbon copy of the slip was impaled on a six-inch spike and, along with others, collected at the end of the day. They were then sorted by the name of the account holder. On the office wall, at about the height of a chair rail, a row of what appeared to be upside down mouse traps (with the spring at the bottom) captured these slips. Marie Fox would open the trap slightly, insert the new slip(s) and then clamp them by releasing the trap bar. She was the bookkeeper, accountant, paymaster and treasurer for the store and unofficial banker for the island. Remember that the island had no bank and no resident lawyer. The office had a stout safe from which she took salaries and, on occasion, funds for checks cashed at the store. I have been told that legal documents were stored there as well. Perhaps her office was a, if not the, financial center of the island. The office also contained the telephone on which people could call in their grocery orders to be delivered by the truck guy.

If you left the office and turned left to the front of the store you would pass a flight of stairs leading to the basement. The stairs weren’t obvious because they were normally flanked by cases of Old Dutch beer stacked against the railing. The dark of the basement was relieved ever so slightly by two tiny patches of light from small front windows and slivers of light from the freight elevator – and the light that came down the stairs. Otherwise, it was big, dark, gloomy and damp. Things stored there – bags of potatoes, cases of beer or soda pop, large cartons of paper goods , cases of cans – were placed on wooden pallets on the floor. Hanging 25-watt light bulbs lit the work tables for glass, screen and lead pipe, but the circles of light did not intersect. A 6’ x 8’ walk-in cooler close to the staircase cooled cartons of vegetables. My usual access to the basement was the feared freight elevator.

The elevator was propelled and controlled by hand – no electric motor, no brake except the weight of the operator hanging on a 2” diameter rope. The rope allowed a five-foot squarefoot wooden platform to be dropped and raised, usually under the control of the operator who rode on it. Without a load the elevator would normally stay in the up or down position. When the rope was secured and the platform was at store level it could be loaded with light weight cartons of paper goods or too many cases of beer or soda pop. Raising the skinny operator and a heavy load of beer from the basement was not easy, but lowering such a load was scary. To get the hoped-for, controlled descent the operator freed the rope, then hung on to it, both feet off the floor until the platform stopped. And again and again, if the elevator went too fast, it could not be stopped except by the bottom of the shaft. Broken bottles might spill beer on the operator and into the shaft. This did not happen to me, but it was rumored that crashes had occurred.

From 1954 through 1957 I worked at the store every summer. Bill Schnoor retired in 1954 and died in 1955, and Frank Fuchs in retired in 1955 and passed three years later. Each man had owned the store for more than fifty years. John Galvin, grandfather of John Galvin of B Dock, managed the store in 1956. In 1957, Lynn Schnoor, Bill’s son who had retired from Lamson and Sessions in Cleveland, brought changes to the old store. I had a sale advertised with posters in the front windows!

During those summers I also came to know fellow employees Mary Ann Devore, Katherine Duff, Patty Fox, Delores Meyers, Louise Wulkowicz, Shirley Rudy, Gail Seymour and Paula Webster, as well as those mentioned above. I also met Mrs. Gee, the Wa-Li-Ro cook famous for her baked goods, Paul Procnow, last of the SBI lighthouse keepers, Connie Gardner, the barefoot lady from Ballast and the Reverend Casseita who seemed to need short sections of lead pipe bigger on the inside than the outside. So when in 2002 we once again became summer residents I recognized the children and grandchildren of those I knew fifty years earlier at “The Store.”

Annie Parker, who came to the islands as a new bride in the late 1940s remembers a bit about Schnoors, the virtual shopping mall of its Day, and a few of the people who worked there.
Harry Schullimeit was the butcher. You pointed out your choices and he weighed it on the big Toledo Scale, tied into a neat package from the rolls of paper and string.

Marie Fox with impeccable manicure and coif presented any monthly charge purchase slips. Paid in full or not your credit was still available. I’m sure those records were charred beyond recognition.

Louise Wulkowicz at checkout could pack your purchases in a paper sack with nary a cubic inch bare. And that sturdy paper had many uses such as protective covers for your school textbooks.
Mrs. John “Sis” Nissen was softly spoken, ever helpful in the south half of the store.

Old Mr. Fuchs, Frank’s father, greeted me as a new bride, offering my choice of appliances. I forget which piece of electric cookery I chose.

Others remember the ladders that were used to get stuff off the high shelves, returnable pop bottles stacked out back of the building, where the candy was sold right inside the front door and the soda fountain.

After the fire, much of the debris was cleaned up, but much was left. Lynn built the brick building behind the gaping basement and remaining foundation walls. He called it the Villager. He sold hardware, some of which he salvaged from the burning store. He also operated a bakery. The business was a shadow of what it had been.

Several years went by, and what remained was an empty basement with seeds and small trees growing up in it. About this time, island entrepreneurs were looking to spruce up the island, but Lynn’s Hole, as it was now called, remained an eyesore. Some of the island kids even pushed a car into the pit. Paul Ladd might be able to shed light on how Roger Parker’s car ended up in the hole. Lynn built a tall, ugly fence around the big hole apparently not giving two hoots about the appearance of his property.

It was a great day, when Tip Niese, the new owner of the old Colonial, bought Lynn out in the mid 1980s. Lynn also sold his home and moved off the island never returning to see the filled-in hole thanks to Tip. It was a joyous occasion when Tip threw a big party to celebrate the end of PIB’s worst eyesore and mark the final chapter of the Schnoor and Fuchs General Store story.

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