The Fair Department Store's 40th anniversary - 1937
Posted By: Joey Stark
Date: 10/13/2011 at 17:57:49
"The Fairfield (Ia.) Daily Ledger"
Monday, February 15, 1937
Fair Store Passed Its 40th Anniversary February 14
C. W. WADE Came To Fairfield 40 Years Ago Yesterday
Forty years ago last Friday, on February 12, 1897, a young man, 25 years of age, rode into Fairfield on the Burlington railroad, walked up north Main street, looked into the windows of a store then known as Graham's Fair which was located in the Alston building, in the room now occupied by the Deluxe barber shop.
The young man came from Maryville, Mo., where he had served his apprenticeship in a general store. He had reached the heights where his weekly salary check was $10. His work started at dawn and ended as soon after 9 p.m. as the store could be cleared of late customers. But in those long hours he had found time to determine that he was going to be a merchant.
The young man was C. W. WADE. In the forty years since he arrived in Fairfield he has never had reason to regret that decision. And there are several thousand people in Jefferson county who will tell you that the city gained a great deal when he came.
In recalling the events of those days, which he insisted were told the writer only for his own information, are here being set down at the even more insistent plea of the writer that they be shared with others.
He was fired with the determination to get into business for himself by a young Irish lad who opened a store just a few doors down the street from the store in which young WADE was employed. Well meaning friends of the young man predicted that he could never compete with the old established stores of Maryville. But he proved them wrong and prospered from the first.
Mind Made Up
"I watched him with mixed envy and admiration," says Mr. WADE in telling of the events through the perspective of forty years. "I made up my mind if he could make a success of the business there was no reason why I could not find a location and do the same thing."
Inquiries from traveling salesmen brought the information that there was a variety store in Fairfield which was for sale. He wrote to Chas. and H. A. Graham, who for several years had been operating a small variety store here. It was an open secret that they were not prospering and were anxious to get out. They later went to Ottumwa and opened a store which became the first unit of the present Graham chain of dry goods stores which may be found in many of the smaller cities of the middle west.
The young Maryville clerk cashed his certificates in the building and loan association of his home town and with the $272 which represented his entire capital he boarded the train for Fairfield. In his correspondence with the Graham brothers he had been told their stock would not amount to more than that amount.
After holding out $15 for living expenses he deposited the remaining $257 in the First National bank of which the late Frank Light was cashier. When the inventory of the store had been completed it was found that he lacked $78 of having enough to pay for the stock.
Frank Light's Help
"Recalling an offer made by the president of the bank in Maryville to give me a letter of introduction that would be helpful to me, but which I did not take because I was afraid he would say things about me I couldn't live up to, I went over to Mr. Light, shoved a silver dollar under the wicket and asked him to send a telegram to the Maryville bank to inquire if they would recommend a loan of $100 to me.
"I can recall it as though it were yesterday," he continued. "He shoved that dollar back at me so fast that he almost took my breath. 'I don't need a telegram to loan you a $100. The money is yours whenever you want it.' " And that conversation was the beginning of a long banking connection which played a big part in the growth of the business which Mr. WADE took over.
Mr. WADE and his young wife took over the business on February 14, 1897. The next day they hired Miss Elizabeth BONFIELD who has been associated with the business continuously since that date.
Sales were small. The $17 a month they paid for rent was no small item when daily sales ran as little as $2.50, were seldom over $5, and never exceeded $19 even on Saturdays between their opening date and the next July 4.
For the young man, away from his home town for the first time matters did not go too smoothly. Added to the dearth of business there was a homesickness which was not making matters any easier.
"I remember," he says, "how my wife and I were going home from the store one evening. I looked at the town clock and compared it to my watch, finding that there was a discrepancy of eight minutes. It all seems rather funny now but there was no humor in my remark to my wife that it would not be worth while to set my watch to the town clock for we probably wouldn't be able to stay here long enough to make the effort worth while."
It took another Fairfield merchant to instill the determination to stick it out. The fact that his intentions were anything but that only adds color to the story.
One day a salesman was in his store trying to sell him some chinaware. The store had not been handling chinaware, in fact could not handle it because of limited capital. But when the salesman had his samples laid out a customer came in and asked if she could buy a set of dishes from the line. The sale was made.
At that time there was another store in Fairfield handling a large line of chinaware. Its proprietors heard of the sale and protested rather vigorously to the wholesale house which sold the goods. But Mr. WADE knew nothing about their protests.
A Threat Which Helped
"My wife and I were walking down the north side of the square one evening when the junior member of the firm met us about where Roy Williams' market is now located. He called me over to the curb and said: 'Are you the young fellow who bought out that junk shop around the corner". When I told him that I was the fellow who had bought out "Graham's Fair" he tapped me, none too gently, on the shoulder and said, 'Well you stop selling chinaware or I'll see that the sheriff closes up your junk shop.' Well, it was just the sort of a challenge I needed to stiffen my backbone. I told him we were from Missouri and we'd have to be shown. As I walked away from him I said to my wife that we'd stick it out and show him whether he could close us up."
"The next time the salesman called I told him of the trouble I had gotten into by selling the set of dishes. He dug a letter out of his pocket which the firm had written to his house. He didn't like it any better than I did and proposed that he ship me a stock of chinaware, that I sell what I could by January 1, pay for what I could sell and return the rest.
"He shipped me $78 worth. The amount of the invoice startled me for I had never bought that much at one time before. But I displayed it as well as possible and in two weeks I had to reorder. I not only was going to stay in business but I was determined to stay in the chinaware business. A few months afterward the merchant who had threatened to run me out of town came into my store and explained that their other departments took so much of their time that they wanted to close out their china department and wanted me to buy it. I didn't buy."
The Turning Point
The turning point for the struggling young merchant came on July 4, 1897. It was one of those small things that turn out to be big in their ultimate effect.
Fairfield was having a celebration on that day. A feature of the event was a balloon ascension. The pit in which the fire was built was dug near the northwest corner of the square and the crowd around that corner and in the adjoining block was dense.
The young merchant had conceived the idea of offering tired mothers a place to rest, check their dinner baskets and even their children if they cared to. He rented a vacant room next to his store, fitted it up with tables, chairs and benches and announced to the world that they would be welcome there.
And how they made use of it. They said that for the first time the mothers had been able to enjoy a celebration. Many of the people who accepted his hospitality insisted on leaving a coin to help defray the expenses. In spite of his protests that it was a service without price many of them left coins, almost enough of them to pay the expense he had incurred in fitting up the room.
"From that day it seemed that people knew that we were in business," he said. "We had customers start trading with us after that day who are still customers of the store, after almost two generations. It wasn't long after that that our daily sales passed the former high mark of $19."
Incidentally, Mr. WADE recalls that Mrs. Frank CRAIL of this city was his first customer.
Moved In Fall
On September 1, a little more than seven months after getting a start in Fairfield Mr. WADE moved his store into the Wilson building on the south side of the square, a part of their present location.
"Soon after we got into our new location we found that people started inquiring if we sold dry goods. We had made a little money, and established a little credit, so we put in some dry goods." That was really the first step into their expansion into a department store.
As the business grew and the dry goods department became a substantial part of the volume he felt the need of help in carrying on the business. One day I asked Elizabeth BONFIELD if she would care to take a partnership interest in the business, explaining that I wanted to assure myself of her permanent association. She thought a while and inquired if that offer would be open to her brother who had been a clerk in the Thorne store for a number of years and who was, even in those days, the recognized top flight salesman in the city's retail stores."
BONFIELD Enters Firm
Because his relations with the larger and older established businesses had always been so cordial, and especially had J. C. Thorne been so kind to him, he expressed doubt if that could be arranged. But that evening George BONFIELD came to see him and asked for the privilege of buying an interest in the business. The outcome of that conference was the formation of the partnership which continued for thirty years. The death of George BONFIELD last year ended an association which was one of those fine examples of a business relationship which grew ever closer as the years went by. The Fair was more than a retail store. It was the personalities of Chas. WADE and George BONFIELD.
Philosophers have written studied theses about the persistence of personality. Too they have said that a business or an institution is but the lengthened shadow of a man. George BONFIELD's personality, his high business ideals, will continue for many years to be reflected in the business to which he gave thirty years of himself.
The acquisition of the Jas. F. Wilson shoe store, which was located in an adjoining building, now a part of the First National Bank building, and the W. F. Harris clothing store is more recent history. By the time those businesses were acquired the early struggles and discouragements were in the past. But the bank credit established in the lean days of 1897 played a big part in that expansion.
And so as C. W. WADE recalls the highlights of forty eventful years in Fairfield business history in which he has had a part the memory is strongest of those first few months when a young man with little but determination to be a merchant came to Fairfield, and to paraphrase Ceasar, came, and saw, and was almost conquered.
BONFIELD WITH FAIR 30 YEARS
Entered Partnership In 1907; 50 Years In Retail Store
The death of the late George BONFIELD which occurred on Aug. 7, 1936 ended a business association of thirty years with C. W. WADE in the Fair store. It also brought to a close the life of a man who lacked but a few months of having been in a Fairfield store for fifty years.
When he was fifteen years old he dropped out of school and started to work in the J. C. Thorne store. He was employed there for nineteen years before he bought an interest in the Fair store.
Family Came in 1859
The BONFIELD family was among the oldest in Fairfield. Thomas BONFIELD, father of George, came to Fairfield in 1850. He had been in business in Burlington. He and his partner were looking for a location for another store and there were rumors that the Burlington Railroad would push west. Deciding to get established in the growing village of Fairfield, they hauled in a stock of general merchandise and opened a store where the First National Bank is now located. It was known for many years as the New York Store, as in those days Chicago was not a distributing center of any consequence.
Built Business Block
His business grew and he prospered. In 1863 he built the Bonnie block adjoining the present Leggett hotel. The building still stands substantially as it was originally built although in 1891 Mose McCoid bought the building and made some alterations in it. Miss Elizabeth BONFIELD recalls that her father told that they hauled all the material for the building by stage. The railroad, she believes, came no farther west than Rome until several years after the building was erected. The BONFIELD home was for many years at the present site of the Dr. J. F. Clarke residence on South Main street.
After a period of years in business for himself he sold out his business and went to work for J. C. Thorne. He was, in fact, employed in the Thorne store when his son George started there. He got him into the store largely because he wanted to have a part in his training for a merchant.
Miss Elizabeth BONFIELD, who had been employed in the Fair store from the day after Mr. WADE took it over recalled that her father disapproved of some of the policies of J. C. Thorne. He felt that a distinction was shown between customers and his democratic instincts rebelled against that.
Treated All Alike
"He always admonished George and me that one customer is as good as another," she said. "From the day he got acquainted with C. W. WADE he pointed out to us that he had the right attitude and urged us to always remember that the amount of money or social position a customer had did not entitle him to any better treatment than the most humble customer. When it looked as though George might get an opportunity to get in with Mr. WADE father urged him to take the step," she said.
When George BONFIELD's health failed he realized that his active business days were numbered. He more than once expressed the hope that he could stay in the business until June 1937, when he would have completed fifty years in a Fairfield retail store.
Employees Average 18½ Years Service
There are probably not a great many retail stores in which the average length of time for employment is as great as in the Fair store. The eleven employees have served a total of 204 years in that store, an average of 18½ years.
Miss Elizabeth BONFIELD leads with forty years. In fact her employment started with the day after C. W. WADE came to Fairfield and bought the small variety store of the Graham brothers.
Other salespeople and the year from which their employment dates are: Mrs. Alberta Allender, 1905; Miss Faye Lawson, 1910; Ray Hemmings, 1913; Miss Hannah Carlson, 1915; Miss Alice Glass, 1917; Miss Tressa Bottorff, 1922; Chas. Brown, 1925; Miss Margaret Harris, 1926; Gerald Jones, 1935 and Miss Mildred Martin, 1936.
*Transcribed for genealogy purposes; I am not related to the person(s) mentioned.
Note: We have a photo of the store's staff, taken about 1910, on one of our Miscellaneous Picture Pages, about the middle of the page ~~
In addition, there are a few shots of the store on another Picture Page, on the bottom third of it ~~
Jefferson Documents maintained by Joey Stark.
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