December 5, 2016
The year 1925 was a busy one. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” was published, Chrysler was founded, Mount Rushmore was dedicated and Johnny Carson was born. In the small town of Scranton, Iowa, Louis J. Loehr opened a jewelry store.
Now, in Carroll 91 years later, his grandson Michael is retiring and shutting the doors for good.
“We do this with anticipation and regret because of course doing something new is exciting,” Loehr said. “But closing a business that’s been around for 91 years is very difficult.”
Loehr says they’ll be closing when the remaining merchandise is gone or Jan. 1, whichever is first.
Loehr’s Jewelry moved from Scranton to Louis’ home on Main Street in Carroll in 1928. A few years later (no one alive can remember the exact date) the store move to a two-story building on 5th Street, where it remained an anchor and mainstay of downtown Carroll until the move to its current mall location in 1971 or 1972 as part of Carroll’s urban-renewal project.
“I couldn’t tell you the exact year we moved, but we were one of the original tenants after the mall was built,” Loehr said.
As emotional as closing the long-standing business is, it could have happened many years ago if it wasn’t for a change of heart.
Loehr had not plans of following in his forbearer’s footsteps while growing up. But after seeing what his friends who were graduating college were up to, the idea of owning a business began to appeal to him.
After earning his business degree at the University of South Dakota, Loehr spent the next year and a half at Gem City College in Quincy, Illinois, learning the technical ins and outs of the trade.
Loehr, now 62, returned to Carroll and began working at the store alongside his father J. Allen on Memorial Day 1977 at the age of 23.
“Carroll’s always been a good draw for business, and my roots are here,” he said. “My grandparents were here, and my mom came from a family of 12 in Maple River.”
Loehr recalls fond memories of Sundays with his father at the store on 5th Street. Though the store was closed on Sunday’s, J. Allen had paperwork to attend to and allowed young Michael to tag along.
“He’d take me along, and I’d ‘get’ to mop the floor,” Loehr said with a smirk. “It was great, though. It was a two-story building, and that was when Band Day was huge here. It was a great treat for us to be able to go upstairs and watch the bands pass by from above while everyone else was crowded on the street.”
Loehr, who has two children — Chris, 35, and Jen, 33 — with his wife of 38 years, Karen, says he’ll miss the relationships forged with customers over almost 40 years.
“For Loehr’s Jewelry to be in Carroll for this many years we’ve relied on people coming back over and over again because it’s not a huge population.” he said. “It’s been about building relationships and building trust. In this business, trust is everything.”
Although he’s a businessman through and through, over the years Loehr found he really enjoys teaching people about diamonds, gems and gold.
“It’s an area that the average person might not know the difference between a 14-karat gold and 10-karat gold,” he said. “It’s fun. I enjoy teaching people about that kind of stuff so they make a wise decision when they make a purchase.”
Michael and Karen have forged a great working relationship over the years. Karen spent almost every day at the shop when Michael first took over the business — taking time off for child rearing and school events. Eventually she found her role as chief bookkeeper.
“I don’t spend as much time here as I used to, but I still do all the records and taxes, that sort of thing. All of the fun stuff,” Karen said with a chuckle.
Loehr’s Jewelry has never been robbed, but there have been a few cases of shoplifting over the years. A few years ago, the store did receive a curious piece of mail.
“Someone felt so guilty about stealing a ring years ago that they decided to return it in the mail years later,” Michael laughed. “I still have the newspaper clipping on the wall.”
The Loehrs say they’ve seen a lot of changes to the business over the years. The advent of giant malls with chain jewelry stores in the 1980s made an impact, but the advent of the internet has really changed the game.
“(The internet) is good because it helps to educate people, but it also makes a difference in how you market your things because it’s not the same playing field,” Michael said.
The Loehrs were sure to point out that they wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as they have been without the help of dedicated employees. The store employs up to two full-time and two part-time employees depending on the time of year.
“We’ve been blessed with wonderful employees and want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts to each one of them,” they agreed.
Like her husband, Karen says she’ll miss the interaction with the community when they head south to their new home in Nixa, Missouri, just south of where Chris works in Springfield.
She says the people of Carroll have been wonderful and she appreciates all the loyal customers they’ve had over the years, but it’s finally time to move on after the loss of Michael’s mother Clarice (pronounced Clariss) last year.
“My wife and I have been here all our lives, and when you hit 60 you start looking at the other side of life,” Michael said. “We’re in a little rut, we just want to do something different.”
Michael says the house in Missouri is still being built, so the Loehrs will be around until at least March or April. He’s looking forward to seeing Chris more often and doing some bass fishing with friends on Table Rock Lake.
“In the meantime we’re liquidating, so everything’s got to go,” Michael said. “So stop by and we’ll give you a great deal.”
Michael and Karen say the saddest part is all the people who have come into the store to wish them well. They’ve even heard stories from older customers about buying this ring or that necklace from Grandpa Louis 60 years ago.
“Those are the things we’ll really miss,” Michael said. “We’re sorry we’ll be moving from family and friends. The Carroll area has been fantastic to our family for more than 91 years and I just want to thank everyone who has been part of our lives.
They’ll be missed.”