The building at the present site of the Hitzeman Haus gift shop [Note from 2001: It's now the trophy shop.] on W. Commercial Ave. was built in about 1870 and was, for many years, one of the busiest general stores in the area. The earliest known owner was Matthias Hoffman, who ran The Red Front General Store for about two decades. The original architectural style of the building matched that of the hotel on its north. Both had false square fronts in earlier years, but as time took its toll, the buildings were altered.
Matt Hoffman was born in Dyer on Oct. 19, 1865, and after his years as a Lowell business man, he moved his enterprise to Dyer, where he stayed until retiring and moving to Hammond. He died in May 1943 at the age of 77. The business in Lowell was sold to the Ruge Brothers, who were there but a short time.
A store advertisement in the 'Lowell Tribune' in the year 1911 features "BVD Union Suits, the Best Made." In 1912 the ads were for calico, percales and gingham. In 1913, Ball Brand Boots and Rubbers were on sale.
Seventy years ago, on the Fourth of July, 1916, an advertisement listed the following items on sale: "The New Red Front: Flags, Bunting, Uncle Sam Umbrellas and Red, White and Blue Lanterns." Coffee was 18 cents per pound, four packages of corn flakes were 25 cents, and oyster shells were 60 cents for a one-hundred pound bag.
Edward M. Berg was the manager mentioned in the ad. Berg soon entered the military and served with the U.S. Marines in Cuba during World War I. Upon his return, he again went into business in downtown Lowell until 1933, when he was appointed game warden. He served in Jasper County until his death in 1940.
In the early 1900's, the store was owned by the Anderson Company and managed by Charles P. Anderson and his wife, Grace Ebert Anderson. Charles Anderson passed away Dec. 24, 1915. Grace Anderson was born in Lowell on May 21, 1872, and passed away Jan. 8, 1959. Their children were Blanche, who married Hal Weaver, and Ethel, wife of Kenneth Hall. Another daughter, Erie, died before her mother. The Anderson's grandsons are James Weaver and James and Robert Hall.
An ad in May 1919, the spring after World War I, proves that post-war inflation had arrived, for the one-hundred pound bag of oyster shells had risen to $1.29, more than double the price in 1916.
In 1920 the old Red Front was under the name "Lowell Mercantile Company," still selling general merchandise. One dozen large dill pickles were advertised for 33 cents and were kept in the store's basement where it was much cooler, according to John Eskridge, Sr.
Eskridge recalled that he drove an old delivery truck at the age of 12. Drivers' licenses were not needed then, and anyone who could see over the dashboard could drive. Harold Love, a retired Lowell business man, said that he, too, delivered groceries for the store, but started in an earlier era, when he walked to the homes. Later he, too, drove the old truck.
Another advertisement in the 1920 paper announced that the Grand Theatre on Clark St. was showing the silent movie "Heart O' The Hills," with Mary Pickford, and admission was 15 cents and 30 cents. The old cinema, at the corner of Jefferson and Clark Streets in Lowell, was torn down in 1935.
Harry worked in Lowell stores for many decades, starting with Hoevet and Ruge in their downtown store, also for Lynch Bros. before moving on to the Red Front. In 1932 he joined the National Tea Co. as their manager in Lowell, a position he held for 27 years.
The Gordons celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1953, and Harry Gordon passed away in 1957 at the age of 78.
The old store building on the hill changed hands many times and has been remodeled quite often. In the 1930's W.W. Bartz was the storekeeper. The entire store was devoted to groceries, with a large meat department. Bartz did most of his own butchering.
Lewis Buche followed him as owner, keeping the business as a grocery and meat market. He was followed by George Hathaway, who formerly operated a grocery at Shelby. The Old Timer drove a little red panel wagon for both Hathaway and Buche, and remembers having trouble with the angry little dogs when delivering groceries on Saturdays.
Jack Williams was the owner for a while, and remodeled both floors. Two apartments were created on the upper floor, with three business rooms below. In the rear was the owner's sheet metal shop, with a barber shop and beauty shop in the front. The Lowell License Bureau operated from there for a time.
In 1969 the building was purchased from Jack Genge by Evelyn and Lester Hitzeman, former owners of flower and gift shops in Hammond and Cedar Lake. The Hitzemans again remodeled the sturdy building into a gift shop. They added wide board flooring and covered the walls with rustic wood. The building changed hands again in May 1986, when it was sold to Dale Midkiff, who is operating it under the same name.
A few weeks ago Mr. and Mrs. Jack Huber showed the Old Timer a rare old Dresden china plate. The nine-inch piece features a picture of the Panama Canal, a 1915 calendar, and the words "Compliments of the Red Front." It may have been given away at Christmas time. The Panama Canal was still a big news item at that time, for the first ship sailed through its locks in August 1914.
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