This work has been written primarily from newspaper accounts and advertisements. The newspapers were found on micro-film at the Ritzville Public Library. The author spent many hours reading through the old newspapers in search of material that could be used to complete this project. Ritzville newspapers prior to 1898 are few and far between and as a result very little information will be found on merchants prior to that date. Information was found in issues of the Ritzville Mail, AdamsCounty News, The Ritzville Times, The Washington State Journal, and Ritzville Journal Times. Once copies had been made from the reader- printer, many hours were spent on the computer “cleaning” ads. Some of the more difficult ads required nearly three hours to complete. To say that this project was a labor of love, would probably be a little understated. At times it seemed as if little or no progress could be seen after a rather intensive week’s work.
The reader will find many old photographs in this work and some required extensive computer time. Many of these photographs have never been published or have not been seen in many years. Some photographs were not in good condition and required extensive restoration. The old adage that a photograph is worth a thousand words is still true, for photographs often tell a part of the story that research cannot. While it is true that a textual historic account can stand on its own merits, it is also true of a pictorial account, however, a combination of text and photos is usually superior.
Photographs for this work have been gathered from a variety of sources. The reader will notice the quality and clarity varies widely. Some of the photos were found in an old edition of the Washington State Journal, from the author’s collection. Other photos came from lithographed pamphlets or letterheads. Normally old newspaper photos, etc., would not be useable; however, with the aid of modern computer software, some of these images can be salvaged even though the quality is far below a scanned photograph or image. It is the author’s opinion that the newspaper and other lithographed photos should be included especially since they are not available anywhere else. With the formalities out of the way, now it’s time to re-live Ritzville’s Mercantile Memories.
If you had lived in Ritzville, Washington about 100 years ago, you would have found an abundance of mercantile and other business firms waiting to supply your every need. Perhaps you wished to purchase a new suit of clothes or perhaps a new dress. A wide variety of farming implements were
also available. There were drug stores, restaurants, newspaper publishers, blacksmith shops, variety shops, jewelry shops, theatres, hotels, furniture dealers, and just about everything you could think of.
This work is an attempt to record the history of most of the mercantile, hardware, furniture, and general merchandise stores that could be found along the streets of Ritzville. These businesses will generally fall between 1898 and 1918; however, the reader will notice an occasional date prior to or after our target dates.
The reader is invited to step back into time and walk the streets of Ritzville checking out the many stores and shops of the once-bustling “Bread Basket of the World”. Imagine that you have only been in town a few weeks, and this is your first real visit to the many shops that await you along Second Avenue.
You won’t want to miss the sights, sounds, and aroma of each shop you visit. A small clothing shop will be your first stop. As you reach for the doorknob, you can see tiny bits of thread and lint drifting across a ray of sunshine that has found its way into Theo. Seeger’s Dry Goods Store. As you are leaving, you hear Mr. Seeger speak to a customer in German, his native tongue. In fact, you will hear German spoken many times as you make your way around town
Upon entering many of the shops, you will hear a small bell announcing your arrival, and you will be greeted by a courteous proprietor or sales clerk. After making your selection, your purchase will be wrapped in brown wrapping paper and tied with heavy white twine. The wrapping paper will probably have the store’s logo or other advertising, to remind you of which store had delivered the best value for the money spent.
After a morning of shopping, you may look for a cozy café or bakery for a bite of lunch. The German Bakery would be an excellent choice. The aroma of fresh, delicate, German pastry greets you even before you open the door. Once inside, you wonder how you will be able to afford sampling one of each item that fills the spotless bakery cases. As you peruse the extensive bill-o-fare, you are pleased to see that sandwiches and other meals are also available.
If you are a farmer, you might want to stop at the Ritzville Beer Hall and sample their free lunch. After lunch, your first stop might be one of the large department stores such as the Ritzville Trading Co., King Mercantile Co., Wm Snyder, Myers-Shepley Co., or Davenny’s. Your next stop will be a visit to Chittenden Bros. Grocery next to the Ritzville Hotel; this would be a good choice. Either Walter or Rodney Chittenden would greet you in a fresh white grocer’s apron and offer to take your order. Afterward, you could ask to have your order delivered to your door if you lived in town.
As the afternoon wore on, you might look for another restaurant for a cup of coffee. Earlier, you had noticed the German Coffee House next to the German Bakery, and you make your way to their door. As you enjoy your coffee and donut, you get acquainted with several other people who had gathered after a day of shopping. The day has been fun, and you vow to do it again someday real soon.
Just as you step out on the street, you hear wild shouts and turn to see a runaway horse and wagon gallop past you at a terrifying speed. You decide that the horses were probably frightened by the large steam locomotive just leaving the Ritzville Depot and are glad that no one is injured this time. You have just crossed the street and are heading for Fred Thiel’s Drugstore when a patron of Paul Allen’s “Combination” Saloon staggers out the swinging doors and almost knocks you down. You decide to watch from a safe distance as the young man heads for Johnny Doran’s Office Saloon and wonder what might happen next. You notice W. R. Peters Harness Shop and make a mental note to visit the store the next time you are in town. Wiffin’s Jewelry Store will have to wait for another day as well.
There is just enough time for a visit to Mrs. Hallin’s Millinery Shop and Rosenoff & Co., Drugstore. After Henry Rosenoff fills your prescription, you decide to call it a day. As you pass by the alley separating Railroad Street and Second Avenue, you notice Marshal J. C. Hammond, overseeing several prisoners pulling weeds while on a chain gang. You can’t help but wonder what lawless deeds have cost the men their freedom.
You will experience all of these shops and many others as you read Mercantile Memories. You will meet the owners and proprietors through original advertisements text, and pictures. Some of the proprietors were real characters such as Henry Kiehn at Kiehn & Koch’s Table Supply Co. Henry knew how to make a dollar when no one else could. Stories survive to this day about how he would add water to the barrel of vinegar kept in his store. Other old-time residents remember how Henry kept a broom back of the counter by the cash register. If business was slow, Henry would add the broom to a customer’s bill but never send it with the order. If the customer did not notice that they were paying for a broom that they did not buy or receive, Henry had just made another sale. If the customer did spot the broom on his or her bill,
Henry would mumble that he must have gotten it confused with another order and be surprised to find it still by the cash register. He would apologize for the mistake, but it was never a mistake, but rather an attempt to improve the day’s sales. It is hard to calculate how many times Henry sold that one broom.
It is hoped that the reader will capture a glimpse of Ritzville in her glory days….the days of Mercantile Memories.