Old Buildings and Stores

The building known as “Penny’s” – or “Downtown Florist” at the corner of East Main and S. Sandusky Sts. was built in 1893 by J. D. Cook to house his clothing store.  Mr. Cook bought the lot from Dr. L. B. Sperry for $4,100. early in the year; Charles Wolk built the building for $5,000; and Cook’s Clothing store opened in September.

Historian Bill Oddo chronicled a story about Mr. Cook as he reminisced in later years about his business success:  “A competitor opened a store across the street and started advertising good men’s suits at $9.50.  We came in with $9.48.  He reduced to $8.50, we to $8.48; he $7.50, we $7.48.  We then wired to a company to send us 100 men’s suits at $5.00.  They came and were of excellent quality.  We advertised them at $6.45.  The sale was a tremendous success.  The competitor folded up and left town.”
Cook’s carried clothing for the entire family in what came to be called the “Big Store”.  The business was sold in April, 1914.  The next owner moved across the street in 1927, into the east side of the ‘Ben Franklin’ store .

The Cook building then became the J. C. Penney store, which anchored the corner for more than 40 years, until 1982.   For at least 30 years, there were no cash registers in the Penney store; all sales transactions were handled from the office.  Clerks filled out a sales slip and put it with cash or store charge card into a metal cylinder, which sailed up to the office on a wire, where it was processed and any change sent back to the sales floor in the cylinder.  It was only after a fire in 1958 or 1959 that point-of-sale cash registers were added to the floor.
Society member Georgine Koch worked in the J. C. Penney office for 22 years. Georgine worked for three store managers:  Mr. Jones, Mr. Donohue and Mr. Bankus.  She recalled that every year on J. C. Penney’s birthday, there would be cake for the staff and customers, and Mr. Penney lived to be 90 years old.  A photo of J. C. Penney hung on the office wall, and moved with Georgine when the store closed in 1982. When the department store closed, Georgine moved the catalog business into a store on the north side of Main Street (between the Ruffing store and R&R Drug Store) and managed that store for 5 years, until 1987.  (The catalog store was just one of the casualties that resulted from the loss of 800 jobs in Bellevue when the local GE plant closed.)

The building’s next life evolved into an upstairs apartment over the store.  Mike Wireman moved his florist shop in and lived upstairs. Mike sold both business and building to Downtown Florist.   It downsized, so the store was empty again in 2011.
Current owners, Michael and Jennifer Mazzaro, are giving new life to the building.  They revamped the apartment and moved in, making it easier to work on the building in their spare time.  The renovation is ongoing and the refinished hardwood floors on the main floor are gleaming again.  With the buildings on the opposite corner gone, the east wall was revealed, and needed attention.  Mr. & Mrs. Mazzaro are working with the recently-formed Emerging Leaders group and have agreed to provide that wall as a ‘canvas’ for a downtown Mural, an ambitious project that can happen with support from the Bellevue Community.

Window decorations change monthly, and are a treat, thanks to Jennifer’s imaginative ideas.  A large fiberglas squirrel named Gilbert anchors the western-most window, and next year, residents and visitors can look forward to their new business, “Gilbert’s Place”.  The adaptive reuse of this great old building sets a good example and adds new life to Historic Downtown Bellevue.  The Bellevue Historical Society applauds you, Mr. and Mrs. Mazzaro!