Friday, November 21, 2014

Window Shopping in JC

     This weekend many of you will begin your holiday shopping. However, had you been living in Junction City around 1900, the Christmas shopping season would start in mid-December.  For that brief time, about two weeks before Christmas the display windows of the business houses along Washington Street were adorned with the best and most creative the proprietors had to offer, drawing shoppers and visitors from miles around.
     From the 1880s through the 1950s, there was one local place of business that always drew the Christmas crowds, to look even if they couldn’t afford to buy. This was the Starcke jewelry store, where the windows invariably held a sparkling array of silver, diamonds, and other holiday goods that caught the attention of most pedestrians.
     The Starcke jewelry and watch making business was the first of its kind in Junction City, started by a German immigrant, Andrew Vogler, who married Bernhardt Starcke’s sister-in-law. In the early 1880s, the Starcke family came to Junction City to join Andrew Vogler in the business. The first store was located at 14 E. Seventh Street and was listed in that location until 1905.
     When Vogler died unexpectedly in 1885, the firm became B. Starcke & Son Watchmaker, and remained under that designation until 1905, even thoguh in the early 1890s Bernhardt, age 64, left the area to pursue a career in medicine, and Rinehard, the watchmaker, married and relocated to the Kansas City area.
Windows at Starcke the Jeweler were always decorated lavishly.
     Walter Starcke, who had trained as an optician, had been the main proprietor of the business for a number of years, when he married Eunice Willoughby in October 1905. Apparently, shortly thereafter, the name of the firm was changed to Walter Starcke Jewelry and Optical Shop and they moved to 705 N. Washington. Sometime between 1911 and 1914, the Starcke jewelry store moved across the street to 714 N. Washington.
     Eunice Starcke worked alongside her husband in the store from the time they were first married. According to those who knew her, she was a dedicated businesswoman who had a natural feel for merchandising. A vast array of beautiful and unique objects were always available at Starcke’s after Eunice joined the partnership. In addition, the shop offered a watch repair service and an optical shop, where people could have Walter make and fit their eyeglasses.
      According to a Junction City promotional booklet published in 1910, the jewelry house of Walter Starcke has “…one of the largest and best-assorted stocks . . . including a large line of clocks, watches, cut glass, hand-painted china, diamonds, other precious stones, all kinds of jewelry novelties and everything to be found in a first-class store. A complete line of Fort Riley souvenirs is carried, including sterling silver spoons, souvenir cups and souvenir view books...”
     Included in the museum’s collections are a number of photographs of the interior and display windows of the Starcke store from this period and the vast array of valuable items on display in these images would curl the hair of a jeweler, today. Keeping them all dusted and polished would have been a full-time job. Callie Byington recalled that her mother, Mrs. Starcke’s niece, Eunice Jennings Henderson, worked in the store for her uncle and aunt from the time she was a kid cleaning, dusting, and polishing silver.
They put the window displays every night and put them out again the next day.

     Chuck Rose said his father, Vernon, who had been trained to clean, repair, and build clocks and watches, went to work for the Starckes in 1923. He remembered that he and his brother Bob were always welcome in the store as children. He recounted that both families would go down to the store to clean and work on Saturday night.
While Eunice worked with the jewelry and gift stock, Chuck recalls that Walter Starcke dibbled in a bit of everything. He remembers seeing an assortment of tandem bicycles, razors, riding crops, and just about anything you could imagine, stashed in the loft at the back of the store, where the watch repair and optometry shops were located. In fact, he said that one of those tandem bicycles was resurrected after his father owned the store and was ridden in the Junction City Centennial Parade of 1955.
     Callie remembers that there was a time when the Junction City Chamber of Commerce sponsored a “Guess the Value of the Window” promotion to get people downtown on Saturdays. “Aunt Eunice really outdid herself on these occasions. She would have her windows just sparkling with silver, gems and diamonds. They were breathtaking! She often had the window with the highest value and never had an incident or lost a thing. People were just more trusting—and trustworthy—back then…”