Gansinger’s – A Jewel on 119th Street for 60 Years
(taken from an interview done circa 2004)
By Gayle Faulkner Kosalko
Joe Gansinger, a German immigrant who spoke four different languages, opened his little jewelry store in his hometown of Indiana Harbor. There at 3512 Main Street in 1901, he shared the building with a foreign barber. Joe and his wife had six children, the youngest of which was Nicholas. Nicholas was the only one to follow in his father’s footsteps. He went to school to learn the fine art of watch making and then, like his father, opened his own jewelry store in Whiting in 1944.
“Those who know how to do watch making are a dying breed,” said his wife Marguerite who had been working at the store since 1949.
His first jewelry store was located at 1236-119th (Scandals) but in 1947 he moved to 1400-119th Street in a building owned by Dr. Sylvian. (Today it’s Hazel’s) That was the home of Gansinger Jewelers until 1961. Nicholas opened additional stores in Waukegan and Libertyville in the early 1950’s but always considered his home store the one in Whiting.
Marge noted that at one point in time there were seven jewelry stores in downtown Whiting. These included Stice’s, Polenak’s, Reavin’s, and Aronberg’s.
“There was also a little guy who had a small shop where the cab stand is,” she remembered. (The cab stand was next to Center Lounge)
While diamonds have always been a big part of their trade, watch and clock repair had always kept Gansinger busy. When Joe Gansinger began, people were bringing in pocket watches to be cleaned. When Nicholas began, men had just begun to wear wristwatches. Back in the 1940’s it cost $7 to have a watch balanced and cleaned.
“Today it costs us $40 to have the same thing done,” Marge laughed. “With today’s watches, it’s cheaper to just go out and buy a brand new watch.”
But it was the intricate and detailed work and service that kept Gansinger customers returning. From the engagement ring to the wedding ring to the baby’s arrival gifts to special anniversaries, families stuck with their favorite jeweler and went to them for all their needs.
“We had loyal customers,” Marge said pointing out that there were those who are now in Minnesota and Florida who still take their jewelry needs to Gansingers.
“They wouldn’t go anywhere else,” she said. “They’ve told us that they know they can depend on us and that they wouldn’t trust anyone else so we really appreciate that kind of loyalty.”
The Gansingers have certainly watched trends change over the last 60 years in business. After the war, costume jewelry became the rage and the store carried such notable names as Trafari, Eisenberg, and Delta as well as the popular bakelite jewelry. Companies such as Eisenberg, allowed only certain stores to carry their jewelry. The two in our area were Gansinger’s and Minas’ in downtown Hammond.
“And we were selling more than Minas,” she laughed.
But Gansinger’s has always been more than just a jewelry store. It always carried a number of gift items as well and still did before their retirement.
“When electric razors came out, we were one of the first to carry them,” Marge remembered. “We carried typewriters and beautiful Samsonite luggage. We carried anything and everything.”
And now they had the room to do it. It was 1961 and Gansingers built their brand new store on the strip of 119th Street where the only store had been Burton’s new shop. In what is the parking lot entering Walgreen’s today from 119th Street there had been Vision One and P&H Printing and before had been a huge vacant lot where there was a giant drop off. Big iron railings once stood along the south side of the sidewalk.
On November 3rd Gansinger’s opened their brand new store. Marguerite remembered Mayor Harangody cutting the ribbon and customers came in for cake and coffee and for door prizes.
And 60 years later, the Gansingers had an open house for their customers in celebration of their anniversary. It included a drawing and door prizes which also included black pearls and diamonds too!
But their success is not due just to their loyal customers but to those who had worked there as part of the Gansinger family. Margaret Alexovic had worked there for 30 years is a perfect example of that loyalty.
“We’ve always liked it here,” said Marge who was raised in Whiting. “You know everybody. Whiting has been a good town for us.”