Local History and Genealogy

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Stiefel Department Store

The year 1919 rounded out a half century of growth and service for a mercantile establishment at Angola, known far and wide all over Steuben and adjoining counties.  Today it is a monumental department store, and the business as a whole exemplifies and represents the genius of the Stiefel family as merchants.  The present proprietor, Leopold C. Stiefel has been connected with the store since his twenty-first birthday and has had  as associates several of his brothers.  The business was founded by his father, the late Joseph Stiefel.

Joseph Stiefel was a native of Germany, as was his wife, Caroline Heilbronner.  Joseph came to America about 1845, reaching New York City with nothing to commend him to the favor of the new world except a willingness to work and learn.  After one year in New york he went to Fort Wayne, and a short time afterword to Auburn, Indiana.  There he began a small mercantile business in partnership with Aaron Wolf.  These two men were partners for a number of years, and after dissolving their relations Joseph Stiefel returned to New York after the Rebellion and engaged in the wholesale clothing business.  He had a partner named Strauss.  His own enterprise and experience might have insured success of business even in the keen competition of the metropolis, but through mismanagement on the part of his partner the firm became bankrupt, and Mr Stiefel was left to shoulder the heavy debts of the firm. HE sacrificed nearly everything he had to satisfy his creditors, the venture entailing him a loss of nearly $100,000. He only had $1000 left to start life again.

In the fall of 1869, with the moral and financial support and credit offered by eastern manufacturers and wholesalers who had a keen sense of gratitude toward the stalwart character of the man, Joseph Stiefel came to Angola and opened up a modest stock of clothing.  He had a small place, and the store at first was known simply as J. Stiefel.  After three years he took in as his partner his oldest son, Moses and the name was changed to J. Stiefel & Son, clothing and dry goods.  Fifteen years later another son Louis, came into the firm, entailing another change, as J. Stiefel & Sons.  It was about five years later that Leopold C. Stiefel acquired an interest in the partnership, and at that time the father retired.  The new title was J. Siefel's Sons.  After two years Moses Stiefel withdrew to go into business in New York City, and Louis and Leopold remained together about seven years.  Leopold then bought the interest of his brother Louis and continued the name as J. Stiefel's Son. (1)

In 1900 Leopold Stiefel took on larger proportions, and moved into ample quarters provided in the newly constructed  IOOF building. (2)

Many notable changed have occurred in half a century, and the most marked of them all is the sole ownership of Mr. Leopold Stiefel.  In the early years the firm did a business hardly exceeding $20.000.  In 1918 the aggregate of sales was $150,000, and from the showing months of 1919 the volume pf business will probably exceed $200,000 for that year.  Mr. Stiefel has inaugurated many modern methods, including one to include everything found in a modern department store.  The business employs from twenty-five to thirty-five people, and the stock is housed in a modern business blocked 66 by 170 feet, with steam plant and electricity for lighting generated in the building.  Mr Leopold Stiefel is vice president of the Indiana Retail Dry Goods Association. (1)

This store  continued under the firm name J. Stiefel's & Son until the stock was purchased by the J.C. Penney company in 1929. (2)

Leopold Stiefel was born at Auburn, Indiana March 24, 1863.  June 6, 1892 he married Edith Kahn, of Indianapolis, a daughter of of Samuel Kahn, of that city.  They have two daughters, Charlotte K. and Elsie R.  Mr. Stiefel is widely known as a merchant over the state of Indiana.  He is affliated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias and the Masons at Angola. (1)

1. History of Northeast Indiana, page 277
2. 1955 Steuben County History page 241