Store perpetuates two local distinctions

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 5, 2006

By Ed Shannon, Tribune Feature Writer

One Albert Lea business which set up a special display to start off the city’s sesquicentennial observance just before the first of the year was Leuthold’s in the Northbridge Mall. This historical display was based on the Leuthold name and its part in the city’s business scene, plus a collection of old store ads and various antiques.

Now a portion of this display has been put away or moved to other places within the store. The entry area features formal wear in preparation for the upcoming prom and wedding season.

&8220;Those antiques give this store a different flair,&8221; owner Bill Hertling commented.

Among these antiques are an old outboard motor, a cream can and various kitchen utensils.

Hertling says some of

the antique items &8220;pertain to clothing.&8221;

&8220;Sometimes people want to buy the antiques,&8221; he added. Those antique items, incidentally, are from his wife’s collection. Other antique items are from the archives of the Leuthold firm.

This Leuthold store is the last of the local clothing stores which once had names like

Gildner, St. Paul Clothing House, Lageson, Evens, Fonda, Groce, Westrum, Skinner-Chamberlain, Meir Wolf and Wallace.

&8220;We’re the last of the specialty clothing stores,&8221; Hertling said to confirm this fact.

However, this is not exclusively a men’s clothing store. He explained that Leuthold’s added ladies clothing in the mid-1970’s. This fact is proven with the facade of the store’s previous location on South Broadway Avenue.

He added that the store’s policy is to work with customers on a one-to-one basis.

&8220;We can help people with their choices and with any needed alterations,&8221; he explained. &8220;There’s no self-service here.&8221;

This year’s Profile Edition lists this Albert Lea clothing store as having its 89th year of association with the Leuthold name. And for many years this city served as the headquarters for the Leuthold stores which evolved into one of the most distinctive retail firms in the Upper Midwest.

For 128 years the Leuthold name has been used singly and in combination with a multitude of other names for clothing stores in many of the smaller cities in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. The real reason for this was an innovative management concept devised by the firm’s founder to create a retail sales position called a “manager/partner.”

Jacob Leuthold Jr. opened the first clothing store on May 15, 1878, in Kasson. He was the son of Jacob Leuthold Sr. who came to the U.S. from Zurich, Switzerland, in 1855, settled near Mantorville, farmed for a few years, and started a general store in Kasson in 1865.

Jacob (Jr.) was soon joined by his four younger brothers and others as the firm started to expand. In fact, one of the first names used to identify the store was Leuthold Brothers. Within a year there were three Leuthold stores in Kasson selling shoes and men’s and women’s clothing. The next store opened in Spring Valley in 1883. As more clerks were trained to be managers (and co-owners) other stores evolved in Kenyon, Waseca, Owatonna, Waterville, Blue Earth, Osage, Iowa, and Chippewa Falls, Wis.

Jacob (Jr.) sometimes operated as a co-owner of a store and his last name would be a part of the firm’s name either alone or jointly with a second name such as Leuthold-St. Clair in Owatonna (1892). He also served as a silent partner in other stores. This last factor was certainly true for 12 years in Albert Lea.

The Albert Lea store became the 14th addition to the Leuthold operations in 1917. That’s when the clothing store owned by 0. C. Hayden for many years was purchased by Evens and Fonda, with Leuthold as the silent partner and financial backer.

The store at 122 South Broadway Avenue operated as Evans and Fonda until 1929 when Carlos R. Leuthold moved to Albert Lea to become the managing partner. The store’s name then changed to Leuthold’s.

Carlos (better known locally as Carl) was the son of Jacob (Jr.). He grew up in Kasson, attended Carlton College and the University of Minnesota, and lived in Kenyon for seven years before moving to Albert Lea.

Jacob (Jr.), the founder of the expanding group of stores, died in 1941. His son, Carlos, assumed leadership of the business and became president of Leuthold’s Men’s Stores which established its headquarters in Albert Lea.

Carlos managed the local store until 1946 when an employee, Harold V. Groce, became the manager/partner. This resulted in a change of name to Leuthold and Groce.

When Carlos Leuthold, age 56, died of leukemia on Nov. 21, 1954, there were 42 Leuthold-St. Clair affiliated stores in localities ranging from Carroll and Manchester, Iowa, to Marshfield and Menomonie, Wis., to Fergus Falls and Glenwood.

The headquarters of the firm remained in Albert Lea and by 1960 the offices were located on the second floor of the Woolworth Building at the corner of South Broadway Avenue and West William Street. By 1970, the firm’s offices had been moved to 202 W. Clark St. And the name of the local store had been changed to Leuthold- Boelter to reflect the newer manager/partner – longtime employee Orville A. Boelter.

Leuthold’s, with Bill Lubke as the listed manager/partner, moved to the Northbridge Mail in 1986. (The former store site on Broadway is now occupied by Celebrations, Albert Lea Tailors

and Crescendo.) The corporate offices had moved to 103 N. Washington Ave.

Meanwhile, major changes were taking place for the Leuthold stores and other small city merchants during the last several decades. Some of the stores ceased operations as their owners retired. Other stores were sold and the names changed. There were also other competitive factors involved. Thus, the latest regional telephone listings show stores with the Leuthold name in Cresco, Iowa, and Kasson,

Hibbing

and Albert Lea. Each of the stores is independently owned.

The Leuthold corporation was dissolved in the spring of 1995, and that’s when Bill Hertling purchased the Albert Lea store.

Hertling grew up in Redwood Falls and was manager of the Leuthold-Jensen store in New Ulm for six years. He and his wife, Paula, moved to Albert Lea in February 1993. Hertling then became the manager of the local store.

He said the Leuthold name is being retained for the Northbridge Mall store because of its association with the area’s history, plus strong customer recognition.

(Contact Ed Shannon at ed.shannon@albertleatribune.com or call 379-3438.)