If These Walls Could Talk: Straub Furniture

Grenz, Anderson, and Straub. "If These Walls Could Talk: Straub Furniture." Northwest Blade, 29 March 2012.

Henry Straub was frugal and rarely wasted anything. Much of the wood, nails and other supplies used for building his new store in 1912 were salvaged from the two old stores he had purchased (the old Matthews Store and the Koch & Penski Drug Store). Although Henry helped in the building of the store, the main carpenter was George Bohle. Several cancelled checks, showing payment from Straub to Mr. Bohle, still exist.

The Straub store was built with a full concrete basement for surplus stock and a casket display room. The main floor, used for furniture display, had a workshop in the back; an office, and a balcony inside the entire store for more display room. A rope-pulled Otis elevator extended from the basement to the floor above the shop, making storing furniture in the attic possible. Six large glass windows made furniture displays visible from outside the building. The building did not have electricity, telephone, water, sewer or central heating.

Henry, besides selling new furniture, was known for doing excellent furniture repair. He also stocked window glass, repaired seamstresses scissors, and sharpened straight-edged razors. He was proficient at constructing frames for baptismal and confirmation certificates, and wedding pictures. All of these sideline jobs were done in the workshop of the store building where Henry’s handmade work bench was a prominent fixture. This bench, which still remains, has two 2’ screw gears made entirely of hardwood. The gears were grooved by hand using chisels and sharp knives and are perfectly symmetrical and balanced. They expand each end of the worktable horizontally so that precise beveling could be accomplished. The gears never needed to be oiled or greased and are still operational today. This bench is now in the possession of the current owner of the store, Henry’s grandson Henry W. Straub. A box at the end of this bench was a testament to Straub’s frugality, storing salvaged twine and cord used on customers’ packages. He also saved screws, nails, and much of the lumber from furniture crates.

A flu epidemic in 1918 took so many lives in Eureka in such a short space of time that supplying enough caskets was impossible for the manufacturers. Henry Straub reverted to his cabinet making skills. Along with help from his wife, Albina, and son Theodore, who was 14 at the time, Henry constructed about 50 caskets in the furniture store workroom to meet the demand.

Theodore Straub, born in 1904, became a partner of the business in 1925. Werner, the youngest son, born in 1912, joined the firm in 1931. The business name was changed to H. Straub and Sons. In 1938, Henry Straub deeded all assets of Straub Furniture and Funeral Business to his sons, Theodore and Werner Straub. Retirement was not a word that meant much to Henry Straub, however. He continued to come to the store and help with many aspects of the work well into his 75th year. Henry Straub died in 1953 at the age of 83.

Straub’s combined businesses of the funeral parlor and the furniture store were kept solvent during the depression years of the thirties, by Henry Straub’s foresight and perhaps his distrust of banks. Straub had lost confidence in banks after the suicide of early banker Christian Vorlander following the 1921 closure of the First National Bank of Eureka. Funds that Straub put into a safety deposit box made payments of taxes, and purchasing new furniture stock possible. Other ways Straubs remained solvent during these difficult economic times was by doing their own janitorial work, making their own deliveries, and saving cord and wrapping paper. Theodore would often make personal calls to households trying to interest them in different items for the home that could be purchased at the furniture store.

Furniture was ordered and transported to Eureka twice a year by railroad. A minimum amount of weight was required and depending on the crops in any particular year, the inventory ordered varied. If customers could not find what they wanted to purchase in the furniture displays, customers could order by looking at photos or samples. One profitable sale involved five identical custom-made davenport and chair sets that a local farmer bought for Christmas gifts for his five daughters! (T. Straub autobiography)

The basement of the furniture store was transformed into a funeral parlor in 1932 with local plumber, Slim Schulkoski, building a pipe frame, and Fred Greiser, a tin smith, building a galvanized table top. When water was needed, it was supplied by J.D. Harr’s barber shop next door during the day and by night a well a block away was utilized.

The furniture store included appliances, pianos and radios. Soon, for more room, a second story floor was added, joining the balconies surrounding the main store. After several years in the appliance business, only Maytag and Speed Queen were sold. A great deal of home building was seen in the late 1940s, so large inventories of carpeting were purchased and the former appliance display area was converted to carpet display. In 1948, a 46’ by 75’ warehouse with two floors was added to the building for storage.

By 1958, a member of the third generation of the Straub family, Henry W. Straub, joined the business. He continued to work in the same manner as his father, uncle, and grandfather had before him. In 1964, Theodore Straub retired and sold his business interests to his brother, Werner, and nephew, Henry W. Straub.

Straub Furniture continued to keep abreast of the trends and demands in furniture. In the 1980s, queen-size beds became so popular that in 1987 Henry W. sold at least one bedroom set a week for three months. Bedroom sets are still a quality purchase that can be made at Straub Furniture.

Salesmen for different furniture franchises would make regular stops at Straub’s Furniture. This trend ceased in 2000 when several big names such Lee Carpeting, Tell City and Mastercraft, discontinued coming to Eureka. One company, Spring Air Mattress, recognizes Straub Furniture as the only US firm to be with them since their beginning in 1926.

If these walls could talk, we would undoubtedly hear: Straub Furniture is unusual in our modern world of huge box stores. A business owned by three generations of the same family is a rare sight; a business that spans 118 years, 112 of those years in the same location, is in a class by itself.

Story courtesy of the Northwest Blade, Eureka, SD.
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