End of era when Wicker, Kirkberg, Olson served Fort Dodge’s jewelry needs


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Nov 23, 2023

End of era when Wicker, Kirkberg, Olson served Fort Dodge’s jewelry needs

Aug 5, 2023 -Submitted photoThese three jewelry stores were mainstays of Central Avenue for decades. Back in the day, there were three family-owned jewelry businesses on Central Avenue – Wicker,

Aug 5, 2023

-Submitted photoThese three jewelry stores were mainstays of Central Avenue for decades.

Back in the day, there were three family-owned jewelry businesses on Central Avenue – Wicker, Kirkberg and Olson – all mainstays of a then-vital downtown Fort Dodge retail scene that even included stores open for Monday night shopping.

Any day now, the last of the three to survive – Wicker Jewelry – will take down its signage at the northeast corner of Seventh and Central – across the street from the Webster County Courthouse – and close its doors for good when a sale of its inventory is completed. With it comes the end of an era.

“We decided it was time – we’re in the process of going out of business,” said Marilyn Simonson, who with her husband, Gary, operated the full-service store they purchased in 1984 from Lew and Lorene Wicker. “We will miss a lot of the friendships we made with people who were our customers. We met so many kind people along the way.

“We thought about selling the store to new owners, but wanted to leave the store in good standing with all of our loyal customers so ultimately decided closing the store was the best way to go.”

Just days after the Wickers announcement was made, Kirkberg Connections – operated by Cary Kirkberg Estlund and her husband Steve – ended its business operations that began after the Kirkberg Jewelers retail store at Sixth and Central closed its doors in 2000.

-Submitted photoThese three jewelry stores were mainstays of Central Avenue for decades.

They placed an ad in The Messenger that read: “Thank you! On behalf of Steve and myself and the whole Kirkberg family – all three generations. We have enjoyed working and being part of this community. We will be moving soon to enjoy the next chapter in our lives and will be closer to our daughters and their families. Cary & Steve.”

Olson Jewelry closed operations in December 2005. It was founded in 1922 and in business for 83 years.

Rare is the Fort Dodge shopper who has lived in the city for the past 50 years who doesn’t have a jewelry keepsake box in her or his possession emblazoned with the name of one of the three stores. Or a clock or watch or ring or piece of jewelry purchased – or repaired – at one of the three stores.

The Kirkberg name appeared on the Fort Dodge shopping scene when H.C. Kirkberg purchased in 1927 a well-established store at 812 Central from Mack Hurlbut that had opened its doors in 1888. H.C. came to Fort Dodge to work for Hurlburt. It was renamed Kirkberg Jewelers and was a downtown institution until it closed on June 1, 2000. (In 1968, it moved next door to 814 Central and in 1984, the store moved to 615 Central, where it remained for its final 16 years.)

H.C.’s son Bob succeeded his father as owner in 1969. Bob’s daughter Cary and her husband Steve Estlund took ownership in 2000 and founded Kirkberg Connections which took on a format significantly different from a standard walk-in jewelry store. Its focus, Cary said, was to work with customers to find the jewelry solution for their situation. It specialized in diamond and gemstone purchases, custom design and redesign of jewelry, jewelry repairs and restorations and appraisals.

-Submitted photoThese three jewelry stores were mainstays of Central Avenue for decades.

Cary Estlund called the experience of closing Connections – and ending the Kirkberg’s long history in the city – “very bittersweet. But what lies ahead, I’m just so excited for it, I can hardly stand it.” She and Steve have sold their home at Twin Lakes and move this fall to Lee’s Summit, Missouri, a Kansas City suburb, to be closer to their daughter Carly, her husband Tommy Gavin and their children. The Estlunds’ daughter Lauren, married to Chris Coleman, lives in Springfield, Illinois, and daughter Maria, married to Austin Bockwinkel, lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

What will she miss most?

“Making people happy,” she replied. “There’s nothing better… bring out a diamond ring, it could be anything. They smile, they cry, they laugh, I will miss that a lot. I literally had people coming in all day long, at the store and with Connections. People would come in, maybe wearing grandma’s wedding ring, and tell you they bought it from your grandpa or from your dad.

“My siblings and I grew up working in the store, when we were 8, 9, 10 – making bows going on packages, wrapping presents so it was always part of our life. Then when we got to high school we did Christmas seasons, some summers. Whenever they needed someone on a Saturday, one of us would be there to work.”

Her older brother Bruce Kirkberg and his wife, Gay, live in Davenport and her older sister Lynne (Stellmach) and her husband, Dean, live in Tempe, Arizona.

Olson Jewelry was founded in 1922 by Oscar Olson, a watchmaker, and was located at 903 Central. It was rebuilt next door in 1982 after two fires in an adjoining building. Future owners Lloyd Hambleton and Karl Johnson began working there part-time in the early 1940s while still in high school. Their wages were $5 a week.

During the 1960s, Hambleton and Johnson went through old newspapers deciding to offer customers a diamond ring off the same ad Oscar Olson had used in the 1920s. Strangely enough, the offer received little attention. Karl owned the store at the time it closed.

Paulette Heddinger of Fort Dodge was a longtime (20 years) employee of Olson Jewelers. Her duties included sales, ordering merchandise, engraving, window dressings – “Everybody worked well together. I got the pleasure of working with Fran Byrne and Rose Lunn. Beth Quinn was a longterm employee. We were a family, a big old happy family. Most have passed on. Others I remember are Yvonne Pullen, Jan Haugen, Darlene Nielsen, Lois Stratmoen. Drexel Peterson, who worked at KVFD radio, did clock repair. When the store closed, Jean Hutchinson and Nancy Axness were working there.”

Another with Olson Jewelers roots is Marty Pickett, who worked there several years until it closed in December 2005 and then came to work at Wickers. She said she was saddened that Wickers will soon close its doors.

“I will miss the customers. It will be really sad that last day, when we open the doors for the last time,” she said.

Marilyn Simonson had worked for Wicker Jewelry for more than 10 years prior to purchasing the store from Lew and Lorene Wicker in 1984. She had been an assistant manager until their retirement.

Lew Wicker, a World War II infantryman, became involved in watchmaking after being influenced by his cousin, Ralph Wicker, who had owned the store since 1932. Lew bought the store in 1960 from Ralph and renamed it Wicker Jewelry.

The Gamble Store fire in June 1960 wiped out the jewelry store and forced it to move. It was located elsewhere on Central Avenue for about six years before settling into its current location at 700 Central Ave. The building Wicker occupies was built in 1882 and was once a Commercial National Bank.

Marilyn Simonson started working at Wicker in 1962 for a few years and then left to become a stay-at-home mother before returning to work in 1977.

Once the Simonsons bought Wicker Jewelry, they decided to keep the name the same as they already had loyal customers and didn’t want people to think it was a different store.

“We thought it was best to keep everything the same,” Marilyn Simonson said.

“I learned from Mr. Wicker that we treat people as we would want to be treated if we came into the store and that’s true with any business,” she said. “if they make an attempt to walk in your door, that’s what counts.”

Wicker Jewelry was a family affair for the Simonsons. Gary was involved with bookkeeping and engraving. Their son, Brant, did repair work and their daughter Lynn (Zeka), a veterinarian, worked summers while attending high school and college. Their oldest son Eric is county attorney for Wright County and lives in Belmond. Gary and Marilyn have seven grandchildren.

A member of the Wicker family is still involved in the jewelry business, but not in Fort Dodge. Sherri Schwaller and her husband Steve operate Royal Jewelers in Jefferson. She is the daughter of Dwaine Wicker, Lew’s brother, and worked summers at Wicker Jewelry in Fort Dodge while in high school and college.

On July 24, Wicker Jewelry was honored at a meeting of the Fort Dodge city council, which proclaimed the day “Wicker Jewelry Recognition Day.” Mayor Matt Bemrich presented a mayoral proclamation to Marilyn and Gary Simonson and their daughter and her family.

“Whereas,” the proclamation concluded, “after years of dedicated service, Marilyn Simonson has decided to enjoy the fruits of her hard work, and close her store so she can start enjoying retirement this summer.”

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