The Thoma Store: Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place

George Hiram Thoma was not the first in his family to open a general store. Decades before, his grandfather, a Bavarian immigrant, had operated a country store in northeastern Iowa, and perhaps it was stories of his success that inspired George to pursue this livelihood. In any case, George first entered the trade when he was about thirty years old, at which time he lived with his wife and children in Decatur, Burt County, Nebraska.1 This small community with a population under seven hundred was located near the border of the Omaha Reservation. It was likely here that George picked up the Omaha-Ponca language as well as Plains Indian Sign Language, with which he communicated with members of the local tribe.2

(Yet another interesting aside to the story of this ancestor with an alias!)

In 1922, after more than a decade in Decatur, George moved with his family some forty miles southwest to the town of Scribner, Dodge County, Nebraska.3 Scribner boasted a population of just over one thousand—several hundred more than in Decatur, perhaps making it a more promising location for a general store despite, or because, of its remote location. The local newspaper, The Rustler, announced the family’s impending arrival in February of 1922:

“George H. Thoma of Decatur, this state, was in Scribner this week and has leased the building which has been occupied by the People’s Co-Operative Store. He will open up about March 1 with a complete line of general merchandise. Mr. Thoma comes well recommended as an up-to-date merchant with a record of twelve years of successful business at Decatur and twenty in the mercantile business. He has a very pleasing personality and we learn he has always been a booster for his home town. He has an interesting family that will be a welcome addition to our church and school circles; a young daughter in high school and one son who assists his father in their business, who is a band man and a football player, who will find congenial associates here. Mr. and Mrs. Thoma and family will find a hearty welcome awaiting them in our little city.”4

“Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place” token, Scribner, Nebraska, 1922-24; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

It did indeed appear that the people of Scribner welcomed the Thoma family into their fold without hesitation. Regular updates were printed in the local newspaper regarding the opening of the store and the enrollment of daughters Fern, Norma, and later Betty in school. George wasted little time in becoming an active member the community, taking on leadership positions in a new Business Men’s Club as well as the Boy Scouts and the American Red Cross,5 while his wife, Leota, made friends among the Royal Neighbors and the Ladies Aid Society at the local Congregational church.6 Their son, Fenton, was named in the newspaper numerous times as he took part in social and athletic activities; he eventually spent a period of time away from his family in Scribner as he traveled for a summer with the Redpath-Horner Chautauqua and then attended Dakota Wesleyan University, where he served as president of the freshman class.7 Fern, too, received frequent mentions in the newspaper as she engaged in high school activities and gathered with friends, and mentions were even made of young Norma and Betty as they took part in events with their elementary school classmates.8

It seems, however, that the Thoma store did not take off as well as the family’s social life, and although the family embraced life in Scribner, it must also have been a stressful time for them. Less than a year after opening shop, a full-page advertisement appeared in the local newspaper, declaring that “Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place” was being “FORCED BY CREDITORS” to “raise $10,000 cash at once or close up business.”9 The Northwestern Selling System was to be in charge of this cash-raising sale of the store’s stock of $25,000 of “clean seasonable merchandise, only a few months old, consisting of dry goods, notions, women’s and children’s shoes, hosiery, underwear, fancy goods, men’s and boys’ sheep-lined clothing, hats, caps, furnishings, groceries, and queensware.”10 All purchases were to be made in cash or, interestingly, produce.11

“Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place” token, Scribner, Nebraska, 1922-24; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Apparently, this sale merely bought time. Another cash-raising sale was held that August,12 and in February of 1924, just two years after The Rustler had announced the opening of Thoma’s Store, a two-page spread appeared, announcing, “We’ve Decided to Quit Business in Scribner,” adding, in all-caps, “THOMA’S $20,000 STOCK JUST GOTTA GO!”13 A personal note from the proprietor himself was central to the advertisement:

“Here Are The Cold-Blooded Facts: You’ve heard and read about merchandise sales and bargains until your faith in them has been shattered, but your idea and our idea of a sale and a bargain are the same: It has been the custom of some stores in announcing a sale to give it some fancy decoy name and attempt to justify it by some plausible excuse. We are BLUNT about it – the reason for this sale is that we are sick and tired of business, physically and mentally and we’re just a going to get out and do it quick, and if low prices were ever an inducement this stock will be sold in a jiffy. Please understand, WE ARE CLOSING OUT! THIS MEANS IT ALL GOES! Signed GEO. H. THOMA”14

In May of 1924, The Rustler reported:

“George H. Thoma last Saturday moved his family and household effects to Sioux City, where they will make their future home. Their daughter, Miss Fern, remained here to finish her school year. Mr. and Mrs. Thoma have made many warm friends during their residence here, who regret to see them leave this city, and wish them all the good luck in the world at their new location. Mr. Thoma is now on the road selling electrical appliances. Friday afternoon the ladies’ aid of the Congregational church held a farewell reception in honor of Mrs. Thoma in the church basement. The manner in which the ladies dressed and made-up for the affair caused much merriment and an enjoyable afternoon is reported.”15

Sioux City proved to be a more promising destination for the Thoma family, and despite the close friendships they left behind in Scribner, they thrived in this city of nearly eighty thousand. George put his experience as a merchant to good use and found success as a wholesale fruit salesman for the Haley-Neeley Company and, for many years, the Palmer Fruit Company. He remained in Sioux City for the rest of his life, never again returning to the general merchandise business.16

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.


SOURCES
1 “New Store to Open in Scribner,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 09 February 1922; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017).
2 “Among the Indians,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 10 May 1923; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017), and Linda McGlynn to Melanie Frick, e-mail, 27 July 2017, “George Thoma,” Personal Correspondence, Thoma Family, Frick Research Files; privately held by Frick.
3 “New Store to Open in Scribner,” The Rustler, 09 February 1922.
4 “New Store to Open in Scribner,” The Rustler, 09 February 1922.
5 “Business Mens’ Club Meet,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 16 November 1922; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017), “District Council of Boy Scounts Formed,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 18 October 1923; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017), and “Red Cross Meeting,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 17 January 1924; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017).
6 “Mrs. George Thoma,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 14 February 1924; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017), and “Thoma Family Moves,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 08 May 1924; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017).
7 “Fenton Thoma,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 06 September 1923; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017), and “Mr. Fenton Thoma,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 04 October 1923; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017).
8 “Legion Masquerade Draws Large Crowd,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 24 January 1924; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017), “The Sunbeams,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 24 April 1924; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017), and “Little Betty Thoma,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 01 February 1923; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017).
9 “The Truth Must Be Known,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 08 February 1923; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017)
10 “The Truth Must Be Known,” The Rustler, 08 February 1923.
11 “The Truth Must Be Known,” The Rustler, 08 February 1923.
12 “Big Money Raising Sale,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 09 August 1923; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017)
13 “We’ve Decided to Quit Business in Scribner,” The Rustler [Scribner, Nebraska], 14 February 1924; digital image, Digital Archives of the Scribner Public Library (http://scribner.advantagepreservation.com : accessed 28 July 2017)
14 “We’ve Decided to Quit Business in Scribner,” The Rustler, 14 February 1924.
15 “Thoma Family Moves,” The Rustler, 08 May 1924.
16 “U.S, City Directories, 1822-1995,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 July 2017), entry for Geo. H. Thoma; citing “Polk’s Sioux City Directory, 1927 (R.L. Polk & Co., 1926),” 635, “U.S, City Directories, 1822-1995,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 July 2017), entry for Geo. H. Thoma; citing “Polk’s Sioux City Directory, 1927 (R.L. Polk & Co., 1926),” 491.

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6 thoughts on “The Thoma Store: Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place

  1. Dave Adam

    Thanks for your great efforts. I didn’t know all the details l will pass this on to my family like all the other findings you found

    On Mon, Jul 31, 2017 at 5:03 PM Homestead Genealogical Research wrote:

    > Melanie Frick posted: “George Hiram Thoma was not the first in his family > to open a general store. Decades before, his grandfather, a Bavarian > immigrant, had operated a country store in northeastern Iowa, and perhaps > it was stories of his success that inspired George to pursue ” >

    Reply
  2. Katie@preciousthreads

    Ha! I love his commentary in the close-out ad. Now that’s honesty!

    May I ask you how you add footnotes to your blog? I would love to cite my sources like that and have been struggling to figure out how to do so.

    Reply
    1. Melanie Frick Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Katie! I agree! :) When adding footnotes I go into the “Text” section (instead of “Visual”) when writing a post on WordPress, and I use the HTML tags 1 (changing the numbers within the tags as appropriate). It’s a bit tedious, but I haven’t found a way to go about it that works better for me yet. Hope that helps!

      Reply

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