The How, when it closed in 1984, was one of LeRoy’s oldest businesses and five generations had traded there.The store was founded by Bliss Humphrey in 1895. His brother became a partner in 1906. In 1930 Bliss’ son-in-law K.B. Schultz joined the firm and Ralph’s son, Kenneth Humphrey, in 1933. Clyde Killion, Ralph’s son-in-law came in 1938 and Schultz’s son, Charles “Chuck” started working there after WWII and became a partner in 1958. Al Provasi, who started working there in 1946, became a partner in 1968.
Bliss Humphrey started from scratch. His life as a modern success story. He acquired his early merchandising experience in the D. Young Clothing Store where he started working at age 16. When that store discontinued business he pooled his meager resources and opened a small order department, renting business quarters in the first floor under the Opera House. There he had a show window and show case displaying a small stock of merchandise but his advertising slogan was “Anything Under the Sun” which he supplied through his mail order hook-up. As a catalog store, sheepskin coats and men’s shoes were the hottest items. It is said the he traveled around the countryside in a horse and buggy taking orders and that he went by the Punkin Vine train to Sabina and points east.
Shortly before the turn of the century he transferred his growing business to the northwest corner of Center and Chestnut Streets. There he put in a stock of clothing and stoves. It was in that location he adopted the name of The How and took in a partner named Stanley Mason. The business continued to prosper and soon the partners had outgrown their quarters and moved to the building on the northeast corner of Center and Chestnut. There a line of strip carpeting, wallpaper and school books was added.
Mr. Humphrey’s brother, Ralph, started working in the store in 1901. He took time to have a Pantagraph route on the side, delivering on foot and on horseback. IN 1906 Mr. Mason left the firm and Ralph joined his brother as a partner.
A few years later quarters were rented in the old Keenan bank building on the southeast corner of Center and Chestnut. There The How occupied all the main floor except the corner which housed the J. Keenan Bank and later took over all the space used by the Keenan House hotel except the front part used by the Owen brothers law firm. Hanging gas chandeliers furnished the needed light and were lighted with a long-handled torch. The as pressure was maintained by a pressure pump.
There were no paved streets at that time and during rainy weather the streets became loblollies. When Kenneth Humphrey and his cousin, Frank, were boys one of their jobs was to keep the front windows washed The sidewalks were narrow and every time horses or wagons passed by on the oozy mire, mud and muddy water splashed all over the windows, keeping the boys busy for hours.
A line of women’s shoe was added. At that time all the women wore high-to button shoes.. If a lady had a fleshy leg the buttons had to be cut and moved over. They had a machine that sewed the buttons on.
In 1915 a half carload of Maytag electric washing machines was received. It was the largest shipment of washers that had ever been brought to LeRoy.
The last move was in 1919 when The How purchased the Frawley hardware building at 213-215 E. Center which was remodeled and made into a building 44 x 120 feet with two floors and a basement. Kenneth remembers seeing buggies and surreys in the store. Whips and binder whips were kept wound about the inside posts. The lines of merchandise grew. Stetson hats were a big item. In 1924 George Easterbrook & Son sold out their furniture business and The How bought the entire stock and added more. All kinds of stoves were added in 1928. Then radios were added and in 1932 the Smith Alsop line of paints. Also rugs, congoleums, men’s suits, shirts, underwear, overshoes overalls and children’s shoes were added. Thousands of white shoes were sold for Easter At one time there were 23,000 pairs of shoes in stock. Every September the store was jammed with parents and children buying new and second-hand schoolbooks, paper and other supplies as well as new shoes and clothes.
Shortly after World War II a carload of Frigidaire refrigerators was shipped to the store. Each of the employees was permitted to purchase one for $100, setting their own weekly payments amounts. One employee chose to pay 50 cents a week for nearly four years. The Kroger store next door was purchased to house all kinds of appliances.
The Humphreys bought the building across the alley from Ed Guard, an implement and car dealer. They began selling all kinds of International Harvester farm machinery. Bliss was an excellent salesman and trader. He took all kinds of poultry and animals in trade, be it cattle, horses, sheep, hogs, chickens, geese, ducks or even corn. It is said that at one time the Humphreys had 101 head of horses , all traded in on farm machinery.
The How was known far and wide, some customers traveling for 50 miles or more to trade at their favorite store. One time The How received a whole trainload, consisting of 15 cars, of International F20 and F 30 tractor and they all were sold before the summer was over. The How purchased cornpickers, combines, breaking plows, corn planters and disks by the carload. Eventually they went out of the farm machinery business and The Men, their store in Normal, closed in 1982.
The owners had a reputation for honesty and for standing behind their merchandise. They gladly extended credit to those who needed it which included nearly everyone during the depression days. In the decades when everybody went to town on Saturday night to stand on the streets and visit with their friends, The How stayed open until 10 or 11 p.m. or even 1 a.m., to accommodate their customers. Another feature especially liked by the customers was the top-notch repair service available.
The How was faithfully serving the public for 89 years, is no more. However, the memory lives on.
The How exhibit is a permanent display. The dresser is originally from The How and the shipping invoice was still on the back when we found the dresser. Also in the display are many photos The museum also has a DVD of the building being torn down. Interesting story about the toy guns and holster – they are on loan from Hap Zook. He told us they were on display in the window and he would by on his way home from school. He told his parents that’s what he wanted for Christmas and he got them. There is also a cedar jewelry chest. These were given to graduating LHS senior girls until some time in the 70’s. It was a Lane giveaway.