In the year 1880, the fledgling community of Nappanee was truly the definition of a boomtown.
With a brand-new railroad to entice a wide spectrum of prospects, businesses began to flourish as the population soared. The residents soon learned that this was a town of opportunities and possibilities.
Meanwhile, a young entrepreneur by the name of Enos Newcomer had grown wise to the potential of Nappanee as well. A carpenter by trade, he and his bride Emma arrived in the city by way of Locke, and he was intent on carving out a niche of his own.
Enos could never have imagined that this long leap of faith would eventually pave the way for what would become one of the most legendary businesses in Nappanee history. E. Newcomer & Son, which has encompassed five generations across 141 years, has earned the esteem of the longest-running jewelry store, under the auspices of one family, in the state of Indiana.
A popular urban legend, supported in part by newspaper accounts of the era, tells of Enos becoming disillusioned by the notion that wearable timepieces were being sold at the exorbitant cost of…$8. Inspired by a confidence that he could offer a more reasonably priced product, Enos purchased a batch of inventory from local merchant C.S. Stahly, and a jewelry store came into being.
Enos and Emma eventually created a family of their own, which included their only son, John Henry Newcomer. Born in 1885, John discovered that he had the same aptitudes as his father, and became an optician and a jeweler. He went on to form a partnership with his father, hence the name E. Newcomer & Son. John would become the lone proprietor when his father died in 1919.
John would marry Lillie Reed in 1913, and the couple had three sons, two of whom would take the reins of the business when it was inherited from their father upon his passing in 1952. Brothers John Reed (who went by Reed) and James were poised for partnership, but the pairing was short lived. Reed’s life would end just one year later, when he was only 38 years old.
For many more years, E. Newcomer & Son would hold sway in the historic Main Street thoroughfare under the ownership of James, who was more commonly known to folks as Jim. Jim Newcomer proved to be not only worthy of the family trades and talents, but also a dynamic civic leader. He served as the mayor of Nappanee from 1972 through 1975.
Jim and his wife Margaret had three children, and their only son, James Bradford, who goes by Brad, followed his father’s destiny. Yet as Brad recalls it, when he was a young man, Jim attempted to steer him toward another vocation, one that he thought would be both lucrative and revolutionary – the recreational vehicle industry.
The aspirations were short lived, however. An oil embargo, and all of the financial repercussions that followed, extinguished that flicker of hope quickly. Brad dutifully chose to return to the storied profession of his ancestors.
Whatever trepidation Brad may have felt in maintaining ownership has long since been eclipsed by a sense of honor that resonates in his family name.
“I take tremendous pride in the generations before me,” he says. “The store has never missed a beat. There has always been someone stepping up, willing to keep it going.”
One of the most charming aspects of E. Newcomer & Son is the store’s interior, remarkably unchanged in many aspects, looking very much as it has for the past century. That is also intentional, Brad explains.
“At one time, I made a choice that I didn’t want this to look like a chain store,” he says.
Even so, that has not hindered the store’s operations with regard to the products and services offered.
“We have a full line of jewelry – pendants, diamonds, engagement and wedding rings, colored gemstones,” Brad notes. “We carry Bulova and Citizen watches, and we can do custom work, repairs and appraisals.”
He also marvels at the loyalty of their customers, many of whom travel a far distance to visit the store.
“We are doing very well because of the great patronage we’ve developed over the years,” he says. “So many of the mom-and-pop stores have disappeared.”
Yet through it all, E. Newcomer & Son has endured. So what does the future look like for this crown jewel of Nappanee’s downtown square?
“Our staff has been here for a long time,” Brad says, noting that the majority of the shop’s employees have been with him for 20 years or longer. “They are more than qualified to keep the store running.”
Among them is Barb Buss, who is more than willing to chat about the unique and exquisite items that make E. Newcomer & Son, as she describes it, “a destination store. We try to carry things that you can’t get anywhere else, and a few of our vendors are exclusive to us in this area. People come from miles to see what we carry.”
Additionally, all of the repair work is done in house, and often completed within hours. “If you choose a diamond and new setting, Brad can often set and size it the same day you purchase it,” Barb says. She has a particular affinity for helping customers redesign jewelry as well, assisting them in updated styles while incorporating the elements of an older piece.
Members of the E. Newcomer & Son team also sell distinctive items that are not traditionally found in a jewelry store, such as awards, engraving, specialty gifts, crystal, barware, and children’s items. Many of the more spectacular items, while set at a lower price point, include sterling silver and gold-filled sets. “There is something for everyone’s budget and taste, and if we don’t have it, we can get it,” Barb says.
“With all of us being here for over 20 years, and a couple over 30 years, it assures that you meet a friendly face as you walk in,” Barb says proudly.
And that suits Brad Newcomer just fine.
“I’d like to see how long I can keep it going,” he says.
E. Newcomer & Son is located at 107 South Main Street in Nappanee. Call for more information at 574-773-3241, or visit enewcomerandson.com.
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