For 92 years, the J. W. Ippel dry goods store was the most prominent business on Saginaw’s west side. People came from all over to shop. Their housewares, linens and home furnishings were top quality and there was always a large selection of fabrics and sewing supplies. Generations of kids were fascinated by the little trolleys that whizzed along on overhead rails taking cash to the office and returning change and receipts.
The store was founded by Julius William Ippel, one of Saginaw’s most respected merchants. He was described as generous, kindly and friendly, with an always cordial and unruffled manner. He was born in West Bend, Wisconsin, in 1861, the son of George and Agnes Ippel. In 1865, the family moved to Saginaw where George opened a grocery store. Young Julius attended Saginaw’s public schools and a business college. At 17 or 18, he went to Milwaukee where he worked for a publishing company. When his father’s health failed a few years later, Julius returned to Saginaw and got a job with the J. Bauman Company, the west side’s leading store at the time.
Starting as a bundle and delivery boy, in thirteen years he worked his way up to general manager. Then he started his own business at 412 Court Street. As the business grew and prospered, he moved across the street, and in 1904, he bought the Bauman business and consolidated the two stores in the Merrill Building at the southeast corner of Michigan and Court. He also added a dime store which was successful for several years.
Julius Ippel was a community leader. He was the director of the Saginaw Board of Commerce and also of the West Side Businessmen’s Association.
In addition to his civic interests, he was a Mason, a Shriner, a Moose and an Elk. His granddaughter, Sally Ippel Haines remarked, “Apparently he couldn’t say no when asked to participate.” He served as the state president of the Michigan Elks, as Grand Potentate of the Elf Khurafeh Shrine and Exalted Ruler of Saginaw Lodge No. 47. He was president of the Pioneer Club for fourteen years and was president of the West Side Arbeiter Society which had formed in 1871 as a brotherhood to assist German men in times of sickness and death. The Arbeiter Hall became a place for social and musical pursuits. Julius Ippel also was a founder of the Caravan Club, a luncheon group of Shriners.
He was always interested in hunting, fishing and sports: he sponsored local teams and supplied blankets and sports equipment to the Arthur Hill High School teams.
At a time when Saginaw city water was pure sludge that came from the polluted Saginaw River, Julius Ippel backed a plan to bring water in a pipeline from Saginaw Bay. The idea failed in his lifetime. He was decades ahead of his time.
His interest expanded into rural Saginaw County. The Saginaw Valley Farmer said, “For many years, Mr. Ippel was active in all movements for the general welfare of city and country, giving freely of his time, his able services and his means to promote the interests of city and county, for his interests extended to the people of the rural sections among whom he had a host of warm friends.”
In 1917, he was one of a group of west side businessmen who helped to bring General Motors to Saginaw. With America about to plunge into World War I, they knew that armaments were vitally needed, and so they signed a bank note to buy the property which would launch the Malleable Iron Foundry.
In 1891, he married Anna Ringler. After serving in World War I, their sons, Julius, Eugene and Arthur followed him into the business. However, J. W.’s granddaughter Sally pointed out that her father, Eugene, really wanted to be a professional baseball player.
Julius Ippel died on March 6, 1922. The day of his funeral one hundred and fifty businesses in the Court, Michigan and Gratiot areas were closed out of respect for him.
Later, members of the West Side Businessmen’s Association established the J. W. Ippel Merit Cup which is awarded each year to the Arthur Hill graduating senior who exhibits outstanding scholarship, leadership, public spirit and participation in extra curricular activities. Those were the guidelines Julius W. Ippel aspired to in his own life.
In 1965, Eugene’s son-in-law, Richard Haines took over as general manager.
In 1981, the J. W. Ippel store closed. For several years, a variety of businesses occupied parts of the building. In 2001, the building burned in a spectacular fire. Today, another Ippel Building has opened and the original neon sign still proudly marks the site.
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