In the day they open their doors for the first time, every new business owner hopes to be open one year later, but in 2010 several familiar St. Louis companies celebrated milestone anniversaries their first owners might never have imagined.
The Diamond Shop, 100 Years
Since opening its doors in downtown St. Louis in 1910, The Diamond Shop has served four generations of St. Louisans. A family-owned business, the store’s customers have familial ties, as well. “It’s amazing,” says manager Mona Kohn. “We hear it all the time—This is where my grandfather bought my grandmother’s ring. Those are great stories!” Kohn’s father-in-law Joe Kohn bought the store in 1946, moving it to its present Clayton location in 1984. His son Thom is the designer of the store’s exclusive Thomas Farley collection.
“Thom grew up in the shop,” she explains. “His dad brought him in on Saturday because he liked having him around, and the customers loved having this little boy greet them at the door.” When he wasn’t helping his dad on weekends, Kohn adds, Thom could often be found skateboarding the quiet downtown streets.
The century-old company has customers around the globe, often directed to The Diamond Shop through a St. Louis connection. “We’ve sent rings to Kuwait, to Iraq, to Greenland—all over the place,” Kohn says. “We have customers we’ve never met. They call because someone has recommended us, and those referrals are the best possible compliment.”
J. Viviano & Sons, 60 Years
After immigrating to St. Louis from Palermo, Italy, in 1926, John Viviano Sr. worked in a pasta factory owned by his family. “But he wasn’t making enough money,” explains his grandson, John Viviano III. “So he began making bleach in his bathtub and selling it to neighborhood businesses. Later he added food products and eventually opened a small store.” The fledgling company continued to expand, and this year J. Viviano & Sons celebrated 60 years on The Hill.
With walls of vintage family photos (including a framed article describing John Vivano Jr.’s rescue from the Andrea Doria in 1956), the specialty grocery is still very much a family business. “When we were kids, we had chores after school or on Saturday, and that tradition continues with the fourth generation,” Viviano says. Customers and their families have a multi-generational presence, as well. “We just had a gentleman come in for 15 pounds of fine semolina flour. He was preparing 3,000 ravioli for St. Ambrose Church, just like his grandmother had always done. That’s a priceless gift!”
Schnarrs Hardware, 50 Years
As longtime fans of Schnarrs Hardware will attest, there’s nothing like a neighborhood store for personal attention. Since opening on Clayton Road in Ladue in 1960, the store has developed a following that spans three generations.
Owner Frank Blair has been with Schnarr’s since 1974. “One of the most enjoyable things about my job is seeing the new generation of customers. As a young person I took care of people whose children or maybe even grandchildren are coming in to the store today.”
Blair bought the store from W.A. Schnarr in 1995. “He was my mentor,” Blair says. “Mr. Schnarr always said, Take good care of your customers and they will take good care of you. His philosophy is the reason the store has thrived for half a century.”
Imagination Toys, 25 years
Personal service is often key to the success of a business, and the staff at Imagination Toys in Ladue has been helping customers find ‘just the right toy’ for 25 years. “One thing that has not changed since our first day is our specialized customer service,” owner Marge Versprille says. “Sometimes people aren’t sure about what to buy, and we’re always available to offer advice on age-appropriate toys. We’ll even gift wrap purchases at no charge.”
Versprille says she was “definitely apprehensive” when she opened the store in 1985. “I had almost no retail experience—my background was in special education. But I was always looking for quality toys for my own children and that’s what inspired me to start the business.” Versprille and her partner hired a consultant to help them with the initial launch. “It was successful from the day we opened the doors. There just wasn’t any competition.” LN
We salute other local companies celebrating a milestone anniversary this year, including:
Barnard Stamp Company, 150 years
Charles L. Crane Insurance Agency, 125 years
Wunderlich Fibre Box Company, 125 years
Pietro’s Restaurant, 50 years