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Ron Wolhart


Ben Frankenberg

Through the Fair Window

~ A short history of the Fair building and those who have left their mark on it.

By Ron Wolhart, Volunteer

The Fair Store was open for business in 1909 after flood and fire destroyed the wood frame building at 37 Main Street. Floods and fires were common at the turn of the century in Bisbee.

Ben and Sam Frankenberg were discouraged but not defeated. They hired Mr. Hurst, a local architect, to design a building that would withstand fires. The thought was good, as the building at 37 Main has stood for over a hundred years.

The Frankenberg brothers took on a partner by the name of Amos Newman, and opened the doors of the building with a Grand Opening in 1909. The new business was an upscale men's and women's clothing store, with the latest in quality stock. The business aimed at sales to the mining management, but through attrition, some stock was available to the miners as well. At one time the store employed as many as thirteen employees.

The building consists of three stories with a basement. The second story has large doors which at one time connected the building to a breezeway leading to a warehouse on the other side of Subway Street. The warehouse was vital to the success of the business.

To restock the store, Sam and Ben travelled to Chicago and New York City to buy supplies. They had connections in Chicago, because Sam had worked for Marshall Fields before moving to Bisbee. The warehouse was filled with the latest fashions a couple times a year.

Sam and Ben Frenkenburg, along with Amos Newman managed the store until 1928, when they sold the business to the Levy Brothers. Ben Levy lived in Douglas, Arizona. The Levy Brothers were co-owners of the business. The hired Arnold White as store manager. The city directory listed the business as a dry goods store in 1938. By 1942, Ben Levy was still the owner of the business and White was out of the picture.

The Levys sold the business to Rita Polley, a real estate broker. Connie Munsey opened the business as a ladies wear store with the slogan, "The Best in Ladies Wear". Rita's husband, a local attorney, had an office in the building. The Polleys lived at 129A Clawson Ave.

In 1951, Wesley Polley was the county attorney with an office at the court house. Wesley and Rita Polley had a son who was a student in the local schools.

In 1957, I lived in a rental on Evens Street off Tombston Canyon Road. Lois, my wife, and I would window shop at the Fair store building, which was used at that time to house a series of small stalls. The stalls offered quality products that we couldn't afford, but we enjoyed "shopping".

In 1958 the Fair store was listed as a Western Auto Store. The manager was John A. Riddle, who's wife's name was Sylvia. The couple's residence was 949 Tombstone Canyon. In 1965, Riddle and his wife moved to 442 Black Knob View. In 1969, Riddle was listed as Cheif Pit Engineer for Phillips Dodge corporation and the couple still lived on Black Knob View.

In 1968, the Fair building was deeded to the Restoration Council of Bisbee and the building was opened as a museum in that year. For many, many years the museum was managed and maintained by Richard and Ruth Cooksley. The treasurer's position has been filled by Melva Dugie. Melva has been a fine volunteer for many years, and a vital part of the all volunteer staff.

About two years ago, some of the members of the Fiber Arts Guild of Bisbee stepped into helping with the volunteer work. Many improvements have been made to an on-going successful museum, including new carpeting, modern lighting, improved plumbing and a lot of upgrading of the displays. House-keeping is always an on-going challenge, and is being well done by the hard working crew. The best compliment I have received as a volunteer has been, "It doesn't smell like a museum". That comment reveals a lot about the management team's efforts.

© Ron Wolhart, 2016

© 2015 Bisbee Restoration Museum
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