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Closing Time: Uncovering the story behind Riverside Optical & Jewelry Co.'s final sale

A photograph from the Riverside Main Library archives reveals more than just a moment; it points toward the dramatic story of a local business bidding farewell.

Photograph of the night Scene (Courtesy of the Local History Archives, Riverside Main Library).

While researching another project at the Local History Archives in the Riverside Main Library, I discovered this photograph in their collection. The stark contrast in this night scene aroused my interest. What is happening? When did this event that brought together so many people occur? Where in Riverside was this? What is the story behind the photograph? The only hint was the brief statement written on the margin of the photocopy: “A local merchant shutting down business on Main St.” The banners hanging from the store emphasize that statement.

$1 does the work of $3

Now we have some starting information. The store with the huge sale was Riverside Optical & Jewelry Co. Looking at the merchant to the right, Riverside Cycle and Sporting, we see the address as 960 Main (today would be 3960). Knowing that this is Main Street, we can now dig through the old Riverside City Directories and early editions of the Riverside newspapers.

On November 3, 1911, the Riverside Daily Press announced, “Jeweler Going Out of Business.” The store at 950 Main Street closed until the following Monday, when it would open at 9 a.m. for bargains. Dr. Phillippi, the owner, predicted that shoppers would find the prices so advantageous that they would buy items to accumulate for the next five years. He also anticipated that people would plan for their upcoming holiday shopping and take advantage of these prices. On the day of the sale, the Daily Press headlined an article titled “Positively Closing Out.” Dr. Phillippi wanted Riversiders to know he was closing the business for good and not just holding bargain sales as he had in the past. Everything from twenty-five cent thimbles to diamond rings valued at $650 were marked down to bargain prices.

Notice from the Riverside Daily Press on December 4, 1911.

What is the full story behind the Riverside Optical and Jewelry Co.? Dr. Edward Phillippi and his wife came to Riverside in February of 1906 to visit friends Mr. and Mrs. E. Herbert, who lived on El Dorado Street, and to look for a location to relocate his business.

Edward Phillippi was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, on January 1, 1880. He married Harriet Willis on August 2, 1902, in Ohio. Phillippi opened an optometry business in Cleveland, which he closed to move west. 

Charmed by Riverside, the couple decided to make our city their new home. After passing the California examination in optometry, Dr. Phillippi leased a portion of the store located at 860 Main Street (today 3860 Main) and opened his eyesight business in June 1906. The other half of the store was a jewelry store operated by Mr. H. Britzius.

Riverside Optical Store ad from the June 23, 1906, Riverside Independent Enterprise.

Dr. Phillippi appears to have a case of wanderlust. In April of 1908, he sold his business to Dr. G. H. Dickinson, and at the end of May, Dr. and Mrs. Phillippi left for an extended trip intending to travel to San Francisco and then east to Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Boston, and New York. The couple returned at the end of October. Phillippi was soon in court bringing suit against Dr. Dickinson, who had defaulted on the purchase agreement. Soon, ads again appeared in the newspapers advertising Phillippi’s services and, in December, discounts in time for Christmas gifts. The discounts started at 10% but went up to 25% discount a week before Christmas.

Riverside Optical ad from the December 8, 1908, Riverside Enterprise.

On December 12, 1908, Dr. Phillippi announced that he would occupy the entire store at 860 Main Street. Mr. H. Britzius, who ran the jewelry business in that location, announced a huge business sale on Monday, December 8. By January 23 of the next year, Dr. Phillippi had expanded his business to include the jewelry portion, as seen in the ads he began running in the newspapers. Then, in April, he announced that he was moving by May 1 to a new location at 950 Main Street next door to the Riverside Enterprise.

Riverside Optical and Jewelry survived at that location for a little more than two and a half years before Dr. Phillippi once more decided on a change. That is when, in November of 1911, he announced the sale that closed his Riverside store. Everything did not sell by Phillippi’s “Must Go by January 1st” date. A “Positive Quit Auction Sale” was held beginning on April 11, 1912, as his lease on the building terminated at the end of April. The Reynolds family remodeled the building at that time and added a second story to the structure. That structure was later demolished and replaced by the parking garage that is now on Main Street across from Riverside City Hall.

After the final auction, the couple embarked on a four-month trip to Europe. Upon returning to Riverside at the end of October 1912, he packed up his household and moved to Los Angeles, where he set up his business. However, the move did not go smoothly. The Nelson Transfer Company of Los Angeles loaded their household goods, store fixtures, and other merchandise into a truck and a trailer. They crossed the bridge over the Santa Ana River at Rincon, about four and a half miles northwest of Corona. At least they attempted to cross the bridge. The floor of the bridge gave way under the estimated 13 tons of goods, and everything tumbled down twenty feet to the riverbed. The next day, the truck was slowly sinking into the river sand. Dr. Phillippi worried mostly about his safe, which contained important papers and jewelry. Both the Nelson Moving Company and Dr. Phillippi filed claims against Riverside County for the damage caused by the bridge's failure. The county denied the claim on the basis that the truck weighed more than what the bridge was built to support.

After retirement, the couple remained in Los Angeles. Dr. Phillippi died in Los Angeles on March 8, 1953, and is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

Riverside Cycle & Sporting Goods Co Ad for October 16, 1911, from the Daily Press.

Many of our questions have been answered, but not all. Is this a photograph of the opening sale on Monday, November 6? Was this crowd gathering in the predawn hours to get in line to be the first ones in the store for the bargain prices? Why is the crowd predominately men?

Other interesting tidbits can be seen in the photograph. A Stationary-Office Supply Store is on the left. The Riverside Enterprise occupied that site but, by 1911, had moved to 560 Main. On the right side was the Riverside Cycle & Sporting Goods Co. In addition to bicycles and sporting items, they also handled Excelsior motorcycles. These questions and information are for future research and possibly another article.