Fine Things is located on the west side of Main Street, near Ninth. Its name aptly describes the merchandise it offers but for 100 years it had an entirely different, although not altogether accurate, name: The Book Store.

It is, in fact, Rochester's second oldest continuous business in the same location, surpassed only by the 145-year-old drug store further north that is Webb's. Fine Things, nee The Book Store, has been serving local folks from 826 Main St. for 108 years.

Present owners are Rob and Mary Ellen Lowe, who bought the business in 1996 and a year later changed the name, thereby ending The Book Store title that previous proprietors had zealously retained for exactly 100 years.

The store opened on Feb. 8, 1897, in the south half of what then was known as the Long Building. Elwood Stanton and his son-in-law, Frank Sterner, were the owners. They chose the name because without a public library people at that time had to look elsewhere for books and that seemed a good service for their store to feature.

Here's how the store's opening advertisement described its stock of goods: "A complete line of books, stationery, school supplies, fine china, glass and Queensware, baby carriages, etc." The store's founders operated it for six years, selling in 1903 to Robert Rannells, who stayed another four.

Following Rannells in 1907 was George T. Ross, who with wife Blanche was The Book Store's most enduring owner - for 37 years. Ross firmly established The Book Store as a Main Street fixture by a remarkable expansion of its services. By the early 1930s, here's what you could find there according to the late George Dague, an employee while a high school student:

Books on a lending basis only; daily editions of Chicago and Indianapolis newspapers (with home delivery), gifts of all kinds including Rosemont pottery, stationery, office and school supplies, school books, the new Hallmark line of greeting cards, sheet music with an upright piano for buyers to play it on, cabinet models of radios and repair of same, picture framing, fishing tackle, golf clubs, Evinrude outboard motors, fireworks and a huge assortment of wallpaper occupying a third of the floor space.

Ross retired from the business in 1944, selling to Everett (Eb) Lichtenwalter. Eb also owned the Manitou Package Liquor store, so he employed his brother, Alden, and Alden's wife, Alma, to manage The Book Store. Everett died in 1965 and four years later Alden and Alma bought the store from Eb's widow, Mrs. Elizabeth (Lib) Shank.

After Alden died in 1972, Alma was owner and operator until her death in 1978 when Alma's second husband, Tom White, inherited the store.

The following year, 1979, White sold to Jackie Burkett and friend Kathy Treglia. Shortly afterward, Treglia's husband, Gene, was transferred from his local job so Jackie took over with help from husband Don.

The Burketts remained 17 years, during which time they expanded and improved the store's merchandise, increased office supplies and made it into a center for collectibles, such as the Bradford Exchange, exotic statues and Indian artifacts. Don opened an upstairs art gallery displaying originals and prints and there conducted a busy framing service.

The Lowes came along in 1996 and by the next year Mary Ellen decided that the store should have a name that would more accurately describe its wares; hence, Fine Things.

She now strives to re-invent its image from that of a generic gift shop into the concept of many stores in one, the better to attract today's discriminating, elusive shopper. The range of products seems to support that claim.

They have moved the art gallery and custom framing from upstairs into an adjoining space under Rob's direction. In the store there is a large assortment of gifts for special occasions, a baby and children's gift room, numerous useful items for the home, wedding invitations and accessories, office supplies and office furniture.

Both Rob and Mary Ellen are Rochester natives who contribute to their city's welfare in ways other than commercial. Rob is a four-term city councilman and Mary Ellen for 11 years has provided distinguished leadership for the Round Barn Festival that has kept the city's premier summer event thriving.

Published June 14, 2005