April 17, 2024

Memories to last a lifetime

Jane Ahnen of Greenfield owned the Jewel Box for decades and recalls many excellent memories with customers.

For over a half century, Jane Ahnen of Greenfield not only brought joy to peoples’ lives through the jewelry world in her store The Jewel Box, she was also a pioneering woman in local business.

Ahnen said in a recent conversation with friends Catherine Olesen, Linda Sidey and the newspaper editor, that one of the busiest times of the year was Valentine’s Day. The other was Christmas.

As Valentine’s Day comes around in 2024, Ahnen isn’t in business helping customers anymore. She closed up shop last year. The memories of customers she worked with through the years are a Valentine’s Day or Christmas gift that is good enough to last a lifetime, she said.

“One day, I knew that was the day,” said Ahnen about retirement. “There’s never a good time.

“Could I ask for anything better? No,” she added.

Ahnen first worked at Bob and Ellen’s — another local jewelry store owned by Bob Ablett —located on the south side of the square where Long’s Market now resides. Fresh out of high school, she began working there with her mother, Nadine.

Nadine soon would own the store because Bob, who was a watchmaker, developed crippling arthritis that tedious work hard to perform. Later, Jane took ownership of the shop. By then, it was known as The Jewel Box.

In the old store, Ahnen not only carried jewelry, she carried custom dishes that brides-to-be would put on a bridal registry. There was also crystal bowls, silverware and baby gifts as part of her offerings.

Ahnen learned to engrave, and many of the gifts sold at The Jewel Box would feature the work of her steady, skilled hands. She was also highly sought after by the local school for work on trophies, which she engraved after receiving them from a Minneapolis-based supplier. Class rings were also sold by The Jewel Box.

There are many customers who Ablett would joke with, telling them their item wasn’t ready yet, even if it was. Similarly, Ahnen enjoyed carrying on relationships with many a customer. The people were Ahnen’s favorite part about running The Jewel Box, after all. People would come from as far as Missouri to shop here.

She remembers Christmas being what she called “scared man time.”

“Men would never start [shopping] early,” Ahnen said. “I would stay late on Christmas Eve. There were certain guys — and, I can tell you some of their names — who would wait until the very last minute, so I had to be there.”

Back in those days, local folks didn’t travel out of town to shop as willingly as they do today. There also was no such thing as shopping online. Greenfield’s population swelled to over 2,200 in the 1960s and 70s, and there were many more farms then than there are today, leading to many more people, in general.

The Jewel Box transitioned from its former location and into its most recent location on the west side of the square in the summer of 2001. Ahnen thought moving “would be fun.”

Built in 1898, the store would now call the Littleton Building home. It was once home to First National Bank, previously known as Citizen’s Bank. The bank eventually fell victim to the economic upheaval of the Great Depression, the Adair County Free Press reported in 1928.

Through the years leading up to it being The Jewel Box, the building housed a law office, a drug store, was home to the Adair County Farm Bureau, housed a flower shop, a women’s clothing store and a western wear store.

The front of the building still features three fan-shaped copper insets that are similar to characteristics of the Warren Cultural Center, which was greatly refurbished in 2012. For that reason, the two buildings have been called “sister buildings.”

In the new store, Ahnen had a lot more space to work with. She sold many of the same items as she did in the previous storefront, however she was able to add new artwork from different companies as the opportunity presented itself.

Ahnen obtained new-to-her display cases for the new store that expanded her horizons for displaying merchandise.

The upstairs was a space Ahnen renovated into a guest room space, which she has won Main Street Iowa accolades for.

The store features a walk-in vault original to the building. Young students visiting on field trips from from area schools reliably found that to be a popular attraction.

Through the years, Ahnen was a pioneering woman in business. She joined the Greenfield Service Club at a time when it had been exclusively men. As part of being in the Greenfield Service Club, Ahnen was asked to help at the annual Pancake Day.

“I would walk around and talk to people,” Ahnen said. “Lord knows, I can blab.”

Ahnen was famous for always being a good listener. Customers would often stop in and share things with her, needing someone to listen.

“I gave doctor business to so many people. They’d come in, sit down, and they’re having problems with their wife, their husband, or whatever it was. They were worried about a kid who was sick. I know nothing about kids, marriage or anything,” Ahnen said. “I would just shake my head and sit there and listen. A lot of times they just needed to talk and know it wasn’t going to go any farther.”

Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson has served as News Editor of the Adair County Free Press and Fontanelle Observer since Oct. 2017. He and his wife Kilee live in Greenfield. In Greenfield and the greater Adair County area, he values the opportunity to tell peoples' stories, enjoys playing guitar, following all levels of sports, and being a part of his local church.