Lana Heitmanek’s grandparents raised nine children in an apartment above 231 S. Washington St., where BK Jewelers is today. Her grandmother always wanted a house, but her grandfather preferred to be close to his store, Beidleman Furniture, located conveniently beneath their home.
Then the house across the street became available.
“That was the perfect house,” said Heitmanek of the home built in 1854 for blacksmith Daniel Strubler.
“My grandfather, Oliver Beidleman, always wanted to keep an eye on the store, and he could literally look at his property from there. That made him happy. He’d looked at houses on the east side of town, but he wouldn’t venture from the store.”
Heitmanek thinks of her grandparents often, particularly when she gets her hair done at Amber Waves salon, in the addition behind the yellow Strubler house, 232 S. Washington St.
“I always say, ‘We’re sitting in my grandfather’s backyard,’” Heitmanek said. “My brother lived with my grandparents for a while in a little room on the top floor. The little window that went into his bedroom is still there.”
After the Beidlemans sold the house, it became a retail establishment. It remains one of only a few original houses downtown.
Architect Charles Vincent George rented an upstairs office in the house in 1963.
“I was working in Wheaton at the time and doing some work for Harold Moser in Naperville,” George said. “I rented the second floor of the building, which was just the original house at the time. Then the owner offered to sell it to me.
“I don’t remember what I paid for it, but it wasn’t much — $39,000 or maybe $79,000, but I remember my dad said I overpaid.”
He decided to construct an addition to the south side of the building in 1978. When the city built a parking garage on the site of the former Netzley Chrysler used car lot, George built the east addition in the back. He sold the complex in 1989 for many times what he bought it for, he said, and his father told him he “got too much” for it.
“We were happy on the second floor. I liked that building, it had such a nice historic nature to it,” George said. “The building continues to add a lot of character to the city.”
Beneath his office, the main retail space was home to Fabric Inn, owned by Bev Patterson Frier.
“It was a fabric store specializing in finer materials such as imported fabrics and ultra suede,” Frier said. “At that time, many women — including me — made a lot of our own clothes, and we didn’t have a fabric store in town. A lady I knew told me if I put up the money, she’d manage it. It was the nicest fabric store — very classy. She fell in love, though, and left me, so I sold it.”
The storefront was empty when Lorraine Olsen noticed it in 1975. The former “rag business” model who always liked clothes wanted to open her own apparel shop. She and her husband, Jerry, had some work to do to spiff it up.
“I had no business renting that place; it was so old and dilapidated,” Olsen said. “It looked like it was ready to fall down.”
Customers came from all over the area to shop at Chez Lorraine.
“I had wonderful help and super wonderful customers. They just kept coming back, so I guess I had what they wanted!”
Olsen, 89, closed the shop after 20 years when Jerry was ill. She still misses it.
“I had some nice letters when I closed, and even now when I shop at the Jewel, someone comes up and said, ‘Hi, Lorraine!’ It’s a good feeling.”
A few years before Chez Lorraine closed, Chuck and Bonnie Berk bought the building from George in 1989. At the time, many downtown Naperville shops were open Saturdays, but closed Wednesday afternoons.
“People weren’t accustomed to having stores open seven days a week,” Chuck said.
Bonnie remembers the day she leased the former Chez Lorraine space to a combination travel agent/ticket broker.
“We’d had a very bad storm and the huge oak tree in front of the building, one of the oldest trees in Naperville, was knocked over by the storm. We had to have it cut down,” Bonnie said. “I was walking out with the new tenant when the verdict from the OJ Simpson jury came in (October 1995).”
The Berks left the stump in the courtyard purposely and made it into a bench because the couple thought residents might be interested in knowing it had been there.
Just about a year later, Debbie Hennen opened Deborah Jean Apparel in the 400-square-foot space above Cranberry Moose. When space became available in the main house on the ground level, she moved downstairs.
“I’d never been in the clothing business before, but it was a lifelong dream. I started small, since it was the only space available, and then I jumped downstairs and built it up.”
Hennen knew the house was historic, but not much more about it. Then one busy Saturday, a young couple came into the shop.
“The gentleman rushed right up to me and said, ‘This is the house my grandmother lived in!’ Then he went one step further and showed me exactly where she died,” pointing to a spot in front of a dressing room, Hennen said. “I could have gone without that!”
He told Hennen her back room was the original kitchen, her front room had been the parlor, the living room still had the original fireplace and the dressing room area was the bedroom … where Grandma Strubler died.
“I’ll never forget that, I could have fallen over. I never told the sales people or the clients until I closed. When someone comes out of the dressing room happy with their new look, I’m not going to say, ‘This is where Mrs. Strubler passed away!’”
After 11 years in business, Hennen decided it was time to move on.
“A lot of the independents were pulling out. The shoppers were saying, ‘All the little shops are disappearing.’ I had someone come in and fall in love with the space, wanting to lease it, so I said, I’m in. I’d had my dream and things were changing, so it was time to try something different.”
Another in this line of first-time shop owners at Strubler House now owns the store that has occupied the space since August 2012. When Mark Norkaitis first saw the building, it was as perfect for him as it once was for Oliver Beidleman.
“I sell vintage and new home decor and everyday accessories and clothing, so I loved the inside of it — it’s already set up like a house with the rooms and the old architecture,” said Norkaitis, who also uses the front yard of the house for seasonal displays.
Though previous shop owners noted their concern with the way downtown has changed over the years, the “feel” of the business district is just what Norkaitis was looking for.
“It’s a mini-Chicago, always busy, with things going on and with the historic buildings.”
Norkaitis’ eclectic Room 363 does seem well suited for the Strublers’ old house. Even the name he chose fits with its history.
“That was my grandmother’s house address, and she’s the one who raised me, so that was my first home.”
A grandmother’s house and first shop — 363 fits right in at 232.
Joni Hirsch Blackman is a journalist and author of “Downtown Naperville.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.