Time Machine

Time Machine: It started with ice cream but, after many detours, settled on bicycles

The buildlng, formerly known as the Coffits Building, at 419 Second Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids, houses the Hall Bicycle Co. It was built in 1903 as a home for the H.M. Coffits ice cream business and has housed many businesses since then. When the Coffits opened their wholesale ice cream store there, the upstairs was leased to the Woman’s Club. The Coffits family sold the building in 1941. (Photo by Jake Stigers)
The buildlng, formerly known as the Coffits Building, at 419 Second Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids, houses the Hall Bicycle Co. It was built in 1903 as a home for the H.M. Coffits ice cream business and has housed many businesses since then. When the Coffits opened their wholesale ice cream store there, the upstairs was leased to the Woman’s Club. The Coffits family sold the building in 1941. (Photo by Jake Stigers)
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The property at 419 Second Ave. SE, long known as the Coffits Building, has housed the Hall Bicycle Shop since 1976.

But before then, it held ice cream, used pianos, a cafeteria, cars, a bar, a nightclub, gaming devices and weekly dances.

H.M. “Harry” Coffits had the building built in 1903 to house his successful candy and ice cream business.

Coffits had apprenticed at R.M. Floyd’s candy factory on First Avenue in 1890, but it didn’t take long for Harry and his family to go into business for themselves.

Harry was the son of John C. and Catherine Coffit. John, an inventor and a farmer, managed the “Hicks’ old stand” ice cream store on Second Avenue after the C.W. Hicks’ Ice Cream Parlor moved to Third Avenue in 1887.

John built the business by making a good product and adding a delivery service. Harry was the candy maker, while his brother, George, and their sisters worked in the shop. Harry soon became known as a skilled confectioner and took over the store.

ICE CREAM & CATERING

By 1903, the business had become so successful that Harry built the two-story building that would bear the family’s name for almost four decades He leased the top floor, known as Coffits Hall, to the Woman’s Club.

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H.M. Coffits advertised itself as the “largest wholesale manufacturer of ice cream in Cedar Rapids,” selling novelties such as ice cream molded in the shapes of rabbits, lilies and chicks at Easter.

At the opening of the new store, Harry announced he would specialize in catering for weddings, parties and social functions. “No menu will be too elaborate for him to serve,” the store proclaimed.

The first event Harry catered in the upstairs hall was the Postal Clerks banquet on March 29, 1904.

He then began renting tables, linens, silverware, dishes, glasses, trays and other accessories to people for special occasions.

MOVE TO MINNEAPOLIS

In 1906, Edgar Brazelton, who taught in Coe College music department, and Karl Buren Stein opened the Cedar Rapids Conservatory on the building’s second floor.

That same year, Harry’s parents, John and Catherine, moved to Minneapolis.

Four years later, Harry and his wife, Lillian, decided to move their business there, but they kept the Coffits building and other properties in Cedar Rapids.

The Pythian Sisters continued meeting upstairs, joined by organizations such as Miss Putnam’s gymnastics and folk dancing classes.

In 1913, the former ice cream and candy store had been converted into a used piano salesroom operated by A.H. Niles, where customers could choose from player pianos to baby grands, a business that lasted four years.

In July 1921, a cafeteria opened in the building, with Fred Schnieder as the proprietor, with Commercial Art Engravers on the second floor, where it would remain at least into the 1930s. In 1923, Schnieder moved the cafeteria to 207 Second St. SE before selling the business.

automobile row

By June 1924, the building became part of the celebrated Automobile Row when Hudson-Essex Sales Co. moved into the former cafeteria space, presumably widening a few doors in the process.

In January 1927, George R. Craft opened Craft Motor Co., in the building.

Less than two years later, Sears, Roebuck and Co. replaced the car business with a retail and catalog store.

In 1928, a 1,220-pound safe was stolen from the Sears store early the morning of Aug. 13. The safe was found Aug. 23 on Otis Road near the North Western stone quarry by a woman hunting for wild grapes. The safe’s back and bottom had been broken into and $180 taken. An abandoned truck, found the day after the robbery, was believed to have hauled away the safe.

bars and a fire

By Sept. 8, 1934 — during the Depression and after the repeal of Prohibition — the Hi-Ho Tavern took up residence in the Coffits building, where the Hi-Ho six-piece band played for patrons trying out the new dance floor.

The City Council cut off the establishment’s beer permit in 1936 following several complaints.

When beer parlor operator Ed Hegewald wanted to open the Top Hat Tavern nightclub there in 1938, he had full approval of Public Safety Commissioner W.C. Benesh, who regarded Hegewald as a responsible owner.

The Top Hat hadn’t been open a year when a mysterious early-morning fire caused about $5,000 in damage. The presence of chemicals in the second-floor engraving shop caused firemen to turn in a second alarm.

The fire gutted the front of the tavern, destroying the bar and its supplies. Investigators said all wiring was still intact and lights still worked. There was no evident reason for the blaze. Hegewald said he intended to repair the damage and reopen the business.

Commercial Art Engravers upstairs carried on as usual with no damage.

sale of building

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Harry Coffits died in September 1939, and his wife sold the Coffits building to B.B. Russell of Russell’s Velvet Ice Cream Co. in the spring of 1941.

After the Top Hat closed, Paul’s nightspot and tap room welcomed dancers in 1947.

The next year, in 1948. the CIO Local 110 Labor Center took over, adding gaming devices.

Soon, an opposing union, the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers, attempted to take over the center but was blocked by the CIO. The dispute was settled in February 1950, and gaming devices were removed. That move, and persistent infighting, put the group into receivership.

The Labor Center continued as a place for union meetings and classes and, by 1955, had returned to Friday night dances.

bicycles

In 1958, Sherwin-Williams Co. opened a paint shop there and stayed for nearly 20 years.

In 1976, Bud Moscrip, the third owner of Hall Bicycle Co., bought the building and moved his bicycle shop there, where it has been ever since.

The 104-year-old building is now owned by Bud’s son, Karl. His grandson, Kyle, has managed the shop since 2013.

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