The Savings Bank Store’s Toyland thrills area residents
By Kris Leonhardt
Upon purchasing The Savings Bank Store from partners Cook & Cardinal, Robert Gerth gained a thriving variety store in the center of a growing town. The business drew customers from both city and country, and the experienced Oshkosh businessman saw no need to change its popular moniker before taking his place behind the counter in the spring of 1902.
From his spot at 314 S. Central Ave., Gerth soon realized the competition that surrounded him on Marshfield’s city streets. The Rose Brothers, the Miller Brothers, P.J. Kraus, and a wealth of various businesses all vied for the meager earnings of the pioneers being welcomed to the city.
Determined and innovative, Gerth began to build his brand. Promising quality at a reasonable price, Gerth ran his business under a policy promising “your money’s worth or your money back.”
In addition, Gerth created and advertised sales of any — and every — kind to draw in customers. His most popular event was the opening of “Toyland” on the second floor of the store. With Santa present, Gerth opened the door to his store each year to the awe and amazement of local children.
In December of 1908, Gerth promised the most spectacular event of Toyland’s history. As children went up to the second floor, they were met with a plethora of toys, games, musical instruments, and just about every ornament or bauble a child could imagine. With thousands of children’s items lining the walls and floors of the store, the youngsters must have thought they had stepped right into a dream world.
Seated at the throne of honor was Kris Kringle, making his yearly visit. As the children stood in anticipation, waiting to have a word with the jolly man himself, the parents and grandparents escorting them were entertained by the store as well.
The Savings Bank Store became a popular name within central Wisconsin as word spread about the marvelous event held there. However, a call from the state’s commissioner of banking in 1910 would change all of that.
Citing a change in banking laws prohibiting a business to use the work “bank” or the phrase “savings bank” in connection with any business other than banking, Gerth was forced to change his trade name, one he had worked so tirelessly to build.
Changing the store’s name to The Fair, Gerth continued to run the store for a short time before selling it to a man named Dave Kirkwood and returning to Oshkosh.