Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Main Street Stories: Oliver P. Gibbs Block

Oliver P. Gibbs, who broke ground for the business block located at 431-433 S. Main in September 1919 and opened it to tenants in early 1920, was well-known in Rochester not for his business activities, but for his political ones. Gibbs served as Supervisor of Avon Township from 1927 to 1952, and also served two terms as chairman of the Oakland County Board of Supervisors. He led the township during a time of spectacular growth and development, when the first planning and zoning efforts were made for what would eventually become the city of Rochester Hills.

One of the first tenants in Gibbs' new building was Mac's Furnishings, a menswear store at 431 S. Main. At 433 S. Main, the Cole Brothers Sugar Bowl, an ice cream and confectionery shop, held its grand opening on April 16, 1921. The Rochester Era described the Sugar Bowl as “elegant,” and having an all-white interior with booths lining both walls. No doubt the business benefited nicely from the patronage of moviegoers at the Idle Hour Theatre directly next door.

Longtime Rochester residents, however, will most associate the Gibbs block with paying their gas bills or getting shoes fitted. In 1926, Consumers Power Company began laying gas mains and providing natural gas service to customers in Rochester, so the utility took a long-term lease on 431 S. Main and opened a local office that would serve the community for the next half century. In February 1930, A.F. Zimmerman and his son, Earl, moved their shoe store up the block to the 433 address, replacing the Sugar Bowl in the north half of the building. For more than fifty years to follow, a shoe store would occupy the space, as Jack Burr's bootery followed Zimmerman's in the same location.

Consumers Power closed its Rochester office in late 1972, and Burr's Bootery closed a decade later, after expanding into the former gas company space. In recent years, a variety of businesses have come and gone, including Ballen Supply at 431, and Record Time and Brooklyn Pizza at 433. Currently, Flair Boutique is located at 431 S. Main; 433 S. Main is vacant and is slated to be the new home of the Silk Worm.

The Gibbs block celebrates its 90th birthday this year.

Photo: The Oliver P. Gibbs block at 431-433 S. Main as it appeared in the 1940s when it was occupied by Consumers Power and Zimmerman shoes.

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