Herman Ginsberg’s journey as a person, a business owner and a professional in the jewelry industry is evidenced by his ability to carry on and contribute to his family’s business and to his fellow jewelers in Iowa and the Midwest for the last 68 years. His solid character and longevity compel his induction in the Iowa Jewelers Association’s 2016 Society of Fellows for making a significant impact on the jewelry industry in Iowa.
Herman Ginsberg graduated from the State University of Iowa on a rainy Saturday morning in June 1948. The family store, Ginsberg’s Jewel Box, was left to one employee on this particular day. After the ceremony, Herman, his parents and an aunt drove back the 30 miles to Cedar Rapids and found that the store was locked, all lights on and a note inside, "I Quit." So Herman started working right then in the store, and he has never left.
Born in 1926, the oldest of three sons who would all go into the business as the 3rd generation of jewelers, Herman became the decision maker of the business and architect of its progression into the next half of the 20th Century. Herman’s grandfather Charles Ginsberg, the progenitor of the family firm, advanced from immigrant peddler from Russia to opening a storefront pawn & jewelry business in Leavenworth, KS in the first decade of the century. Charles’ first born Isadore continued the business in Sedalia, MO during its heyday as one of the busiest crossroads of railway activity during the 1920’s. On a recommendation from a traveling salesman, Isadore visited Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1933 to look over merchandise for sale at Rozen’s Pawnshop. Isadore, or Izzy as he was known, was well prepared and brought with him a letter of credit. Rather than just the merchandise, he bought the entire business, which became Ginsberg’s Jewelry & Loan. Izzy moved his wife and three sons up to Cedar Rapids.
In 1952, Herman and his brother Louis conceived the idea of an addition to the business by starting H & L Stanley Co, a wholesale diamond wedding & engagement ring business using a long associated diamond supplier in New York and various ring manufacturers for the blanks. H & L Stanley Co. (HLS) stood for Herman, Louis and Stanley, the three brothers of the 3rd generation. Stanley was serving in the Korea War at the time. Herman & Lou would sell to jewelry stores in small Iowa towns thinking stores in bigger towns were too sophisticated to buy from this start-up wholesaler. Lou called on jewelry stores in Iowa and north. Herman traveled Missouri, Kansas & south. They alternated weeks on the road and every night would call home collect and ask for “apartment #_”, using a number that indicated the $-dollar amount of sales they did that day. After that number was received, the collect call was refused by saying "no one in that apartment.” Later, Herman and Lou expanded their travels to Nebraska, the Dakotas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. As the brothers married and started families in the late 1950’s, they stopped traveling and H & L Stanley Co. was disbanded as a wholesale jewelry business. To this day, an occasional elderly customer will come in for a ring cleaning and we’ll notice the “HLS” stamp in the shank.
In the early 1960’s, Herman negotiated with a Chicago-based real estate developer to lease the jewelry department in a new discount store to come to Cedar Rapids called Spartans. Herman and his two brothers would rotate every week working at Spartans till 9 or 10pm after closing the downtown store for the day’s business. This continued until 1969 when Spartans discontinued the lease. About that same time a new enclosed shopping center was developed in Iowa City, and a lease was negotiated with the Sycamore Mall to expand to a 2nd Ginsberg’s Jewelers. By 1978, this expansion of the business included South Ridge Mall in Des Moines, Valley West Mall in West Des Moines, and Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids. One of the accomplishments of this five-store chain was to always have a Ginsberg owner present in all of the stores at some point during the business day. To achieve these logistics, Herman learned to fly a single engine propeller plane to lessen the travel time between Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Des Moines. This lasted several years until Herman’s brother Lou moved to Iowa City and youngest brother Stanley moved to Des Moines, which not only continued to ensure a Ginsberg in each store more consistently and economically, but also ensured a committed involvement of the business in each of those communities.
In 1984 the five store chain disjoined into three separate entities with the death of Lou Ginsberg. Lou’s oldest son Mark acquired ownership of the Iowa City store, Stanley in Des Moines, and Herman retained the flagship store in downtown Cedar Rapids.
The floods of 2008 were probably the single most devastating interruption of the business in the history of Ginsberg Jewelers. Throughout the aftermath, the four months without a storefront, and the years ahead with added debt to rebuild the business, Herman was forward thinking about the store’s future and his role in it. Fast forward to present day, and the year 2016 is proven to be no different than that rainy day in 1948, as Herman’s involvement in the business and engagement with customers carries the same 100-percent level of responsibility, commitment, drive, and passion.