By Tim Ashley
Before the proliferation of big box department stores, eBay and other internet venues, it was still much more likely only a few stores would have a wide selection of gift items. One example was the Country Corner Gift Shop at 719 S. Huntington St., Syracuse, in The Village.
“We sold a little bit of everything,” said Kim Elstrod, the son of Fred and Emily Elstrod, the couple who opened the store in about 1953 (county property records show the building was built in 1951).
A little bit of everything included glassware, baskets, dish sets, moccasins, Christmas gifts and much more — “high line gifts,” Kim noted. Ann Garceau especially remembers the Christmas ornaments and said “their Christmas room was a fairyland for me as a child,” adding she still has Currier and Ives Christmas ornaments kept in their Country Corner boxes.
Elstrod, who worked at the gift shop for his parents while in high school before graduating in 1973, said it was common for customers to come from as far away as Michigan or Indianapolis. “We had a theme that we were Hoosierland’s most unusual gift shop,” he said. “Back then, not everyone was in the gift business.”
Country Corner was open year round, but Elstrod recalled the summer months were easily the busiest. He said his father advertised extensively and especially used billboards. He would rent the space from farmers and place the billboards along main roads.
“Those (billboards) were painted and not the paper ones,” he said, meaning they would last significantly longer.
Sometime in the 1960s Fred had a cabin moved from among a set of tourist cabins by the Elkhart River near Benton in Elkhart County along US 33. It was later used to sell moccasins and other items from during the summer months because it had electricity, but no heat available.
Kim said the cabin was torn down last year and he had heard the logs were supposed to be saved, but he is not sure what the fate of the cabin was.
Country Corner was also known for its various rooms, such as a Christmas room, a country room, a basket room and others. Fred Olds, an artist from Warsaw, painted the murals in each of the rooms to create a desired theme.
The gift shop was next door to a very popular restaurant, Foo & Faye’s, and many of the restaurant’s patrons would walk over to the gift shop after eating to look around.
The Elstrods sold Country Corner in the 1980s to Bob and Jennifer Seward, who operated it until they sold it in 1996. Kim said it was sold first to Pizza Hut, then to Pizza King. Pizza King is still located inside the building, which was extensively remodeled on the inside.
Eventually the retail world changed and “you started seeing the stuff we sold at other places,” Kim said. “Selective gifts went by the wayside,” and now, especially with the internet, gifts are easier to find.
NOTES: Next I will write about the former Rinker’s Department Store in downtown North Webster. If you have any information on this store, please don’t hesitate to contact me at (574) 658-4111, extension 2306, or email email@example.com.