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Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v07n10)
Charles Mayer & Company - 56th & Illinois - By Mario Morone
by Mario Morone
posted: May 14, 2010

Charles Mayer & Company's home furnishings, decorative accessories and distinctive gifts like crystal, silver & china promote the look of casual elegance in an English countryside lifestyle. Located at 5629 North Illinois Street in the Meridian-Kessler/Butler-Tarkington area, the chic store has a fashion forward edge. They are well known for their full-service wedding gift registry that caters to brides, grooms and their families. Long-time Indianapolis residents may recall shopping at the original store's downtown location that was known for fine gifts that were purchased around the world.

Charles Mayer & Company - 56th & Illinois - By Mario Morone
Quan


Charles Mayer (pronounced "Myer") immigrated to Indiana from Germany at the age of 19. His store opened in 1840 at 29/31 West Washington Street that eventually grew into a five-story building with toys, gifts, a wide variety of antiques, crystal, jewelry, linen, silver and home furnishings. The legendary retailer operated there until 1954 when its inventory was sold to L.S. Ayres and the building was razed in 1959.
"The store carried a wide range of merchandise from hobby horses to Chinese urns. Every piece was handpicked for its exceptional craftsmanship and uncommon appeal. Each floor was a study in organized clutter; each corner held the promise of undiscovered treasures. Charles Mayer and his buyer, Albert Zoeller, traveled Europe courting vendors and bringing their riches home for the benefit of their customers, many of whom were family and friends. It was not unusual to receive a call from Charlie Mayer saying that he found a silver platter that might be the perfect gift for an upcoming anniversary," explained Claudia Ryan.

Charles Mayer & Company owner Claudia Ryan, sells Hungarian made Herend china in her store.
Charles Mayer & Company - 56th & Illinois - By Mario Morone
image courtesy of Mario Morone
Quan


A former L.S. Ayres fashion merchandising executive, Ms. Ryan decided to revive the store with her husband Tim, who is the maternal great-great grandson of Charles Mayer and a partner in the law firm Hackman Hulett & Cracraft, LLP.
"Charles Mayer & Company developed a personality that transcended the merchandise offering. It was regarded as a friendly, intriguing and inviting store. The creaking wood floors, the elegant elevator, the smell of antique furniture and the sparkle of crystal evoked child-like wonder. While selling expensive gifts, it enjoyed the reputation of being a fine store that offered unique merchandise at all prices. This approach to retail succeeded for over 100 years, surviving world wars, the great depression, numerous fads and trends," she mentioned.
"In 1954, when the store closed its doors, an Indianapolis News headline read 'Charles Mayer Store Sale Like a Death in the Family.' While there will never be another store like the old Charles Mayer & Company, the fundamental retail equation that made the store successful has not changed: know your customer, sell quality merchandise and make shopping a pleasure," Ms. Ryan noted.
"The original store passed through three generations of the Mayer family, but was not sold because there were no male heirs to carry on the business, so the decision was made in 1954 to close it. It was the kind of store where you treated your customers like friends in the family. You welcomed them in and there was a real warmth about it. That is one of the most important aspects of the business that we wanted to bring back - that warmth and high level of customer service. We also wanted to reestablish a name that was part of the city's heritage. The new store offers a high level of quality and value with prices that range from low to high, but always a great deal of value for the price along with the Charles Mayer name and packaging," she added.
Ms. Ryan met her husband at Rollins College. After they married, they lived in the Schnull-Rauch house located at 3050 North Meridian Street that was originally owned and built by Charles Mayer III's daughter, Matilda Mayer Schnull and Henry Schnull. There was a beautiful mirror over the drawing room fireplace that came from Charlie Mayer's home.
As the Ryans conducted research of Indianapolis' history, they created a business plan and were able to design a new version of the store that opened in December of 1992. Their hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Charles Mayer & Company - 56th & Illinois - By Mario Morone
image courtesy of Mario Morone
Quan


In opening the new store, Ms. Ryan brought back some of its original fine brands, such as Herend china from Hungary. They also carry William Yeoward English crystal, Ginori china and Match pewter from Italy. In addition, they specialize in many French lines, such as L'Objet accessories and frames, Christofle silver, Saint Louis crystal, Gien faience and hand-blown glass by Simon Pierce, made in America.
Searching the retail landscape for a location, "We looked at places like 86th and Ditch Road and around Keystone at the Crossing and even a mile east of there. We also looked in Zionsville. When the space was available in the Meridian-Kessler/Butler-Tarkington area, we choose that location due to its proximity to other owner-operated businesses who also believed in customer service. We always believed there was a need for it," she explained.
Mayer & Co will kick off a unique event featuring merchandise "Made in Italy." Starting June 10, Italian designer Ubaldo Grazia will display and sell his family's pottery and his painter will demonstrate the art of hand painting the pottery. Grazia visits the U.S. annually to promote products bearing his forefather's name. His family has been internationally known for producing top quality Majolica (fine clay) products for over 500 years in Deruta, Italy. A new Grazia china pattern, Folgie Frutta Mirtilli (blueberry fruit leaves), will soon be available at Charles Mayer.
Approximately 90 percent of Grazia's products are exported to America. Their largest clients include Neiman Marcus, Tiffany and Williams Sonoma, but also include specialty stores like Charles Mayer. This summer Mayer will hold an event that will include a grilling class with meat from Kincaid's.
Ms. Ryan is the daughter of a Navy Admiral and grew up around the world, traveling extensively throughout the Far East and Europe. Her exposure to different cultures and people has provided her a unique perspective as a retailing executive and business proprietor in helping locate a unique mix of merchandise worldwide, reminiscent of Charles Mayer's legacy.


mario@broadripplegazette.com
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