BY ELISABETH ANDREWS
When Ed Williams moved to Bloomington in 1911, he almost certainly expected to stay a while. His family had lived in North Vernon, Indiana, until the year before, when an experiment in Florida living apparently proved unsuccessful. Returning to his Hoosier roots, Williams set up a jewelry shop on Bloomington’s downtown Square, where horses and buggies shared the roads with the earliest of automobiles.
Even Williams may have been surprised, though, to find that more than 100 years later the shop is still going strong. Williams Jewelry is the oldest surviving business on the Square, and possibly in town. Though its mix of inventory has shifted over the years—the original store sold musical instruments in addition to jewelry—its role in Bloomington life has remained consistent since the presidency of William Howard Taft.
Williams Jewelry first opened at 115 N. College, and moved to its present location at 114 N. Walnut in 1925. The shop survived the Great Depression, but Williams’ son and manager Clyde did not. His 1934 obituary in the Bloomington Evening World noted that the young man “worked assiduously to offset the effects of the business depression. It was hard work which led to the breakdown” of his health.
After the elder Williams passed away some 15 years later, his widow sold the shop in 1953 to Don Thoma, a fourth-generation jeweler from Ohio. “The Williams name had an impeccable reputation, so he chose not to change it,” recalls Mark Thoma, Don’s son and the store’s current owner, who was 5 years old at the time.
Having grown up in the shop, Mark says, “I don’t know that I ever thought about doing much else.” He worked part time for his father during high school and college, and took over the operation in the 1970s. When it came time to remodel the store in 1980, he faced a tough decision.
“Downtown was not in too good of shape at the time,” he recalls. “I gave serious consideration to moving the store. But then the county stepped in and remodeled the courthouse, and I decided I wanted to do my part to keep downtown healthy.”
Thoma is glad he made the decision to stay, as he now has customers whose grandparents shopped at the very same location. “We’ve weathered recessions, good times, and difficult times,” he says. “Bloomington’s been good to us.”