The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. This week, museum staff is telling us about Christiansen’s which was a popular spot to have ice cream and lunch. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.
William Christiansen was known as “Chris.” He and his wife Rose came to Lowell soon after the new M-21 was completed. He thought this accomplishment would make Lowell’s Main Street a good place for a soda fountain and to make and sell his own ice cream.
Chris bought Lalley’s candy store in 1928, which was two doors west of the old Post Office on the north side of the bridge. The building is now gone. The confectionery store was improved in 1934 with walnut display fixtures built down both sides of the store. The next year he opened a cone shop in the same location. This location was home to the drug store and soda fountain until his retirement.
In 1932, Chris bought and remodeled the old hotel at the corner of Main and Washington streets to make larger quantities of ice cream. Today this building is Canfield’s Plumbing and Heating. He sold his ice cream to stores in Grand Rapids and in his own store. In 1939, Chris enlarged and opened a dairy bar and frozen food lockers which customers could rent as a freezer. This was previous to home freezers. This met a large need in the community and was very popular with hunters. During World War II the dairy bar was closed. In 1943, he reopened that location as a meat market with a frozen food locker plant. Five years later the second floor was remodeled into a 16 room suite for doctor offices. B.H. Shepard M.D., Keats K. Vining Jr M.D., Thomas Hill, M. D. had practices there. When a shot was given, the child received a coupon for a free ice cream cone from Christiansen’s. In 1954, an addition was put on the building and Christiansen opened Lowell’s first supermarket. He sold to L. V. Eberhard in 1957.
Chris and Rose raised their four children in Lowell, and Rose died in 1961. In 1962, Chris retired and sold the drug store and soda fountain to Dean Manigold and Mitchell Wieczorek. They kept the ‘Christiansen’ name until 1968 when Chuck Lippert purchased the store. Chris married Ruby Eickhoff in 1962. She was the daughter of Martin and Lena Eickhoff from the Fallasburg area.
Chris died in 1967. He had made a profitable and memorable business in Lowell. He loved Lowell and had served his community in many ways. He served on the City Council for 21 years and took the lead in decorating the Showboat for most of its history. The idea of the Showboat was born around a table in his store. Chris had served in the Army in 1918 and served in the Lowell American Legion Post. He was the Post Commander during the mid-1940’s. He even put his own money into completing the American Legion Building.
Christiansen’s was a place for everyone. You could purchase a 5 cent pack of gum and collect the baseball cards that came with it, slurp a cherry phosphate, enjoy ice cream malts with a friend or eat a burger for lunch. Town students would stop in every day after school. Others would sneak to Chris’ for lunch. The lunch tables were favorite gathering places for businessmen, many of them daily regulars. Housewives would come to the store for household necessities and medicines and socialize with friends. Chris’ was the center of Lowell’s social life.
One local resident smiles when recounting being able to help make the ‘paddle pops’. First they would slice the ice cream, insert the stick, dip the slices in hot chocolate, hang them up to cool, and then wrap in wax paper. Yum! Another remembers sitting at Chris’ with his friends, listening to the radio as numbers were chosen for the Vietnam War draft lottery. The fear and panic of that time doesn’t dampen the happy memories created and the deep love inspired by a visit to Chris’. Is it any wonder that the name ‘Christiansens’ is still fondly remembered today?