Owner of several businesses from barbershop,
movie house, restaurant and billiards hall
When listing Main Street business owners, the name Sam Stepleton today is not a household name, but during the first half of the 20th century, he was one of the most active business owners in Bluffton. Here’s two stories about Stepleton. The first from a 1952 Bluffton News. The second from a 1955 News, announcing his retirement.
Sam Stepleton, who has been in business continuously for 52 years is Bluffton’s oldest business man in point of service, it was disclosed in a survey made by this column.
It was in 1900 – at the turn of the century – when Sam who previously had been employed at the Buckeye Stone quarry decided to get into business for himself and purchased a half-interest in Roy David’s barbershop above what is now Rice’s dry goods store (101 N. Main St).
Later he went into the restaurant business and in 1912 opened the Star theatre, predecessor of the present Carma (today’s Shannon Theatre).
Admission in those days was a nickel, except on Wednesday and Saturday nights when theatre-goers paid a dime.
Stepleton later sold the show to the Dickensheets interest of Lima who afterward disposed of it to Irvin Long. He in turn sold it to the late A.T. “Pude” Worthington who ran it for many years.
1955 Bluffton News retirement story – Sam Stepleton racked up the balls on his two pool tables and put away the cues at this recreation hall for the last time this week.
After 35 years in his Main Street billiard hall and 55 years altogether as a Bluffton businessman, Sam has sold out to a younger man, Charles Swank.
His retirement at 77 will remove from the Main Street scene, Bluffton’s oldest businessman.
Although druggist Edgar Hauenstein is his closest rival, Sam remembers when he was operating his own Hotel Barber Shop (second floor of 101 N. Main St.) and Edgar was working for his father in the drug store (today’s Twisted Whisk).
Sam’s shop was located on the second floor of the Zanna Staater building at Main and Church.
A farm boy from Paulding County, Stepleton came to Bluffton with his parents and worked at first in the stone quarry.
With $300 of borrowed capital he purchased an interest in the Hotel Barber Shop although he had never cut a head of hair in his life.
“I practiced on some of the customers who were not too particular,” Sam recalls with a smile.
During the oil boom days of the early 1900s, Mr. Stepleton left barbering to operate a restaurant with Mrs. Stepleton. It was located in a frame building where C.F. Niswander & Son now have the farm implement shop (now part of the Citizens National Bank building, directly across Main from Roots by Stratton’s).
From then on, Sam was in and out of several businesses, all connected in some way with entertainment and recreation.
He operated a billiard hall – the first in town – for a time in the “Andy Owens Room” where Marshall and Bixel are now located (Bluffton Foot and Ankle, 148 N. Main St). When he sold out there, he went into the theater business, operating the Star Theatre, a nickelodeon featuring the pictures of Mary Pickford and William S. Hart.
Stepleton’s Star Theatre brought to Bluffton the first individual opera-type stats for the local cinema crowd, and soon rendered obsolete his competitor’s old-fashioned bench arrangements.
At the same time that he was operating the movie house Mr. Stepleton was “busy running two bowling alleys at the rear of the Pine hotel. (Reichenbach and Steiner CPA).”
He later sold the theatre to a Lima man, who, in turn sold out to Arthur Worthington.
In 1920 Mr. Stepleton acquired the building he most recently occupied (building no longer standing, the location is Kira’s Flipside, 133 N. Main St.). The purchase was made from the Niswander Brothers. After repeal of prohibition, Sam’s place became one of three in town offering 3.2 beer. His license is presently being transferred to the new owners.
Mr. Swank who is now remodeling and making a few changes in the room, will re-open shortly.
As for Sam, he hopes to have a little more time this summer to follow his favorite pastime – fishing in the local quarry lakes.
Denver Augsburger (left), later became a partner in the business after Stepleton's retirement. His partnership was first Charlie and Demps, and later Demps and Stoney's. Sam Stepleton, in his typical suspenders and bow tie, stands on the right.
The inset is a Sam's Lunch coin.
An earlier business owned by Stepleton.