I recall the first time I met Harry Winkler. It was in the late 1960s in the early days of The Wyandotte West newspaper at his Johnson County jewelry store. He was a potential advertiser.
I didn’t get a sale during our first meeting. But I did get something more important—some very savvy advice; he expected his ads to bring him paying customers. In the ensuing years when I called on advertisers, I always remembered that advice.
Harry James Winkler, 94, died on Friday, March 1. He had spent his last several years at Presbyterian Manor. Friends and family gathered at Porter Funeral Home Friday, March 8, to remember Harry.
Harry Winkler was the third generation jeweler who had a national reputation as a quintessential retailer. I learned that from Ralph Johnson, a peer jeweler who told the legend of Harry Winkler at trade shows.
“Harry was always a step and a half ahead of the market,” Ralph said. “Other jewelers would follow Harry around, noting the jewelry that he would buy. He was a trendsetter.”
Harry’s grandfather, Frank M. Winkler, was a German immigrant watchmaker who came to the United States in 1873; after working for others, he founded Winkler’s Jewelry in 1889 at age 34 at 532 Minnesota Ave.
Harry shared a legend with me concerning his grandfather’s business practices and that of his competition. It was 1915, about 26 years after Frank Winkler opened his first store, that another nearby jewelry store opened.
This new store was innovative as it offered financing; Frank Winkler continued to run a cash business. The new jeweler was Morris Helzberg. Today the Helzberg chain has more than 230 stores nationwide; Warren Buffett purchased the chain in 1995.
And it is important to note that today Winkler’s accepts major charge cards and also has financing plans.
Harry James Winkler assumed the management of the store in 1940 when his father, Harry Matthew Winkler, died. Today, Harry James Winkler’s daughter, Nancy Winkler Fortier, owns and manages Winkler’s Diamonds in the Westfield Center.
Harry gave back to his community. He was a charter member of the West Kiwanis Club and an active member of Avenue Area, the Terrace Club and other voluntary organizations. He was a graduate of the University of Kansas, Lawrence, and served in the U. S. Army during World War II.
Harry’s family has suggested that memorials gifts be contributed to Presbyterian Manor, 7850 Freeman Ave., Kansas City, Kan., 66112 or to Grace Hospice, 9233 Ward Parkway, Kansas City, Mo., 64114. That would be most fitting.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.