Business & Professional
Food and the places where you find nourishment bring people together. For more than 100 years, the Bechstein name has played a vital role in strengthening families and sustaining the community. The grandson of German immigrants who came to Huntington thanks to the generosity of the congregation of the German Reformed Church (later known as St. Peter’s First United Church of Christ), John Nelson Bechstein was born into the grocery business. His father, Paul Georg Bechstein, and uncle Al Lahr opened the Bechstein & Lahr bakery and grocery store at the corner of Washington and Byron streets in 1900. Paul soon bought out his brother-in-law’s share in the business, but the store remained a family venture. Each of the four children of Paul and his wife Louise worked in the grocery. When Paul died in 1937, his son — who went by his middle name of Nelson — took over ownership. The location just blocks from downtown put Bechstein’s grocery within walking distance to many in the city, but proximity was far from the only drawing card. Shoppers came for Bechstein’s signature ham loaf and deli featuring barrels of authentic sauerkraut made from a recipe Nelson’s grandfather John Jacob Bechstein brought with him when he arrived in America. Shoppers also could count on the market during times of need. With a knock on the back door of his family’s house next door, Nelson would open the store after hours. He extended credit to customers experiencing financial hardship, and the store was known to those down on their luck who hitched rides from town to town on the Erie Railroad in the 1930s and 1940s in search of free food. Nelson was active in the community, serving as president of the Chamber of Commerce, and chairman of the Red Cross Blood Program for 25 years. He never missed a meeting of the Huntington Rotary Club in 34 years. He was a lifelong member of St. Peter’s First United Church of Christ, where he held several offices and sang in the choir. His community involvement led to his selection as Chief of the Flint Springs Tribe in 1976. Although the store changed over the years with remodels and a variety of names – Bechstein Banner Store, Bechstein Super Dollar, Bechstein Super Valu – the community knew the friendly market by its founders’ name Bechstein’s. That family tradition endured beyond Nelson, whose 1935 marriage to Delores Klinger produced children Kay, John Nelson Jr., and Steven; Delores died in 1951. Nelson’s second marriage was to Maribelle Graham, who brought her two children into the family. When Nelson died in 1992, his son Steven took over the store, becoming the third generation to be part of the grocery business in Huntington. A fourth generation, Nelson’s grandchildren, took their turns working at the store. Shortly after celebrating 100 years of service to the Huntington community in 2000, the family closed the store, bowing to the realities of competing with large, corporate chains. The Bechstein’s building, however, found new life, and today serves as a food pantry for Love, INC., where it carries on the Bechstein family tradition of never turning anyone away while providing quality, fresh food for those in need.