SoWe Store Stories: 502 High St, Ernst Roehm’s grocery (1895)

This article is part of a series of posts from SoWe Volunteer Historian Jim Gerhart about the stories behind the stores on Old Cabbage Hill

Many people will remember 502 High as the Hi-Fi Café, and indeed that is what it was for some 20 years. But fewer people know that 502’s early days were spent as a grocery store, and like many stores on old Cabbage Hill, its builder and its early proprietors were German immigrants.

The building that stands today at 502 High was built over 125 years ago, but as old as it is, it was not the first 502 High on the site. The first 502 High also was a 2-story brick building, but its location on the northeastern edge of the lot proved problematic. The city had to remove the house in the fall of 1890 when the original 14-foot-wide Filbert Alley was widened to make East Filbert Street. After the widening, the lot that remained was only 14 feet, 7 inches wide along High.

In 1891, Ernst Roehm, who immigrated here in 1881, bought the then-empty lot from which the first 502 High had been removed. He also bought a 2-story brick building at 506 High, which is no longer there, and that’s where Roehm and his family moved, and where he opened a grocery store. After a few years, in 1895, Roehm built the house and store that became the second, and current, 502 High. He designed it as a long, necessarily narrow, house with a first-floor store, and he moved his family from 506 High into the upstairs of 502 High, and moved his grocery store into the first floor of his new building.

The store was built with its entrance canted at 45 degrees so that it faced the intersection rather than either of the two streets forming the intersection. Roehm eschewed the elaborate Victorian storefront features that had been popular for the previous several decades, settling instead on a more modest storefront with two display windows on either side of the entrance. Instead of heavy cornices over the two windows, he went with subtle arches in the brickwork.

Today, the old storefront looks different than it did originally. A small green roof has been placed over the door, the transom has been covered, the front door and display windows have been replaced, and concrete steps have been added.

Roehm did not stay long at 502 High, but it remained a grocery store under several different owners into the 1930s. The grocer who had the longest tenure in 502 High was Leo Huegel, who ran a grocery there for about 25 years. After Huegel’s grocery closed in the late 1930s, George and Marie Ziegler opened Ziegler’s Café in the first floor.

When the property changed hands in 1960, the Zieglers retired and the building’s new owner, Carl Bermel, opened the Hi-Fi Café there with his brother August. The Hi-Fi became a popular fixture on the Hill for the next 20 years. From 1967 to 1973, it was run by Erma Jaggers and was known as Erma’s Hi-Fi Café. When the Bermel family sold it in 1973, the new owner, Harry Martin, hired Charles Null to run the Hi-Fi, which he did until it closed in 1980. After it closed, the building and its first-floor store/café became a residence, which it has been over the past 40 years, under 8 different owners.

                                                                                                Jim Gerhart, April 2023