Tom Nordling (transcript only)


Tom Nordling, Jeweler
CH: My name is Carl Helbig. I am interviewing Tom Nordling at his shop at 5249 N. Clark. He’s been here since 1935.
TN: My dad came here from Sweden when he was about 18. My aunt and uncle had a jewelry shop 957 Belmont. In those days, most jewelers had an optometrist. My dad first came over he painted cars, did manual labor, but then went into the trade with his aunt and uncle and learned to be a watchmaker. They had a second store which was on Chicago Avenue near Hudson and my dad bought that store from them. He had that store four or five years, before he opened the current store in 1934 or 35. To open a store in the Depression took a lot of guts. He sold the Chicago Avenue store and has been here ever since. During the Second World War, my dad was drafted; that’s because he had a skill the government needed. So, instead of drafting him, he went to work in a munitions factory to do the precision work of making bomb sights.
CH: Was that here in Chicago? TN: Yes.
CH: Who took care of the jewelry store?
TN: My mother. She was ahead of her time in 1940. We had an optometrist who worked for us and also had a watch man. My mother and the help worked 12 or 14 hour days because my father wasn’t around very much. I grew up a half a block from here on Berwyn Avenue in an apartment building that has gone condo now. I spent most of my life here, running errands - not where I wanted to be when I was growing up, but…. I went to Pierce Elementary, and North Park High School, and went on to Bradley University where they offered a unique program in horology. A student could work for a BS degree and jewelry store management. It’s no longer offered now, but I learned watch repairing , diamond setting, ring setting, engraving in conjunction with the regular study. I graduated, was drafted, and went into the Army for two years.
CH: What did you do?
TN: I was in the infantry, but I was lucky because I stayed in Port Lewis, Washington for the two years. This was at the tail end of the Korean War, and they were still sending men over there.
CH: I was in the infantry, as well. What do you think of being in the Army? Do you think it does a person good or not?
TN: At the time, I hated it, but I think that it is the best thing. These kids graduate at 18, they really don’t know what they want to do - two years in the Army is not going to kill them.
They learn discipline, maybe find something that they would want to do. I was married at the time. I lived off the post in Olympia and the post was in Tacoma. It was a good experience.
CH: Getting back to the store….
TN: When I got out of service, I came back to the store. When the name of the neighborhood was changed to Andersonville, that’s when the business changed. At that time, we used to have parades, all kinds of things, but that’s when the neighborhood came together, I think. If the association wouldn’t have made that change, wouldn’t have started the program of street cleaning, I don’t think it would have been as good as it is today. Today, we have more stores, more different types of stores, different ethnic groups, a variety of people. I think it’s as good as it can get. Older residents who moved to the suburbs, Schaumburg, Deerfield, etc.- their sons and daughters are now moving back to the neighborhood, buying two flats,
rehabbing them. I think the future is good here. The
transportation is good. There’s a variety of restaurants, entertainment - really Andersonville is like a small town, a town within a city.
CH : Do you find that there are many Swedes left here?
TN: No. Not really. There are still a number of stores that are Scandinavian owned, but in terms of customers, nah, I can’t say that. The older ones are retired and living on a fixed income and the jewelry store is probably not where they’re going to spend a lot of their time. Also, you don’t see a lot of younger people coming from Sweden. And Scandinavians generally have only one or two kids so there’s a limited amount to work with. Obviously stores like Winston’s who cater to Scandinavians draw from all over to get the products sold here. We still have customers who come here who belonged to the various Swedish clubs and this type of thing, but those numbers are diminishing.
CH: Did you belong to any of these Swedish clubs?
TN: All of them. It’s a shame that they didn’t survive. The Swedish Club on LaSalle Street, now that’s the heart of where everything is happening. They needed to consolidate the two into one. I was on the Board of Directors at the Swedish Club when those negotiations were going on. But they were stubborn. Each one thought their club was the finest and no one wanted to sell to the other, so they ended up with nothing. Part of the problem was the Swedish club was an equity membership, so as the membership got older, they weren’t using it as much, and they were looking to get their equity out of it. I think, though, that the way Andersonville advertises and the face that we show
still promotes the Scandinavian influence and that’s the reason for the street cleaning.
CH: I was wondering if you get any Swedish from that?
TN: Yes, we do, but I couldn’t survive on that. But, there are not that many Scandinavian jewelers so we draw from areas like North Park and Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan and those with Scandinavian backgrounds. The new influx of customers, though, are the yuppies, both working, double incomes, no kids.
CH: What do you think draws them? The nice show window and being here since 1935, or what?
TN: The fact that we try hard. There are not that many jewelers in the city that have been in one location sixty years, and
still owned and operated by the same family. Our whole business is based on trust and confidence. We are informed about what we do, we try hard, been here a long time, and present our product nicely, and I think it pays off.
C H: Are you on the Chamber of Commerce?
TN: Yes, I belong to the Chamber of Commerce.
CH: You are pretty much in favor of Clark Street?
TN: Oh yeah. This is where I make my living. We’ve had many opportunities to go someplace else if we wanted. We didn’t and I’m glad we didn’t.
CH: Do you still live around here?
TN: I live in Chicago, in Edgebrook, which is about twenty minutes away. My wife was born and raised not too far from the Rosehill cemetery. We belong to Edgebrook Lutheran now. The Ebenezer had their hundredth anniversary here about two years ago and we went to their dinner, big doings, and it was nice. People came from all over the country for us.
CH: We had a house walk recently, and I was in charge of it, so I got a chance to ride with the pastor.
TN: The pastors over there have been nice people. When I was confirmed, Jonas was the first one I remember.
CH: We’ve talked a lot about work. What do you do for fun?
TN: Play golf. We have a summer home in the Upper Peninsula in Wisconsin - Upper Michigan. Used to fly. And travel. We’ve been to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, a lot of it on business.
CH: Did you do any fishing in the Upper Peninsula?
TN: I’m not a fisherman. I’ve always said when I get too old to do the other things, then I’ll sit in a boat. By the time I play golf, and do things around the house, it doesn’t leave too much time. Maybe I am getting older now. We were in Alaska on a mountain lake and I can see where somebody could get hooked on fishing.
CH: I know. I took my wife up to Canada and she got hooked.
TN: Yes. But where we are, there’s a lot of boats and that isn’t conducive to fishing.
CH: You already told me what you think of the Edgewater community.
TN: Yes. I think it is nice. It’s the best thing that happened. You’ve got almost every ethnic group. And the alderwoman is a strong supporter of Andersonville and the business associations and that certainly helps. Whatever you need and she can help, she does. That’s been my experience.
CH: Are you aware that we are trying to get the fire station on Ashland and Balmoral?
TN: I think you were in here once before concerning that
subject. Have you come to any sort of………?
CH: Well, they say it’s a done deal, but I’m a little
pessimistic. I hope we get it, because we’d like to be in Andersonville as well.
TN: That would be nice. The more things we have going, the better off we are.
CH: Yes. We just don’t have your alderman.
TN: Yes. Exactly. One thing that hurt in the past is the (unintelligible), but our alderwoman works for both sides of the street and it doesn’t work the other way. One of the things I think was a big plus for the street was when the Swedish Museum came. That’s an attraction.
CH: I have a good friend who lives out in Deerfield and he and a bunch of friends came to the Swedish Museum and didn’t stop to see me. That shows you where their priorities are.
TN: Now they have an exhibit with Scandinavian themes. Groups can hold their meetings here. It really is well done. (Nordling
states a name here, but I can’t get it) He was the driving
force. Without him, there wouldn’t have been a museum. If you
want to talk to someone who knows the history, that’s the guy you want to see.
CH: So you think we’ve covered everything? Can we shut it off? TN: Yes.