CLEARWATER — Trickels Jewelers opened in 1945, a time when customers flocked to the downtown area like fish to a reef. For 30 years, the store was surrounded by retailers for shoes, men's and women's clothing, a bakery, gifts shops and a department store.
Then came shopping malls, road widening projects and a controversial presence called Scientology.
Many businesses left. Lillian Trickel stayed.
"I couldn't go," she said in 2005, the year the city acknowledged her 60 years of civic involvement. "I loved the people. I couldn't be working this many years if I didn't like the people."
Mrs. Trickel and her husband, William, offered a personal touch along with the best flatware and crystal. They settled into a building on Cleveland Street with enough parking. Instead of fleeing the Scientologists, she sold them jewelry.
Mrs. Trickel, the soul of the longest-running retailer in downtown Clearwater, died March 7. She was 92.
"She was a very strong proponent of downtown. She felt it was important that downtown stay a part of the city," said Rita Garvey, Clearwater's mayor from 1987 to 1999.
Mrs. Trickel set the mood, from greeting customers to setting up lavish china and crystal wedding registries for upscale clients and show-stopping Christmas decorations every year.
"By the time (customers) walked to the back of the store, at least three people had offered to wait on them," longtime friend Margaret Hyde said.
"If she shook your hand on something, you could take it to the bank," said Sarah Brown Caudell, whose family owned the Brown Bros. Building on Cleveland Street from 1935 to 2005.
A member of the Downtown Development Board during the 1980s and 1990s, Mrs. Trickel clashed frequently with the city. When officials in 1987 proposed lining Cleveland Street with oak trees, she said she preferred palms.
When they chose oaks anyway, she threatened to cut down any oak trees planted in front of her store at 714 Cleveland St.
When some commissioners voted to strip the board of its ability to tax downtown property owners, she accused them of trying "to destroy a board that has been in existence for 23 years, just to satisfy their egos."
"She loved the city even though she got into disagreements," said daughter Debbie King, who now runs Trickels Jewelers.
A native of Cleveland, Tenn., Mrs. Trickel attended business school and a gemological school. She met William while visiting friends in Philadelphia. They married around 1935.
The couple opened Trickels Jewelers at 24 Garden Ave. S in 1945. They moved three times since, settling in 1979 at its current location. They took their Doberman, Misty, to work with them, where William served as the store's watchmaker and jeweler. The Trickels never vacationed; the closest they came were weekend trips to Caladesi Island on a 42-foot cabin cruiser.
The store thrived on little advertising other than word of mouth and a habit of giving to all charities. Mrs. Trickel did not flinch as uniformed Scientologists showed up in increasing numbers. "If we could get them out of the uniforms and just get them to mingle with people, they wouldn't stand out so much and there wouldn't be any controversy," she told the Times in 1994.
In 1996, her 58-year-old son, Billy Trickel, a lawyer and municipal judge in Orlando, had a heart attack and died. Her husband died three months later at 83. Mrs. Trickel created a memory garden by the store and surrounded it with a wrought-iron fence.
In 2005, Clearwater officials awarded Mrs. Trickel a key to the city. Since her death at the Oaks of Clearwater on March 7, city officials — some of whom she sometimes battled — are remembering a blunt-spoken woman who cared about downtown.
"She had a business to run," Garvey said. "She knew how to do it, and she did it."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2248.