Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kleb Clothing and Shoe Company

Kleb Clothing and Shoe Company was one of my favorite places in the city's Patch Neighborhood. For those of us who knew it (probably all men), this was a place to purchase high quality, mostly American-made work-wear, no frills.
So why all the past-tense? Well, I just recently learned the hard way that Kleb's has closed. I needed waffle-patterned thermal underwear and I went to where I knew I had to go to avoid the suburban retail headaches and it hit me...Kleb's was closed, cleaned out and shuttered for good.

Man, I never got to say goodbye.
Nobody told me Kleb's was coming to an end. Maybe no one knew, maybe there was a going away party. I don't know - I just shopped there. If I'd have known, I would have gone in one last time, bought out my favorite Made In U.S.A. denim shirts and shook hands and paid my thanks and respects.
Kleb Clothing and Shoe Company, occupied a storefront at 8529 South Broadway at Catalan Street since 1948 right across the street from the St. Louis Skatium near the city's southernmost tip.
So I thought I'd better share some photos and memories to eulogize one of the last men's clothing stores that hearkened back to the days of American made textiles and work clothes in a retail setting that offered soul over convenience.
Work Clothing our...Specialty (effective use of ellipses)

Kleb's had that heavy door with the finger depressor that didn't really work so you just nudged it open with your shoulder. The first step onto the dusty and worn wood plank floor had been made my many a working man over the years; there was a give of what felt like an inch upon that first step.
Wood racks were stocked with work shirts of flannel, denim, wool and cotton. There were Dickies jumpsuits and Osh Kosh overalls - all non-ironic: function over form, substance over style. No frills shirts that last long with no preference for fads  (Y Chromosome essentials).
You'd usually see a guy sitting in a chair against the back wall, plastic cup filled with (?) who might or might not work there. He keeps the conversation going with the other guys in the store.

When you enter, the guy behind the counter offered a jovial "hello" and/or "welcome" to let you know that "we don't have to talk" or "hey, glad to see a customer, let's talk". Whatever you prefer.

I'm an admirer of pre-NAFTA economies and locally made clothes and goods...that regional spin on culture. St. Louis made a lot of said stuff and I miss it, consumer and otherwise. I fantasize about the old localized supply chain where a farmer harvests cotton in Arkansas or the boot-heel of Missouri, trucks it a couple miles up the road to the gin and bales of cotton lint are sent to a factory in a city. Shirts get made, packaged and distributed to independently owned family storefronts.

Enough with the Gen-X curmudeonry, back to Kleb's.
My memory is a little foggy, but I'm pretty sure the bearded guy behind the counter was a former pro-wrestler. He looked the part and the faded, yellowish newspaper clippings under the sheet of plexiglass that sat on the cash register counter indicated as much.

This was Klebs, a storefront in one of the most working class parts of the city, selling clothes made by working class Americans....all brought to you by a former pro-wrestler.

This is South City at its best.

Places like this made a mark on this St. Louis transplant and made city living fun and urged me to explore other storefront businesses all over the city.

As my last U.S.-made denim shirt from Kleb's fades and frays so will my memories of this great South City place. Kleb Clothing, I'll miss you. But, more than anything, thank you for the memories. I don't take them for granted. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Compton Branch of the St. Louis Public Library

Compton is one of seventeen branches in the St. Louis Public Library system.
It is located at 1624 Locust Street, nearest 17th Street in the Downtown West Neighborhood. This library is accessible by appointment only. 

Compton Film Library was erected in 1957 and opened at 1624 Locust Street in 1958. 
Besides serving as the location for SLPL’s film collection, space in the building was devoted to other collections and behind the scenes work such as a bindery, book repairs, and bookmobile services.
photo source SLPL Then and Now, circa 1966
As it stands today. Compton Branch is more of a storage, internal working branch and research facility that houses SLPL’s extensive historical periodicals, journal collections, newspapers, folios, patents, trademarks, and local & federal government information. Materials stored at Compton are retrieved and brought to Central Library for patrons use upon request.

Built in 1957, the Branch was named for Charles H. Compton, who had been Assistant Librarian since 1921 and was Head of the Library from 1938-1950. 
Compton wrote a memoir published in 1954 by the St. Louis Public Library. It is a wonderful document of a life spent fighting for public libraries at the local and national level.
The library received a ~$2M upgrade when Central Library was renovated and re-opened with a ribbon cutting on March 15, 2011. Here's an excerpt from the library's press release:
Located two blocks west of Central at 1624 Locust, Compton Library is now home to 1.1 million books and other materials including the extensive government depository collection (federal, Missouri, and St. Louis) as well as the Library’s renowned history & genealogy materials. Customers will also have access to many unique St. Louis publications and files. Although the Special Collections Department is not housed at Compton, staff will be able to provide many of its items upon request. There is a workroom for staff, space for the Library’s digitization projects, storage, and a small public service area with room for about 20 patrons. 
The Compton Library’s focus is on researchers and their needs. It is not intended to be a full-service Branch, so only patrons who need access to its specialized materials and subjects will be able to use it. Compton staff members are experts in their fields and are able to help researchers find information. Additionally, there are computers loaded with research software and outlets for those with their own laptops. 

Among the highlights of the renovation are:

* New energy-efficient HVAC and mechanical systems 

* ADA compliant access to the building 

* UV protection on all windows for protection of collections* Interior lighting UV protected for preservation of materials 

* All new shelving including compact high-density units in the lower level 

* New flooring throughout* Improved exterior site lighting 

* Interior and exterior security cameras 

Said St. Louis Public Library Executive Director Waller McGuire, “The reopening of Compton marks a major milestone in the complex process of restoring Central Library, with literally millions of items that need to be properly stored, yet easily accessible to our patrons." (source)
And, per a 2011 story on KMOX by Debbie Monterrey, the St. Louis Public Library has been a federal depository since 1866 as well as an official depository for Missouri documents and City of St. Louis documents. (source)

I made an appointment to see the building and a kind soul gave me a tour and let me nerd out on all the old books. As you would expect, a building from the middle 20th Century is going to have some MCM charm, and Compton is no exception. The atrium is nearly original, right down to the space age clock.

The exterior is modest, yet not without it's charm...each corner facing Locust has inscriptions with "St. Louis Public Library" from top to bottom.

The rest of the building is fairly utilitarian, yet crisp,  clean and modern.
The library has a treasure trove of old books and records. Original periodicals are properly sequenced, bound and cataloged. Want to check out Rolling Stone, Vogue or the Sports Illustrated from your heyday, it's all in one spot!

And the good news is, the lion's share of the material here is cataloged and available online so you can request it and have it delivered for you at Central.

But to see this old and well preserved stuff first hand...well, this STL-nerd's heart was aflutter.

Here's some items that caught my eye:
 U.S. Senate Session Records 1897-1898
 Daily news from the Missouri Republican circa late 1800's
 Country Life in America
New York Times microfilm (hundreds of spools)
City Directories
                                          Railroad history

Stay tuned for a proper summary of Charles Herrick Compton's life well-spent in St. Louis.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Central Express Branch of the St. Louis Public Library

Central Express is one of seventeen branches in the St. Louis Public Library system.

It is located in suite 160 of the Old Post Office building at 810 Olive Street in the Downtown Neighborhood.

Central Express, as the name implies, is one of three mini-branches of the system, along with Charing Cross and Marketplace.

First of all, if this isn't the most beautiful section of downtown, it's at least in the top five. The Chemical building, the recently renovated Arcade, the modern, sleek beauty at Locust and 8th Street and of course the Old Post Office building itself.
This is arguable the most bustling section of downtown, largely in part to the added street life and density that the Arcade brings, but also the only full service grocery store and pharmacy downtown is across 9th Street.

Central Express takes a "book store" approach, where all the book front sleeves are on display. The books are not stacked side by side. The design is chosen to allow quick and easy browsing.
There is a multimedia section with DVDs as well as a children's area. 
the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk peering down at the children's section

The setting is gorgeous, bright and open with tall ceilings and columns.
There is an entrance off of Locust Street as well as from the center of the building.
 exterior entrance
 interior entrance
The glass partitions that define the library space are etched with the names of the branches in a flowing manner.
This is clearly the most impressive of the three mini-branches in the system as the classic 1884 Federal building provides an elegant backdrop.