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 by 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.