It’ll Always Be Vandeven’s to Me

Howard’s Athletic Goods – October 2009

Howard’s Athletic Goods, which provided school PE uniforms and other sporting equipment to the community since 1947, moved diagonally across the Broadway – Pacific intersection in 2009. The original Howard’s building was torn down for Southeast Missouri University parking.

I didn’t really have many warm and fuzzy feelings about the old Howard’s building. I always thought it was a bit ugly and run-down looking.

Of course, it may also be that I never got over the trauma of having my Mother accompany me there to buy my first jockstrap for Central High School’s Physical Education class.

At least the boys got black shorts and orange / black reversible shirts that were better looking than those horrible green uniforms the girls had to wear. (I think the shirts were reversible or was the black side mold from when I forgot to take it out of my locker to have it washed?)

Howard’s may be there now, and other things have occupied that corner over the years, but the building at 835 Broadway will always be Vandeven’s to me.

Vandeven Mercantile Company 1894 – 1969

The building at 835 Broadway where Howard’s relocated was the original Vandeven Mercantile Company, founded in 1894 an operated until 1969.

Over the years since 1969, it’s been a number of different businesses. It was Craftsman Office Supply Co. long enough for The Missourian to call it the Craftsman Building.

The Grace Cafe moved in 2002. They had great sandwiches and fast Internet connections. I’d gravitate there to connect with my office at faster than dial-up speeds when I was in town on vacation. The upstairs was an art gallery.

I ate at Wayne’s Grill almost every day when I was a kid

My folks gave me permission to leave the Trinity Lutheran School grounds almost every day to walk up to Wayne’s Grill across from Vandeven’s. I’ll cover them in a later post.

On my way back, I’d stop in at Vandeven’s to pick up candy to resell to kids who couldn’t leave the campus and to kill time before going back to school.

Miss Blanche Brooks

My favorite person in the whole store was Miss Blanche Brooks. She had already been working in the store for more than a quarter century when I was a kid. There was another woman working the register, too, but Blanche was the one who would talk to a 10 or 12-year-old kid like his opinions mattered.

She may have even given me permission to call her by her first name. I don’t ever recall prefacing “Blanche” with Miss, and I didn’t know her last name until I did this research.

When a customer would come up to the register, I’d fade away until Blanche had tallied the order one item at a time on a big cash register. This was not a place where you would find a scanner or an electrical conveyor belt.

It also wasn’t a place where customers were rushed away. I got the feeling that a lot of the folks saw Vandeven’s as a social center where they could catch up on neighborhood gossip.

Skeets wrote the store’s obit

Cecelia “Skeets” Sonderman wrote a great obituary of the store when it was going to close April 5, 1969.

(Skeets, by the way, was a feisty broad (meant as a compliment), who covered  government, education and courts in the days when women were usually relegated to the Pink Ghetto of tea parties and church news. Men who demeaned, patronized or underestimated the diminutive Skeets were apt to be found singing soprano in the church choir after Skeets was finished with them.)

Thanks for Google’s News Archive Search, you can read it straight off the microfilm.

Customer service was hallmark of Vandeven’s

The Missourian article said that the three owners, William Vandeven II, Edwin Vandeven and their sister, Elma A. Haas, were all born on the second floor above the family store.

Three employees, including Blanche, had been with the store for years, Skeets wrote. Blaine Swan had been there 43 years (in 1969); Charles Stimle had been there for 35 years. I imagine some of the photos in the gallery show those employees.

Elderly customers depended on Vandeven’s unique special services in the days before direct deposit of Social Security and pension checks. Vandeven’s would send delivery boys with cash to a customer’s home to cash his or her Social Security check. If a long-time customer wasn’t home when the delivery boy arrived, he would enter the home and place the perishables in the refrigerator.

You could buy almost anything at Vandeven’s

They had the usual range of groceries, but they also had their own butcher on premise. You could watch him wrestle slabs of meat and get exactly the cut you wanted.

Vandeven’s was said to be the first store to offer frozen foods.

At one time, shoes made up the bulk of sales. I can still remember seeing old-fashioned rubber galoshes on the shelves.

If they didn’t have it, you probably didn’t need it

Even before you stepped over the wooden door sill that was worn down from generations of foot traffic, you could get a sense of the wide variety of products available.

  • Bushel baskets of apples
  • Garbage cans
  • Vigoro Plant Food
  • Dairy products
  • Bakery products
  • Gumball machine and soft drink machine

Got a hankering for notions?

Nearly half the store was made up of material, sewing supplies, patterns and the like.

Gallery of photos

Here is a gallery of photos of the new Howard’s, the parking lot where the old Howard’s was and pictures that I hope will bring back memories of the Vandeven Mercantile Company. The Vandeven’s photos were taken February 4, 1967, when I must have stepped in for a visit. Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or ride side of the picture to step through the gallery.

Dancing in the Bank Parking Lot

I have a couple dozen photos slugged TAC, Teen Town and Teen Age Club. I know a lot of you spent a lot of time at some combination of those things. I think they’re all the same, but going by different names. Can someone clear up that mystery?

Rocking in the First National Bank Parking Lot

I thought the guy in the middle of this picture (with his mouth open like he’s catching flies) looked like Bill East, so I sent it to him for confirmation. I also postulated that Chuck Dockins might be in a striped shirt behind and to his left.

Bill pleads guilty

Here’s his reply:

It is. And is is Teen Town. During the summer of ’65 ( I think) the original teen town, which was on the second floor of a building on the  corner of  Themis and Spanish, was shut  down on an emergency basis. The ceiling of the store below was bouncing and the building inspector ruled it unsafe.

Bob Swaim got his father to give permission to use the bank  parking lot during the summer. A second temporary site was found, and I  don’t remember where, and then to the corner of Clark and Broadway.  Later, a more  permanent move was to a building on Broadview.

The negative sleeve is marked Teen Age Club 8/21/64, so I’m pretty sure that’s an accurate date. There were some other sleeves of what looked like the same event that were called TAC, with no date. Maybe I got lazy and figured that spelling it out once was enough.

Is that Pat Sommers in the middle?

I’ve always been lousy matching names and faces, but I think that’s Pat Sommers in dead center. The girl on his right, wearing a dark shirt, looks a little like Joan Amlingmeyer.

Gallery of Dance Photos

To keep from embarrassing myself by making other wild guesses, I’m going to take the easy way out and post the pictures in a gallery. I’ll let you fill in the dots in the comments section. Click on any image to make it larger, then step through them by clicking on the left or right side of the picture.

If you were involved with TAC / Teen Age Club / Teen Town in the 1964 – 1967 era and would like to help me ID some photos, leave me a note. I have film labeled Johnny Rabbit petition; TAC Fashion Show; Fund Raiser at Ruesslers; TAC opening and TAC meeting with Logan 8-10-67. Hints welcome.

What Are These People Thinking?

[Non-Cape News alert. From time to time, I may toss in some stuff that isn’t exactly from or about Cape directly. This is a story about a week where I experienced the best and the worst that the newspaper business has to offer.]

I’ve mentioned that I spent most of my life in the ink-slinging business. C.J. and Dean, two of the best photographers and nicest guys I ever worked with  joined me for lunch the other day while Dean’s wife was visiting relatives in the area. We spent almost two hours reliving stories we had covered, folks we had worked with and sharing a few sober moments thinking about ones who are no longer with us.

Dean died on the job one day

Died literally. Not figuratively. Literally.

He was covering a sporting event when a wild pitch going about 70 mph clocked him right in the temple, fracturing his skull in several places.

“I dropped like a rock. I stayed awake long enough to hand the the sports writer my car keys and to ask him to secure my equipment. I recall them loading me into the ambulance and I started fading away. The last thing I remember is telling the paramedic, “We have to get going.”

They lost him at least once on the way to the hospital and had to pull off to the side of the freeway to bring him back. A buddy who saw him shortly after he arrived at the hospital said he was sprawled on a table with no one around, with tubes coming out of him. He thought he was dead and offered up a prayer, he told Dean later.

The original prognosis wasn’t good. Even if – and that wasn’t a given – he started to come back, the doctors predicted it would be two years or more before he could do practically anything. Four months later, Dean was back shooting pictures.

Somebody PAID us to have this much fun

When we got up to leave, I said,  “You know, there aren’t a whole lot of folks who weren’t in our business who could tell stories like ours. And the neat thing is that someone PAID us to have those experiences.”

Someone asked me later if I had taken pictures of Dean and C.J.. I confessed that the thought crossed my mind, but some days you take pictures home; some days you take memories home. That was a memory day, not a picture day.

That was the highlight of the week

It didn’t take long to hit the low of the week.

Last night I went to my old paper’s web photo gallery to see if any local staffers had gone over to cover the earthquake in Haiti. I only saw one local picture, but there were some excellent photos in the collection. Hard to look at, but excellent news photos.

The advertisements next to these horrific pictures was appalling

There’s a Jet Blue ad that says, “THIS DAY JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER” next to a father who has found his 10-month-old daughter in a pile of corpses.

A Palm Beach Post house ad has the headline “SURVIVING THE SQUEEZE” next to a photo of a pair of feet sticking out from under a collapsed hotel.

Another house ad headlined, “LOSING YOUR HOME?” runs next to a photo of the rubble of Haiti’s Presidential Palace.

The photos are graphic and not the kind of thing that I want to put here. I have screen captures of the photos and ads on this journalism site, if you want to see something embarassing.

In fairness, the photo gallery was probably put together by a third party and the ads are stuffed in at random, so it’s not a case where it’s being done deliberately. In many ways, I don’t consider that an acceptable excuse. I’m glad I got out of the business while folks who worked in newspapers actually read what we produced and were held accountable for it.

See Your Toes, Win a Third Eye on Your Forehead

Fluoroscope in the National Museum of Nuclear Science

There’s been some talk lately about the machines at Buckner Ragsdale and the other downtown shoe stores that would let you see your toes inside your shoes.

[Chuck Blitstein jogged my memory about Gaylor’s in an earlier comment. That’s where we always went for my Buster Brown shoes.]

As I remembered them, you’d stand up on a platform, stick your feet through a couple of slots, push a button and look through a viewfinder at your toes while your gonads were exposed to massive jolts of X-ray radiation. That explains why Baby Boomers are sterile or why their kids have a third eyes in the middle of their foreheads.

Mother would never let me play on the Fluoroscope

Much to my disappointment, my mother would never let me play on the machine. My boys are equally disappointed that they don’t have that third eye, like all of their friends.

When Wife Lila and I took a mini-vacation to New Mexico to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, we stopped in at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque. There, just before you exited, was one of the see-your-toes machines.

And, no, it wasn’t turned on, darn it. My mother wasn’t around and this was my chance.