Farewell to Family Business: Lubeley’s Bakery & Rothman Furniture Closing

lubely's bakery on watson road in crestwood mo photo by toby weiss

The news of Lubeley’s Bakery closing after nearly 80 years of business spread rapidly. Without fail, the response to the news was, “Noooooooooo!” Among my immediate circle, our tragedy is the thought of living life without Lubeley’s Dobash torte.

With a September 30, 2017 closing deadline looming, I wanted to bring one last Dobash to a dinner party, and say a proper farewell. As I headed up Watson Road, mere blocks away from the bakery, I came to another long-time St. Louis family business that announced its closing right after Lubeley’s:

rothman furniture in crestwood mo closing photo by toby weiss

After 90 years, Rothman Furniture is closing up shop.  Whereas the 2nd generation of the Lubeley family wants to retire after 60+ years of hardworking service, the 3rd generation of Rothmans’ knows they can no longer compete properly in today’s furniture marketplace, and want to bow out on their own terms.

Raise your hand if you’re one of the thousands of people who have used the massive Rothman parking lot for student driving practice. Or got a ticket from the traffic police who hide on the eastern edge.

I pulled into the Lubeley’s parking lot, which (unlike most days) was so packed I had to wait for a spot to open up. This left time to ponder some other long-time St. Louis family businesses (not on this stretch of Watson Road!) that packed it in.

ponticello's pizza in spanish lake, mo closed in 2013 photo by toby weiss

On New Year’s Eve 2015, Yacovelli’s Restaurant said goodbye after 95 years. They were a long-standing tradition for North St. Louis Countians, including my family, who had so many family gatherings in the banquet rooms over the decades. But while the Yacovelli family was waiting on our families, they weren’t spending time with their families. The 4th generation wanted to see what else life offered.

And then there was Ponticello’s (above) in Spanish Lake, which closed May 2013 after 59 years of serving one of the yummiest thin crust pizzas I’ve ever had, and The Best tempura-batter onion rings ever (just typing that made my eyes well up with tears, I miss them so).

interior shot of ponticello's pizza in spanish lake mo photo by toby weiss

Ponticello’s was a stalwart of the Spanish Lake community. We watched it grow from a take-out place with a few dine-in seats to a restaurant destination for North County ex-pats looking to wallow in nostalgia and their fine food. There was deep comfort in knowing that Ponticello’s was always there.

The daughter (and eventual son-in-law) of Rose and Vito Ponticello spent all of her life working in the family business. In their deep sixties by 2013, they were worn out. Unlike other veteran restaurant families in North County, they did not flee to St. Charles County to keep on keeping on. They just wanted to see what living a normal life would be like.

With no buyer emerging at the time, Ponticello’s is simply gone (but where are those recipes?!). As of this writing, the building remains vacant, and every time I pass by, my heart feels heavy. Then I think of how light-hearted the 2nd generation probably feels. And that Vito Ponticello passed 17 months after his legacy closed. And that life goes on no matter how you feel about it.

interior of lubelys bakery in crestwood mo before it closed photo by toby weiss

Back at Lubeley’s, inside the shop was even more chaotic than the parking lot. The 20+ customers grabbing their last bits of goodness were respectfully sad, and sharing their sorrow with the Lubeley daughter, who was hella-busy behind the cash register, but calm and gracious to everyone.

The case where the Dobash Torte always sat was completely empty, save for one chocolate cake. With tomorrow’s dinner party in mind, I asked if one could still place an order for the Dobash?
“We are not taking any more orders.”
Will there be more Dobash tomorrow?
“Maybe.”

I knew I would not be able to get up at the crack of dawn to vie for the last precious few Dobash tortes. Anyone who would do such a thing deserved it far more than me. So I snapped a few photos, soaked in my last moment at Lubeley’s, and went to Plan B for the dinner party: Federhofer’s Bakery.

To be honest, Federhofer’s in Affton, MO has been my locally-owned family bakery of choice for two decades. I go there so regularly they know my face; it’s my Cheers. 8 minutes after leaving Lubeley’s for the last time, I walked into a familiar cookie hug, and bought a cake for the dinner, and two donuts to immediately drown my Dobash sorrow.

Lately, Federhofer’s has done quite a bit of interior updating, indicating they are in it for the long haul. But Lubeley’s had done a major remodel a few years ago, and now they’re closing, so the usual signs of progress are not a given for independent, family-owned businesses.

Which is why I asked the young man ringing me out if Federhofer’s has felt the impact of Lubeley’s closing. He said their business had doubled in the last few days, with tons of people walking in to look around to see if this could be their new bakery. And since Lubeley’s and Federhofer’s have some similar goods, there were many who felt a sense of relief that their sweet-tooth need not suffer.

I remarked to him about the recent remodeling and upgrades; does this mean Federhofer’s has no plans to retire? He confirmed that the new generation has enthusiastic long-term plans for the company; they’re in it for the long-haul.
Whew!

Family Biz Speculation
Why do some families keep on with their inherited business while others pack it in?

The nature of the business rather than the generational cohort may be the deciding factor. Food service is non-stop grueling work. When corporate food chains can fill some of the needs without the personal toll, why continue to grind yourself into the dirt?

Or think about this: the original family that started the business had completely different motivations than the subsequent generations who inherited it. What was once your high school job becomes a career that was assigned to you. You’re working for your parents’ dream, but what about yours?

For those of us who’ve never been in this position, this is all pure speculation, an attempt to walk in their shoes for a moment. And I’m sure the legacy of what they leave behind weighs heavy, especially when loyal, long-time customers come out of the woodwork to say goodbye and share their feelings about the farewell. They are surely not immune to our sorrow, but they have lives to live that can’t be dictated by our nostalgia. Like the rest of us in today’s America, they deserve to get out while the getting’s good, yes?

Lubeley’s Bakery Dobash Torte photo by Steve Carosello.

There are sometimes shimmers of hope to keep a bit of what we’re losing. The friend who first introduced my to the heavenly Lubeley Dobash Torte (his photo is above) placed a call to the bakery. They said that since the news of their closing has made the local media they’ve had several serious inquiries to buy the business. And if that doesn’t come to pass, there’s genuine concern to make the effort to preserve their family recipes.

St. Louisans have experienced a few iconic recipes remaining in place after the store has closed. Some of Miss Hulling’s Cafeteria cakes are still available at Straub’s. Lake Forest Bakery confections can still be found elsewhere. And even one of the old Mavrakos chocolate candy recipes still exists. If you know of others, please share in the comments.

We all pass things onto subsequent generations, but it may be easier to preserve a piece of jewelry or painting (an object) rather than a recipe or a business (a concept). And as the originator disappears further into the abyss of time, we can’t expect the later chain of inheritors to feel as strongly about it. Confronting the limits of mortality always stings.

The present is alway, irrefutably, all we ever have. The future is unknown, the past is only remembered. I am grateful for every morsel of Dobash torte we’ve enjoyed, and wish all the families putting their businesses to bed all the very best in the future.

Former Buder Library on Hampton is For Sale

01 buder for sale

The Record Exchange at 5320 Hampton Avenue in South St. Louis has put their (nearly historic) building up for sale so they can move to a bigger place. Here’s the sales brochure:

5320 Hampton Avenue.indd - 5320 Hampton Avenue.pdf

Hilliker gives it only one page. Very dull way to sell an exciting building. I’ve covered this building a few times (including a b&w study from 2001 on this page). It has been covered on Built St. Louis. So the realtor could legitimately say it’s a “much-talked about, much-loved building.”

03 buder for sale

Another selling point: this building recently made it onto the Final 40 List of the City of St. Louis Mid-Century Modern Survey. The night we attended the public meeting, it got an awful lot of votes. It stands a very good chance of making it to the Top 20 that will receive full documentation of its worthiness.

The owner of the building and the record store, Jean Haffner, knows his 1961 building by architect Joseph H. Senne is pretty special. But he was pleasantly surprised it had made it onto an MCM survey.

It is true they need a bigger place, something “about the size of a grocery store” said Haffner. (Side Note: the FYE at Hampton & Chippewa was originally opened in 1958 as a National Food Store.) They now do the bulk of their business on-line (at this site) and need to be better able to access their inventory while adding to it. Thus, a bigger building.

Have there been any interested buyers?
Haffner says yes. Including a party that would like to turn it into an art gallery as inspired by the metal mobile in the lobby:

04 buder for sale

This piece is titled “Pomegranate” and was designed for the library by a nationally-recognized artist whose name I was told, but forget. The Record Exchange is an overly stimulating place, so it’s an accomplishment that I remember this much of our conversation.

UPDATE: Thank you to reader Hillary who leaves the name of the artist in the comment – Fred Dreher. And thanks to Sally for this article about Dreher.

According to Mr. Haffner, he made sure it stayed with the building when he bought it in 1999, and at this point, the mobile alone is worth more than the asking price of the building.

05 buder for sale

They do need to sell the Buder in order to buy a new place.  Here’s hoping the perfect buyer who loves the building as is comes along so everyone wins.

P.S. Thank you to everyone who sent messages and photos about the For Sale sign in front of the Buder. It’s impressive to have all these eyes on the street who also have my back and share this kind of information. You’re awe-inspiring!

SUMMER 2015 UPDATE

Thank you to Hillary Hitchcock for finding and sharing this newspaper piece about the mobile in the lobby:

buder mobile

Retro Retail Holiday

West Florissant & Hwy 270
North St. Louis County, MO

St. Louis hasn’t seen the likes of a Venture sign since 1998. But for the holiday shopping season, much like Gypsy Rose Lee peeling and dropping a glove, Venture teases us with a blast from the past.

One question though: after 12 years, Kmart still won’t spring for real signage?  Nice job, class all the way.

Farewell to Globe Drug Store on Cherokee

Globe Drugs
2626 Cherokee Street
South St. Louis, MO

The Cherokee Street News broke the news that the venerable Globe Drug store had closed its doors, and got the sentiment right in the headline: 1939-2010. It does feel like a friend has died.

I was expecting a mass outpouring of reports and condolences in the St. Louis press, but so far, only the RFT has jumped on the tragic news. Thank you.

After the initial shock, my first thought was of Sandy Cohen, the son of the Globe Empire begun in 1939.  Sandy was born into this store, and it’s the only job he’s ever had. His enthusiasm and love for his working retail museum never seemed to waiver, and if – from his perch in the pharmacy – he noticed you taking pictures and reveling in the atmosphere, he’d cheerfully offer to take you on a tour.

Sandy would point out that the place was a 905 liquor store before his family took over, and iron grills over the vents in the ceiling confirm that this 1913 building was the home of a long-gone, sorely missed St. Louis cheap buzz tradition, from 1937 – 1953.

A Sandy tour gave you backstage access, which in this case is a ride in the original, unadulterated freight elevator up to the 2nd floor. The door loudly slid open to reveal a vast, dark area used for storage, with still-decorated Christmas trees and unopened Easter baskets scattered about.

And then comes the reveal of a bowling alley?

Sandy wasn’t quite sure if there actually was a bowling alley in the building, or if this was just a rescued relic from elsewhere that found a permanent home in the Globe Museum.

The business office truly was a scrapbook of the history of the Globe, and of the Cohen family, both blood related and extended.

The rendering of the St. Louis cityscape (above) was commissioned by Joe as a way to feature all 4 Globe locations. As of this writing, the variety store on South Broadway near Soulard, and the wholesale warehouse at Clark & Tucker in downtown St. Louis remain open.  The Globe variety store a couple of blocks west of 2626 Cherokee closed in the mid-90s.

Among the hundreds of photos on the walls is a shot of this store when it was 905 Liquors.

And here’s the same ceiling fixture still in place today.

One of Sandy’s favorite mementos is a letter he received in 2008 from someone confessing to having stolen candy from the store when they were 10. They apologized and sent along this dollar to pay for what they took.

Globe Drug was one of those rare birds: a still-vibrant, direct link to the past. History has personal meaning when you can physically trace the connections and experience a small slice of what life was like before it hit warp speed, before it was corporate, before rat-a-tat gloss suffocated neighborhood personality.

We’re at the reverse of needing to advance the population; the earth is suffering the damage of too many people at one time. So the modern need for offspring  seems an instinctive drive for immortality. Globe Drug felt like a slice of immortality, St. Louis style. I can feel the heavy sadness of Sandy Cohen and family as they pack up 57 years of life and cart it out of this building. And even as the neighborhood comes back to life all around it, all of us will feel the emptiness as we pass by 2626 Cherokee.

From a Suburban Journals article on the office wall:

“Who says that you can’t go back? In the “hurry, hurry” world of today’s super conglomerate drug stores, Globe Drugs…stands proudly as proof that quality and commitment to its customers needs still make a difference.  …the Cohen family has worked hard to keep the nostalgic atmosphere that you would have found when FDR was in the White House… So, go back. Go back to a time when a variety store was the cornerstone of a community.”

For a Change, Some Good News

panache-plus-01

Wilmington & Leona Avenues
South St. Louis City, MO

This warms the cockles of my heart, it really does.  In the middle of a depression, with people losing jobs and properties sitting vacant and anxiety growing every day, these people start a new business venture and have a grand opening!

Panache Plus soft-opened in my neighborhood last week. Their grand opening is this weekend. I do not know these people, and I won’t be able to shop here (though I certainly would if I could), so this isn’t an advertisement. It’s simply a big hug of happiness for these people denying the anxiety, ignoring the odds, and adding a bit of color and, well, panache to the neighborhood.

panache-plus-02

This charming little building was previously a day care, and it didn’t sit vacant for too long. I watched the place getting fixed up by new tenants, and prayed real hard for a coffeehouse. But plus size retail, resale and altering is just as good, and actually more unique and practical than a coffeehouse, especially the resale aspect in a crap economy. So, here’s wishing the best of luck to this small spot of optimism in our neighborhood!

Rossino’s Italian Restaurant

206 North Sarah Street, Central West End
St. Louis, MO
An underground Italian restaurant that was a loosely kept aboveground secret is closing at the end of April. In the middle of a mostly-residential block, in the basement of an apartment building, Rossino’s (under various names) has been in business since the mid-1940s. Originally known for their pizza, over time it became a place for city movers-and-shakers to lunch, lovers to hide away, hardcore regulars to roost and an exquisite jewel to discover.

The freshly painted, off-hand “shack” facade is already at odds with the dense urbanity of the neighborhood. Going down the stairs from street level (above) sets the stage for the time warp about to be entered.

The “lobby” (above) is crammed with antiques both retired and in-use. It’s also relatively well lit because of outside light seeping in. This is the last time you will see any form of blank space, or your feet.

Abruptly, the ceilings lower, as does anyone over 6 feet. You’re bombarded by stuff nailed, propped and stuffed onto every surface, and one has only taken 2 steps away from the lobby. Then, BOOM, you can literally crash into the bar (featuring a signed photo of Tom Cruise’s first wife Mimi Rogers, as well as a less-crazy Tom with Mama Rossino, above). Bumping and stumbling is de rigueur because there are hardly any light bulbs; candlelight is it. You know that moment when you come from bright outdoors into a darker room and your eyes need a few moments to adjust? Underground at Rossino’s, your eyes stay in that suspended moment of disorientation. The wait staff is well-practiced in playing seeing eye-dog, leading the blind through narrow alleys, and politely ignoring the clumsiness and exclamations of those dealing with Alice In Wonderland alternate reality.

This was my maiden voyage to the institution that was retiring. I’d never known of the place, which is shocking considering all the Italian-descent, city-dwelling people in my life. What brought me here was my mother and my friend, Bob Dielman. Both of them are 70-years old, and Rossino’s was a regular hang out for them during the late 50s/early 60s. Back then, the main calling card was, yes, the pizza, but more importantly, they had a 3 o’clock liquor license. When the other places closed, Rossino’s was the place to go for more booze, or to sober up. When they heard of Rossino’s imminent retirement, they wanted to take one last nostalgic trip to relive fond memories and to say goodbye.

Both of them recognized the bar and the main dining room (above). They peered into their past as the hostess walked us right past it, and Mom and Bob slightly freaked. As of the mid-1960s, that bar and dining area was the extent of Rossino’s. Somewhere in the following decades, a wall was knocked down and the restaurant oozed into the rest of the basement. As you proceed, the ceilings get lower, it gets even darker, and the bric-a-brac piles higher.

Above is a fair representation of the cozy, netherworld ambience, as interpreted by a non-flash digital camera pushed to maximum capabilities. It was an exercise for me to decipher the menu (which I folded up and stashed in my purse as a keepsake) by candlelight, and my eyes are pretty good. My 70-year old companions? They didn’t even bother reading it; they simply ordered from “ancient” memory: lasagna for Bob, spaghetti and meatballs for Mom.

Both were thrilled that it was just as good as they remembered it. I had the carbonara, and it was truly amazing (both the cream sauce and the bacon perfectly prepared and balanced). Later, when I paid the bill, I was stunned at how cheap our meals and drinks were. It was as if having a 5-star Italian meal in 1962! That’s the moment my heart broke: I had just fallen in love with this glowing ember, an eccentric, sentimental oddball oasis inside a tear in the space/time continuum… and this love affair could only last for 2 weeks. This is how I genuinely felt after 1.5 hours. What about those who’ve felt this way for decades? One would buckle under the weight of their sadness.

Speaking of buckles, what will become of the very old-school sanitary napkin dispenser (above) in the ladies room? What will become of 60-years worth of memorabilia, antiques and junk that hold up the concrete walls? If there was light, you could stare at just one corner and never see everything hiding there.

Needing to know what was being missed, I finally let the camera flash strobe blindly into the vast darkness, and only later was I able to see what we couldn’t see right in front of our faces. In the shot above, that’s only a 5-foot sqaure piece of Rossino’s Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe. Multiply that by 10,000 other items that never see the light of day, soaked in warm memories and appetizing aromas… that it will all be dislodged and uprooted is just… heartbreaking, really.

Second-generation owner/ manager Nancy Zimmerman has been at the restaurant since her early teens. She now wants to retire. It couldn’t have been an easy decision to make, for not only is her entire life in that basement, but also her family, past and present. The sadness of loyal patrons’ just adds to the hugeness of her decision, and the strength of conviction to do the proper thing. She’s given everyone fair warning and plenty of chances to say a fond farewell. She and her family have contributed something lovely and worthwhile to the history of St. Louis. Thank you.

Independent Shoes


Trautwein’s Shoes
5227 Gravois, St. Louis, MO
Along the business section of Gravois in the shadow of Bevo Mill, storefront buildings are springing back to life thanks to the Bosnians, and the older businesess that have hung on up to this restoration renaissance.


But Trautwein’s closed sometime during the summer of 2003, and no one can figure out what to do with “the body.” The display window is a haunting reminder of what used to be, with shoes, decorations and declarations trapped like flies in prehistoric amber.

The mounted and laminated article in the window is from an April 12, 1989 South Side Journal, celebrating the shoe store’s 100 years of business. They moved from South Broadway to this Gravois location in 1923. In late 2002, I coveted a pair of shoes in the window and walked into buy them. It was like walking back into a time I’m too young to truly know, but the sense memory was overwhelming. One of the old men told me the shoe I wanted was not available in my size – check back in about a month when the new shipments come in. By the time I remembered to “check back,” the place was permanently closed.

While taking the above picture in summer 2004, the owner of a carpet business across the street came over to see what I was up to, and he filled me in. The elder Trautwein had died, the slightly less elder Trautwein was about to, and his daughter just didn’t know what to do about the store. Carpet Man then went into a mean-spirited diatribe about how Bosnians “buy all this stuff up,” and he wasn’t too pleased when I pointed out how they’ve brought this business section back to life with that horrible “buying up” habit of theirs.

Late fall 2004, and vandals busted in the front door, so now it’s borded up. Summer 2005, a deep mound of trash collects in front of the door. Somehow, some of the display shoes have toppled over, and the windows are beyond grimey. The daughter’s lack of activity has turned this place into a heartbreaking shrine, a fading momento of another era. It’s an unfitting ending; someone needs to show some respect and bury the body.
Before the door boarded up, I got this photo of the interior:

This just breaks my heart…literally.


Former Dreamland Shoe, Co.
Business District, Maplewood, MO
In 2002 (about a year before Trautwein’s demise), Dreamland was “Forced To Vacate After 53 Years.” At the time, a man at the hardware store a few doors down told me the building’s landlord had bigger plans that brought in bigger money. From the “after” picture (above, right) we see that T. Rohan Interiors expanded into the space.


Before it disappeared, I took quite a few shots of it, and in the process learned from a passerby that Dreamland was once supposedly a favorite of local drag queens because they specialized in large-size women’s shoes when no one else did.

While composing a daytime color shot, the owner unexpectedly walked out of his store and into the frame. I was stunned by this serendipitous event, and tried to say something, but I was overcome with sadness for him, and choked up. At least I have the photos of what he once had.