Central Hardware, St. Louis history

Central Hardware, St. Louis history

St. Louis-based Central Hardware was one of the first big-box home improvement chains. It peaked in 1993 at 39 stores in six states in the midwest, employing 3,700 people. It was once the 19th largest hardware retailer in the United States.

Central Hardware’s motto was “everything from scoop to nuts,” a play on the English idiom “soup to nuts,” which means beginning to end. Their inventory was over 40,000 SKUs, comparable to today’s home improvement stores. Its stores regularly exceeded 50,000 square feet. That’s about half the size of a typical home improvement store today, but it was large for the 1970s and 1980s. Traditional hardware stores ranged in size from 2,000 to 10,000 square feet. Its employees wore orange vests so customers knew who to ask for help.

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Robert Koch Hospital, St. Louis

Robert Koch Hospital, St. Louis

The last exit on I-255 in Missouri before the Illinois border is Koch Road. Turn right on Koch Road, in a community now known as Oakville, and you run into the curiously named Robert Koch Hospital Road, which runs through a residential area. But where’s the hospital? It turns out Robert Koch Hospital was demolished in 1989.

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Robert Rayford (Robert R): AIDS in St. Louis in the 1960s

Robert Rayford (Robert R): AIDS in St. Louis in the 1960s

The sad story of Robert Rayford (aka Robert R), the first documented victim of HIV/AIDS in the United States, shows that if timing had been a little bit different, the AIDS epidemic could have happened a decade earlier than it did, and its epicenter could have been St. Louis instead of New York. His story raises some uncomfortable questions. How did HIV end up in St. Louis, of all places? And why did it stay local to St. Louis rather than becoming an epidemic?

His story made me uncomfortable, and sometimes that’s how I know it’s time to dig in a bit more.

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The Aero Monorail Company of St. Louis

The Aero Monorail Company of St. Louis

The Aero Monorail was a futuristic monorail train that first hit the market in 1932. Manufactured in St. Louis by the eponymously named Aero Monorail Company, it was designed to suspend over Lionel standard gauge track and run  faster than the standard gauge train.

The stands came in two varieties: a pair of free standing towers, and a series of towers that slipped under Standard gauge track and used the same 42-inch diameter. The motor looked like an Erector motor and ran on 6-8 volts, either DC or AC.

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Return to Bonne Terre Mine

Over the Independence Day weekend, I took my family to the Bonne Terre Mine, about 50 miles south of St. Louis on Highway 67. It was once one of the world’s largest active lead mines, and the area around Bonne Terre is still known as the Lead Belt. Mining is still the major industry in southeast Missouri, and the area is dotted with big piles of mining waste, which the locals refer to as “chat.”

Mining in the area started way back in 1720 by French settlers; Bonne Terre Mine opened in 1860. It closed in 1962.

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We lost a St. Louis original over the weekend

I don’t think any of this will be in the newspapers, but I hope I’m wrong. Probably the most unusual man I will ever meet died over the weekend. His name was Otis Woodard. He ran a women’s shelter and food pantry in north St. Louis for decades. In many ways, it seems to me he represented everything that was right in the midst of all the things that are so wrong.

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Remembering Dolgin’s

Growing up in Missouri, a lot of my Christmas gifts when I was young came from a catalog showroom called Dolgin’s. One of my earliest memories is going to Dolgin’s with my mom and aunt, who showed me some Tonka trucks and asked me which ones I liked best.

I know a lot of people remember going through Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs, but I remember Dolgin’s catalogs the best. Read more

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