Velvet Freeze history

Velvet Freeze history

Old timers in St. Louis and Kansas City talk sometimes about Velvet Freeze, a St. Louis-based chain of ice cream stores. One Velvet Freeze ice cream store remains in the north St. Louis suburb of Jennings, and a few other reminders of the chain remain around St. Louis and Kansas City, but it’s mostly a memory now. Here’s a look back at Velvet Freeze history.

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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. But stories of this hospital, including rumors the site is haunted, spread through generations of St. Louisans, even those who don’t know the hospital’s name. Its presence explains why a 500-acre swath of land along the Mississippi River in a popular upper middle class suburb remains an isolated, lonely place. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, the site seems cursed.

Robert Koch Hospital was established to help St. Louis deal with a cholera epidemic that killed 6 percent of its population. It survived for decades, mostly treating tuberculosis, until medical advancements alleviated the need for an isolated quarantine hospital in the area.

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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 case 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

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

The Ferguson race riots: An outsider’s perspective from not far outside

A Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man, on August 9, 2014. The night after, riots broke out.

Ferguson is an inner-ring suburb in north St. Louis County. As such, Ferguson is now approximately 67% African-American, although the power structure remains mostly white.

I am a native of Kansas City who has lived in suburban St. Louis for a little more than 20 years. As a quasi-outsider, St. Louis has some quirks that I recognize and understand. It helps to understand that St. Louis is very divided, both along the lines of race but also along the lines of class. One of the first questions many St. Louisans will ask you is what high school you went to. This conveniently tells people how much money you grew up with. If you went to a private school, you’re good. If you went to a public school in an affluent area, you’re good. If you went to a public school in a poor area, I hope you’re living in a more affluent area now because there are people who will look down on you.

Sometimes the lines are fuzzy but sometimes they’re very stark. In north St. Louis, there’s an east-west street called Delmar. On the south side of the street are expensive houses. I won’t say they’re all millionaires on that side of the street, but many undoubtedly are. On the north side of the street, the houses that aren’t vacant are occupied by people who have minimum-wage jobs. The haves and have-nots can stare at each other from their windows, separated by five lanes of traffic. This oddity has even caught the attention of the BBC.

Ferguson is a step up from the wrong side of Delmar, but many St. Louisans would have jumped to conclusions about Michael Brown and his Normandy High School diploma for the rest of his life, regardless of how long that might have been. Read more