|Michael's might have its own history a bit wrong, but it's clearly been doing something right for over a century.|
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Another post in an ongoing series based on a collection of vintage matchbook covers, circa 1949. This grouping features establishments centered on clothing sales or manufacturing. They represent examples of the influence of Russian Jewish immigrants in the history of the garment industry here.
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Michael’s Fine Clothes for Men is the only business in this grouping still open today. The company history on its website doesn’t quite line up with facts presented over the years. But the place has been in continuous operation for more than a century, so who really cares?
According to various documents, Michael Novorsky was born in Russia in 1894, moved with his family to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1903, and came to Kansas City about 1914. He first worked as a clerk for Robinson’s Shoes, then in a pawn shop near 12thand Main. In 1915 he opened his own pawn and clothing shop near 14thand Main. Two years later the Starreported he was officially changing his name to Novorr. “I’m an American citizen,” he said. “And I desire to have an American name when I go to register tomorrow.”
The 1920 City Directory is the first to show him at 1830 Main. The store has remained there ever since. Initially it was a pawn shop – selling sporting goods, luggage, musical instruments, typewriters, etc., in addition to clothing and jewelry. By the 1940s it was exclusively men’s clothing, and Novorr’s sons were working alongside him.
The shop expanded next door in 1953. Michael Novorr died in 1964. His family continues in the business today.
|A 1960 ad.|
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Mindlin’s, a woman’s clothier, predated Michael’s by a decade, beginning as a hat shop in 1904 near 12th and Troost. Rose Mindlin, also born in Russia, later moved south on Troost near Linwood boulevard.
|Mindlin's on the Plaza in 1940.|
After expanding her line to include women’s ready-to-wear clothes and bringing her sons into the business, she moved the store back downtown, first to 1109 and eventually to 1014 Walnut. In 1933 a second Mindlin’s opened on the Country Club Plaza, at 47thand Wyandotte, beside the Plaza Theater. (This space still exists.)
In 1948 Mindlin’s bought out the oldest women’s wear store in Texas, the Gans Company in Fort Worth. Renamed Mindlin Gans, it lasted only until 1953, when another Texas clothing company purchased the store and inventory.
After Rose’s death in 1957, the downtown Mindlin’s closed in 1961. The Plaza store operated another eight years. In 1969 it became part of the local DuVall’s chain of women’s wear shops.
|A 1949 ad.|
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Another early retail clothing store was the Union Clothing Company, founded in 1906 by Herman Rothschild. The Union, then at 1229 Grand, offered credit sales on men’s, women’s and children’s clothes, as well as jewelry.
|A 1909 ad.|
Rothschild took on a boyhood friend, Jay Jacobstein, as partner. In 1929 the store moved across the street to the west side of Grand. (A building you won’t find today.) By 1949 several other “credit stores” selling clothing or furniture also occupied that block.
|A 1949 ad.|
Jacobstein died in 1950; Rothschild in 1958. The Union Clothing Company closed for good in 1961 (below).
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Alexander Meltzer, another Russian-born immigrant, arrived here in the late 1930s and went to work as a furrier at Rubin’s Furs downtown. By 1940 he had his own fur shop on the fourth floor of the Altman building at 11thand Walnut. Three years later he moved down the street to 933 Walnut. (The building, too, is long gone.)
|A 1946 ad from a store in Albany, Mo.|
Meltzer also sold his fur creations wholesale to small-town department stores in the region.
By January 1950 he had moved his shop to 12th street between Walnut and Grand. Later he closed it, returning to work for other furriers in town. Meltzer died in 1969.
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Not a retailer, the Bettilou Sportswear Company was part of the expansion during World War II of clothing makers in what we now call the Garment District, around Ninth and Broadway. Like Bettilou, many specialized in women’s sportswear.
Bettilou was launched in 1941 by Leon Czarlinsky, from a family of several Russian immigrants who entered the clothing industry here. Bettilou had 8500 square feet on the first floor of 905 Broadway (today a Subway sandwich shop). Bettilou’s products were sold in small-town department stores and exclusively in Kansas City at Kline’s.
After closing the company in 1955, Czarlinsky remained active in the neighborhood trade. Eventually he moved to Los Angeles, where he was a regional sales manager for two other Kansas City clothing manufacturers. In January 1967 he died there of a heart attack while returning home from the first Super Bowl game, lost by his hometown Chiefs.
(Left: a 1944 ad from a store in Moberly, Mo. Right: a 1954 Kline's ad.)
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