Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cape Girardeau: Main Street

When Billy Bragg came through town a few years ago, he spent a couple of minutes between songs lecturing us on the proper pronunciation of some Missouri place names. He had apparently been dismayed to hear some locals talking about "Cape Jer-AR-dough" while any sensible Frenchman would, of course, say "Cap Zheer-ah-DOUGH." He was all worked up because the Berlin Wall had come down earlier that day, so we gave him some slack.

LIke a lot of Mississippi River towns, Cape (as it's informally known) has a good deal of French heritage. You can catch up on the early years at the city's official website, and peep some more recent changes on MCD's unofficial tour of the commercial landscape...starting right here.

In pre-suburban days, Cape had three fairly distinct business districts, each of which has developed its own flavor over the last fifty years.

MAIN STREET has become a haven for tourists, offering galleries, antique shops and restaurants (including the Buckner Brewery, in a converted department store) just a block away from the impressive murals that cover the levee. Traditional businesses like drugstores and clothiers have quietly closed up or moved to the suburbs, but a storefront never remains idle for long. While the occupancy rate is impressive, a little bit of flavor disappears every time a business changes hands. Below are three eye-catching Main Street storefronts that have either gone through major changes since my last visit, or are about to. HECHT'S was an upscale women's clothing store that went out of business (due to retirement, not diminishing dividends) last fall after nearly 90 years in the same location--and what a location! The storefront boasted custom logo tile, plenty of display windows, and a slightly naughty ceiling mural--all of which are still in place as the building awaits a new tenant. Gone, unfortunately, is the one-of-a-kind weather vane--shaped like the good ship Mayflower--that came off in a storm and was spirited away by a scavenger.
The photo on the left was taken in May 2003, as the mannequins were being changed. Three years later, the lack of lighting in the empty cases lets the natural greenish color of the glass tint the entire foyer.

Another then-and-now juxtaposition is a little more dramatic: When HALE'S JEWELRY went out of business and the shop next door expanded into its old quarters, Hale's distinctive signage--including custom door handles--was removed. The mid-century facade of LANG'S, another shuttered jewelry store, probably isn't long for this world; history-happy tourist towns like Cape Girardeau are pretty eager to wipe away any post-Victorian frippery that's accumulated over the last century.

Safe for now is the zingy sign down the street at still-operational ZICKFIELD'S; it almost looks like a modern-day interpretation of classic mid-century signage--or maybe it's just very well-maintained.

Gone but not forgotten are two stores that emblazoned their names on the tile at the front door: SALLE-ANN and THE BOOTERY...

...and I always enjoy finding a remnant of a long-gone department store, like these door handles left over from MONTGOMERY WARD.
One more shot from Main Street: A gorgeous, funky, slightly mysterious sign that would actually look more at home in the earthier Broadway business district...or wherever caucasian kids insist on dressing up like gangstas.
UPDATE: I just learned that the Wiggery, in business on Main Street since 1968, is moving. They'd better take the sign--and if they don't, I want it!!

Next post: Broadway--featuring tremendous boots, abandoned theaters, and Cape's perennial candidate.


Holly M said...

It is so wonderful to see you doing a blog about Cape. It is my hometown and even though I don't live there anymore, it is great to see the pictures and get updates on the stores that are and are not still downtown

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