Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The 70's Came Roaring In

As the winter of 1969-70 wore on, my heart was healing from the break up with my girlfriend. The leather business was strong and we added a few new employees to replace the departed. Louise Rice was a very talented artist who lent her special touch to all our new creations. Gloria Beebe brought in a strong work ethic and great sense of humor. We were all learning to craft leather, listening to our clients and making a brave new world out of it all. Others in the community were doing their thing too. A group of hippies who called themselves the Kane Street Tribe, decided to open a first of it's kind health store on Kane Place. They called it the Kane Street Co-Op. Us being somewhat successful merchants, they approached us for some start up business. They asked if we would buy produce from them that was more natural then what you could but at the A & P Grocery store down the block. I remember the first bit of produce they delivered to us was a HUGE bunch of carrots with dirt still on them and the greenest tops I ever saw. The carrots were so fresh you could almost hear them squeak. Turns out they had the right idea, the Kane Street Tribe went on to establish the Outpost Natural Foods store. When I shop there now and I am asked if I am a member, I chuckle and say: "Why yes! I am a founder too".

Another event was on the horizon that still resonates to this day. It was early spring when this took place. The YIPPIES had a house on Warren Avenue, just north of Brady Street. In their political agenda must have been some creed or oath to unite the people in song and dance by having a block party. Now mind you, this was not a thing that ever happened in the city of Milwaukee, unless it was organized by a church. The YIP's somehow convinced city hall, Mayor Maier and Police Chief Brier to allow them to block off Warren Avenue for one day early in the spring of 1970. I'm sure no city official new the YIP's were behind this as they stood a snow balls chance in hell of ever being allowed to play rock n roll in the middle of a street. They asked me to allow them to store the wood needed for the makeshift stage in the back of my shop. Remember, I had a couple of the underground group living above me.

The morning of the event came and all hands helped carry the lumber to Warren Ave. and a small stage was set up. Young and old hippies, beatniks and curiosity seekers started to arrive. The word had gotten out that  an "Event" was going to "Happen". The street filled up with people, a band played, we danced and swayed to the beat. The weather was warm and love for one another was in the air. I had attended some love ins and be ins in the past few years but this was so different. Here was a neighborhood, coming together in song and celebration. A first of its kind for good old Milwaukee. But trouble was brewing, Chief Harold Brier hated us long hairs. He must have gotten wind of the event as he had narcs in the crowd. Narcs were hated by the hippies because narcs were usually people who gained your trust and then had you busted. As the festivities continued, a small presence of police were seen in the distance. When the YIP's decided to start handing out some hand rolled joints to the crowd, the police moved in. The crowd scattered as the police tried to arrest anyone they could. At that time, the police were not the restrained professional we see today. This was Brier's handpicked goon squad and they laid into us with a force that was brutal and overpowering. People were injured and arrested.

This street festival ended but an idea was born. 

More festivals were in the future.

All Leather Belt Buckle Hand Drawn by Lois Reitman - 1969

A Pre-Cut Outsole Was Used to Explain the Sandal Buying Process.
Customers Would Actually Have Their Feet Traced Onto A Piece of Leather Like This.
I Would Then Build Them a Pair of Sandals from this Tracing.
Drawing by Lois Reitman - 1969

This View of The Leather Shop was Drawn by Lois Reitman - 1969

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