Sunday, February 19, 2012

The End of an Era and a New Beginning.

It was during the summer of 1976 when I first noticed her walking by the front of my store.
She was tall, tan, pretty and lean. She would walk by on a regular basis so I knew she must work or live in the neighborhood. The woman who ran the restaurant across the street tipped me off that she was on of the Suminski girls from the family that ran the local funeral parlor down the block. Her name was Pamela, she had a twin sister and they both had attended St. Hedwig's Grade School. Since I was a good catholic boy who had went to the catholic school Holy Rosary, I was very interested in meeting her. Plus she was smoking hot with a swagger and strut that could stop a clock.

I positioned myself in front of The Leather Shop to intercept her as she strolled by.
Here I am in intercepting mode:

In Front of The Leather Shop - 1976

The older guy was my decoy so I stood out like the good guy I always was. Knowing that Pamela was attending UWM to get her degree in social studies, I could determine the approximate times she would pass me by. I would hum the tune by Getz and Gilberto, Girl From Ipanema in my head as she approached. "Tall and tanned and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking by, and when she passes, each man she passes goes Aaah!" 

In the distance I could see her heading my way. When she reached the front of my store I simply said: "Hi" and she smiled every so beautifully and said" "Hi" back to me. I gulped and blurted out something like what's your name? She told me her name, we struck up a conversation and arranged to meet again. After our first date, we became inseparable, going to parties together, having picnics, car trips, movies and all the things young lovers do.  It was a lovely time to fall in love and through the rest of that year we spent as much time together as we could. The in love couple.
Bill Odbert and Pam Suminski - 1977

It was in late March the next year that Pamela and I would take our first long road trip together. Some friends of mine had a leather shop in Key West Florida and we were invited down to visit and vacation. My new Volvo was the perfect ride to take us there and off we went. To this day, I will never forget our first stop in a motel during our trip down. Pamela was an avid (if not rabid) fan of basketball and our very own Marquette Warriors were playing in the NCAA championship game. We watched as Marquette won the game and I marveled at how excited she got. She screamed, hollered and jumped on the bed. It was a great victory and her enthusiasm bowled me over. I was feeling pretty lucky dating a smart, hot looking babe who loved sports.

My feelings for her were strong and clear. I wanted to ask her to marry me. Towards the end of our stay in Key West, I proposed to her and offered her an engagement ring I had purchased and brought along. She said yes and as we traveled back to Wisconsin we made our wedding plans. Here is the happy couple in Key West.
Bill and Pam in Key West - 1977

Little did I know about wedding planning but I would soon learn that Pamela was the expert at wedding planning. She sought out various bands to play, halls to rent and caterers to employe. My job was to round up the groomsmen from the motley crew of male friends I had. Our wedding day was perfect with much joy and celebration. A large group of friends and relatives toasted us as we danced our first dance together. We honeymooned in the Virgin Islands and on return, we took up our residents at my old bachelor pad. It wasn't long before we became aware that we were going to be new parents. A baby was on the way and we were very thrilled with this news. Preparations were made for our new bundle of joy and we couldn't have been happier.

It was early in June, 1978 with Pamela being very large with a healthy child on the way when to our surprise during the June Brady Street Festival that Congressman Henry Reuss made a visit to our Leather Shop. He was introduced by his aids and we were asked by him if we had picked out a name for our new baby. At that time, we didn't know if it was a boy or a girl on the way but Congressman Reuss in his best political posturing suggested that since we were married at St. Hedwig's we could call the baby "Hedwig" as it could be for a boy or a girl. To this very day, our lovely daughter thanks us for giving her the name Ann Marie instead. 

Once again the Milwaukee Journal paid me a visit and this article appeared in the paper. Reading it one would think my business was good and storm clouds were no where to be seen. Don't believe everything you read in the paper.
This Article Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal - 1978

Congressman Reuss's visit was not coincidental but a planned event on both our parts.  The Department of City Development for Milwaukee was trying to help us merchants become stronger by becoming owners of our buildings. Congressman Reuss could influence the Small Business Administration to look at us as possible candidates for loans. After some deliberation with the SBA and the owner of my building, we could not come up with a price that was equitable. The land owner wanted way to much money and I couldn't afford his asking price even with the help of the SBA. There were also some troubling signs appear on Brady Street. After an almost ten year of business growth on Brady Street, I was seeing a substantial drop in customers and my sales were down too. Suburban malls were starting to draw customers away and the novelty of Brady Street was wearing thin. At one time it was difficult to find an empty store front on Brady but towards the end of 1977 and early 1978, more and more store fronts remained empty. The Brady Street Festival was still drawing huge crowds but the crowd appeared to be more interested in drinking, eating and people watching. Sales were on a downward spiral. An end of an era was ahead.

Being a young husband and a new father I was worried about how long I could weather the slow period the shop seemed to be in. A local power house of a tannery and manufacturing company approached me with an offer to come and work for them. It was The Western Leather Products Corporation and it was located right off Brady Street. They had been in business for close to 100 years and they wanted to have a creative person like myself join their company as a designer. Having been self-taught in the art and craft of leather work was nice but to actually learn from a company that had been doing leather work for many more years then me was very inviting. After much deliberation with my new wife and careful thought of my own I decided that I would close The Leather Shop at the end of 1978.

And so one chapter ends and another begins!

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