UPDATE: Columbians celebrate Labor Day

Monday, September 1, 2014 | 3:44 p.m. CDT; updated 9:46 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 2, 2014

COLUMBIA — There's a simple reason that Don Helmreich keeps the Downtown Appliance Home Center open on Labor Day.

"We're open because we've got customers," Helmreich, who owns the store, said.

Don Helmreich straightens out the refrigerators and washing machines in Downtown Appliance Home Center's showroom. Helmreich, along with his deceased wife and his brother-in-law, purchased the store together in 1992. (PHOTO: Allison Babin/Missourian)

Staying open on the holiday gives people a chance to come in on their day off. Most  employees come in on a volunteer basis to work the hours they want to work. The store does have shorter hours, so workers can spend some time with their families.

Helmreich said he didn't plan on going into the family business, but the family business is where he is now. Helmreich started working at the store part time after school in 1966, five years after his father opened the business in 1961.

Helmreich, his wife and his brother-in-law bought the business from Helmreich's father in 1992. Helmreich's daughter, Lauren Helmreich, works at the store, and his son, Andrew Helmreich, who is in the Army, plans to join the family business when he returns from Afghanistan.

"I've heard that workers aren't what they used to be, but we've been very fortunate," Don Helmreich said. "We have loyal, hardworking employees."

— Allie Babin

Instead of taking off on Labor Day, small business owner Ashley Simpson decided to take a trip to Columbia to expand her business. Simpson runs the gift shop and home store My Favorite Things in New Franklin, Mo. Lucky's Market will now sell her coffee and desserts.

While Simpson decided to work on her day off, she still reminisced about the importance of Labor Day.

"I love that it's still honored by small businesses and schools," Simpson said. "I'm glad we still have days where we slow down, and I'm glad we make a day to remember."

Handling business on her day off didn't stop Simpson from spending time with her family. Her husband, Zach Simpson, and their two daughters, Ruby and Iris, accompanied her to her new business location.

Family members had different meanings for Labor Day. Zach Simpson expressed that "today means a day off." Ashley Simpson said that "today means the end of summer and the beginning of fall," and daughter Ruby Simpson summed it all up by stating Labor Day "means a day with your family."

Shelby Rowe

Ted Jacobs sat around a table at HyVee on Monday morning just like he does twice every week. Talking with a few old friends over coffee and baked goods, the 69-year-old retiree spent his Labor Day the only way he knows how.

The only difference: His wife of 47 years, Pollyann, joined him around the circular table this time.

“It’s a good day to get together with friends and family,” said Jacobs, a retired Navy pilot of 26 years. “It’s special in that respect.”

Labor Day, the national holiday honoring American workers, has always been a day that Jacobs sets aside. Growing up in Pennsylvania and Alaska, his father’s job with the Air Force was a significant part of his daily life. He still remembers the frequent sound of planes flying overhead, as well as the late nights he would sit by the runway.

When he graduated from MU in 1967, Jacobs followed his family’s tradition of service by enrolling in the Navy. He quickly became a pilot of P-3 submarines, scouring waters for enemy ships.

The job took him from Maine to Texas, 14 states in total. His wife and three children accompanied him for each move, as well as his much larger Navy family. 

“It was interesting because we were all in the same situation,” he said. “We came together very easily. It’s not like moving from out of town.”

On Monday, sitting smack-dab in between his wife and an old service buddy, Jacobs didn’t dwell too much on the past. Instead, he enjoyed the holiday with those closest to him.

“There’s nothing really better,” he said. “If you don’t have friends, you don’t have much of anything.”

— Jack Howland

Ray Thames worked Labor Day morning, keeping house as assistant facilities manager at Unity of Columbia, a spiritual community center on West Broadway.

Thames refers to his custodial work as a "retirement job." Thames spent 15 years as a local artist, but now he treats his art as a hobby. 

Against one of the walls, making a striking impression with bright colors and swirling brushstrokes, is a small sampling of Thames' art. His paintings hang in the church, waiting for potential buyers.

Thames also served in the Navy and has a passion for traveling whenever possible. At 61, Thames observes Labor Day through the lens of his own diverse work, and he celebrates hard work of both the mind and body.

"It's a day for all people who labor in one way or another," Thames said. "It doesn't matter if it's physical, as long as it's labor. It's a celebration of all who work."

— Matthew Patston

Chong's Oriental Market, located north of Locust Street between Seventh and Eighth streets, is moving and changing its name. The new store, Lee's Market, will be at 700 Cherry Street and is under construction. (PHOTO: Isabelle Gustafson/Missourian)

Downtown was relatively deserted at 10 a.m. on Labor Day. Most shops in the area were closed, and workers welcomed a break from their busy lives. Lee's Market, formerly Chong's Oriental Market, was one exception.

Lee's recently changed ownership and relocated. Its new building is undergoing renovation, and one part-time employee, JC Won, was spending his Labor Day hard at work. He and another worker put in a new drain system. Won's Labor Day is anything but a break from labor.

"I'm still working," Won said. "Labor Day or not, it doesn't matter."

Won is from South Korea. He moved to the United States 10 years ago to study agricultural economics at MU, and he graduated last winter. He said South Koreaalso celebrates Labor Day, but the holiday is held on May 1. While it offers a break for workers, students still go to school.

— Isabelle Gustafson

For 24-year-old Asia Cuya, Labor Day is about appreciating those who work for her and spending time with family. But Cuya said she wouldn't have time to do that until she got off work at 6 p.m.

As store manager of the retail shop Muse Clothing, she will stay until the store closes, so the rest of the employees can enjoy a day off.

Cuya is not new to working holiday shifts. She said holiday pay is a good bonus.

"I've always worked retail, and people will always shop," she said.

On Labor Day, customers get a 20 percent discount on all merchandise at the store.

Although the store was empty in the early afternoon, Cuya expected people to trickle in throughout the day. She attributed slow business in the morning to the overcast weather.

When the work day is over, Cuya planned to go home and eat dinner with her family.

"A barbecue with friends and family is the best way to spend Labor Day," she said.

— Sara Trimble

Supervising editor is Bailey Otto.

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