Come in, we're (still) open

Longtime Columbia businesses say communication, stubbornness and persistence are key to longevity
Tuesday, September 30, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:03 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

One of the most trusted people in a man’s life is his barber. And trust is what keeps customers coming back to Tiger Barber Shop on Ninth Street.

At one time, there were at least six barber shops on Ninth Street. Today, Tiger Barber Shop is one of only two that remain. The shop has been open for 80 years and today serves people who began coming in the 1950s.

What is it that allows some businesses to stand the test of time and others to come and go over the years?

Downtown Columbia is home to many businesses that have been open for a good part of the last century. They are businesses that contribute to the charm and history of the downtown area. They are businesses with qualities that have made them an important part of the Columbia community for so long.

For Tiger Barber Shop, that quality is conversation. Although the ownership has changed hands three times, the shop is still one of the best places to discuss hunting, fishing, and any MU sport.

There were times, however, when it wasn’t that easy. During the 1970s, long hair was so popular that many men were not interested in getting haircuts. The shop’s employees used tricks of the trade such as spending extra time on each customer to show others outside that the shop was always busy. This strategy kept the shop open despite the changing trends and fashions over the years.

“It’s been a landmark for so long,” said Mike McCann, a barber who has worked at the shop for 15 years. “It’s well known, and business has been good. We’ve had a lot of nice people come in.”

Annette Kolling-Buckley opened Columbia Books with a partner in 1977. Although the store now resides in its third location, it has always been on Ninth Street. In the beginning, Kolling-Buckley was just trying to pay the bills and had no idea how long her business would survive.

“It was serendipitous — a total accident,” she said. “It was 1975, and there were no jobs.”

Over the years, Kolling-Buckley has learned many different things about running a bookstore, but says she knows exactly why her store has lasted so long.

“Stubbornness,” she said.

Unique products made by members of the local community have been attracting customers to Bluestem Missouri Crafts for 20 years. Bluestem was opened in September 1983 by a partnership of five area artists. Although owners Sandy Litecky, Mary Benjamin, Cindy Messer, Marilyn Vernon and Sue Luger began by featuring their own work, the store now represents more than 200 artists.

Walking into Bluestem is sometimes like walking into a corner shop in a foreign country. One rack features jewelery designed to look like famous European works of art. Another corner features pottery made in the Japanese style. In the back hangs a display of silk purses that look very much like they were handmade in China.

Most first-time customers are surprised to learn that almost all of the crafts sold here are made by Missouri artists. Luger says that one of her favorite things about her store is that it provides a place for local artists to show off their wares to the community.

“I like getting to see the public appreciate fine crafts,” she said. “People often seem surprised we have so many craftsmen here in Missouri.”

Few downtown businesses have attained the kind of longevity enjoyed by Buchroeder’s Jewelers, which was founded 107 years ago.

Mike Menser, the store’s current owner, purchased the store from the Buchroeder family in 1971. He attributes the store’s longevity to values that have remained constant over time.

“I think our basic philosophy of doing business has been consistent for a long time, and that is helping people buy what they want — not trying to sell products per se,” Menser said. “So we try to function like consultants and give advice and help the person accomplish a gift-giving dilemma.”

Menser said that while Buchroeder’s values of honesty and integrity have not changed throughout the years, the store is still constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of the public. The store will now grant loans to customers who bring in diamond jewelry, and it offers a children’s area in the back to help parents while they shop.

Kellie O’Brien, a Buchroeder’s employee for the last two years, said that she likes working in the jewelry world because the customers are fun and the merchandise is very interesting. She said that styles differ from state to state, and because Buchroeder’s only serves Columbia, it is able to maintain a unique atmosphere.

“Because it’s family-owned,” she added, “when you come in, you feel like you’re family, too.”

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