Brookside: Shop Beautiful’s Basement Secret

(originally published 1/3/19)

I’m excited to be appearing on KCUR’s Up-to-Date with Steve Kraske tomorrow (1/3/19), during the 11:30 to noon half of the show. I will be supporting the story of Shop Beautiful in Brookside, a retail institution there since 1936 that will be closing at the end of January, (their Overland Park store will continue). Long-time owners/sisters Sarah Martin and Abbey Fields will be sharing the store’s history, and I’ll be on hand to provide general Brookside historical context. I’m always delighted to be invited to KCUR, and extra happy to have a chance to thanks these ladies for all they’ve meant to Brookside.

Of course, as a Brookside historian, I was crushed to hear that Shop Beautiful is closing. The store has a great history with a continuous legacy as a woman-owned business. It also has the distinction of being one of the few remaining original tenants (along with Drummond Cleaners and the post office), and the only tenant that’s ever occupied that space at 320 W. 63rd Street. On top of that, Abbey and Sarah been terrific community-focused Brookside partners, and I have to add, wonderful supporters of my books. I look forward to hearing their stories.

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Brookside is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 1919, and there will be a special edition of my first KC history book, The Brookside Story: Shops of Every Necessary Character to commemorate the occasion. More on that a little closer to the actual publication date in February. I mention it now because I’ve added a chapter on the 10th and final decade of Brookside’s centenary, and Shop Beautiful claims a part of that chapter. Here’s a sneak peek at that.

As the only tenant in its space on 63rd Street, Shop Beautiful give us a unique opportunity to catch glimpses of what the shops were like when they first opened. One example of that preservation is the much-loved wooden floor of the Dime Store, just a few doors east. In Shop Beautiful, it’s the bathroom that stands preserved.

Standing in the middle of the basement, enclosed by the original bead board walls is the “powder room.” Okay, it’s really just the toilet. But the hand-painted sign on the door calls it the powder room, in French. “Chambre du Poudre,” it proclaims. Inside and out, the bathroom is decorated with little signs in the same black and red rose-and-ribbon motif. Some signs are humorous, but the others, taken together, provide a roster of the women who worked there in those early days. The Number One Sales Lady, the Willing Helper, and the Gift Wrapper, among others, are enshrined in this wood-and-porcelain temple. There is, to my knowledge, no other store that has remnants of any form that capture that kind of tie to its original staff.

Shop Beautiful will close in Brookside, and it will be sorely missed. But when the inevitable improvements are made for the new tenant, I swear I’ll miss that bathroom even more. I may even decide to chain myself to “le porte de la chamber du poudre.” C’est scandaleux!

(Featured photos: Signs from the Shop Beautiful “powder room,” as declared in French in the bottom photo; while the top photo celebrates the spirit of the shop’s employees.”)

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