Closing Time

Menswear store John Knoebel & Sons
closes after 98 years

Joe Knoebel served 56 years
in the family’s business

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

(August 2010) – When a store has been in business for almost a century, it is only natural that some traditions will spring up over the years. For the Madison menswear store John Knoebel & Son, one of those traditions was the fact that the shop was handed down from father to son for four generations.

Joe Knoebel

Photo courtesy of Wanda Hertz

Joe Knoebel was the
member of his family
to work in the shop
founded by his
98 years ago.

Other traditions are more lighthearted. Wanda Hertz happily recalls a running joke she often pulled on Joe Knoebel who until recently owned the store. Each day on her way to work downtown, Hertz would pass Knoebel & Son and, “I would always stop and say hi to Joe.”
One day when she paused in front of the store window she used it as a mirror to touch up her lipstick. “He kept that window so shiny and clean,” Hertz said.
On a whim, she pressed her lips to the glass, leaving a perfect kiss mark on the gleaming window. That quickly became a favorite prank. “I would kiss his window and he would know it was me,” Hertz said, laughing.
When she heard about Knoebel’s retirement party, she knew she had to attend in order “to kiss that window one more time.”
On July 14, family, friends and many who had worked on Main Street for years gathered to commemorate the end of the 98-year-old business and the beginning of Knoebel’s retirement. Knoebel isn’t one to share his own age but will only confess that his “twin brother is 73.”
Knoebel was the fourth member of his family to work in the shop founded by his great-grandfather. Knoebel said that closing the family store will give him the chance to spend more time with his family members. Throughout his 56 years at the businesses, Knoebel asserts that while minor changes occurred, such as accepting credit cards at the store, the fundamentals remained the same. And even though the building is moving on to new hands with Todd Calvert, not everything is going to change. While different merchandise will take the place of the shirts and slacks that for years were found at 228 E. Main St., “He’s going to preserve the building the way it is,” Knoebel says of the new owner.
Knoebel plans to stay active with the Fair Play Fire Co., and this year he celebrated his 50th year as a member. He points to the Company’s motto of “Help one another” as the inspiration for his continued involvement as a volunteer.
“Our motto speaks for itself,” he says simply. He highlights the “good members” of Fair Play, noting that “its very enjoyable to go down there.”
He never begrudged the time his duties with the fire company took away from his store. Up until 1985 he would simply leave an employee in charge of business and head out to deal with the fire. When he began working by himself he simply “locked the door and left and people knew it. It didn’t bother me a bit.”
Knoebel was one of the first on the scene of the May 2009 Jefferson County Courthouse fire. He had gone down to the firehouse and was visiting with some of the other members when word came that the courthouse was burning. Heading outside and looking down the street it became immediately apparent that this was going to prove no quick task, “it was really on fire,” stressed Knoebel. As a “retired member, so to speak,” he did not suit up to fight the blaze; rather, his role came in assisting with the equipment for his fellow firefighters and laying hose.
Now that he’s retired, Knoebel says he will have the chance to spend more time focusing on family traditions that don’t involve the store.

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