From Spanish Flu to Covid-19, Michael’s Finds Cure to Carry On

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Keith Novorr plans to reopen Michael's this Friday, adding another chapter to downtown's scrappiest retail survivor.

By Kevin Collison

It’s fairly safe to say, Michael’s Fine Clothes for Men is the only downtown retailer to have survived two pandemics, the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 and the current coronavirus crisis.

“My grandfather went through it and I guarantee you, he didn’t close,” said Keith Novorr, the third generation of his family to run the 115 year-old clothing store at 1830 Main St.

As opposed to his grandfather, Michael H. Novorr, his grandson did follow the city’s health guidelines for this pandemic and shut down his store on March 28.

But this Friday, Michael’s will be back in business, following the measured rules for reopening laid out by Mayor Quinton Lucas.

“I happen to like what he’s done,” Novorr said of the mayor. “He’s caught between a rock and a hard place.

“We certainly don’t want to take two or three steps forward and then 10 backward.”

Michael’s has been at 1830 Main since 1905, this shot was taken in 1921, just three years after the Spanish Flu endemic tore through Kansas City. (Photo courtesy of Michael’s)

The Covid-19 shutdown adds another chapter to a downtown retailer that’s arguably its greatest survivor.

In addition to Spanish Flu, Michael’s has made it through two world wars, the Great Depression, the utter collapse of downtown retail that began in the 1960s and then two years of streetcar construction at its front door.

“When I started in June 1978, everything was vacant,” Novorr recalled. “It was awful.”

It wasn’t easy either the past month or so. During the seven-week shutdown prompted by Covid, the bills kept coming and Novorr scrambled to negotiate with his suppliers.

“It was stressful, we still had merchandise coming in and I had to make calls to cancel things although we still needed merchandise to reopen,” he said.

“All our manufacturers were very cordial saying we’re all in this together.”

One thing that won’t be reopening Friday at Michael’s is its antique vending machine.

Buoyed by loyal customers, some of whom bought promotional gift certificates during the shutdown, and Paycheck Protection Program federal aid, Michael’s will be stocked, staffed and ready for business beginning at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

Novorr plans to limit the number of customers inside the 5,000 square-foot space to four at a time, although couples will count as one. There will be four sales people working.

The business interior will be thoroughly cleaned, and masks and gloves will be available for customers.

“I hope people don’t get offended if I ask them to wear a mask,” Novorr said.

As for trying on and fitting clothes, that’s part of the service Michael’s is expected to provide its customers.

“If somebody is going to buy slacks, we have to fit them, if people are trying on clothes, we have to alter them,” Novorr said.

“We’re thinking about disinfecting clothes with a spray. It’s not an easy thing, but I don’t foresee any problems.”

Michael’s has kept the retail light on downtown for 115 years. (Photo courtesy of Michael’s)

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