Hecht's Store will bring era to a close

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Some places of business have been in downtown Cape Girardeau so long that it's hard to imagine what the city would be like without them, forever affixed not only by location but by our good memories.

After all, what's Cape Girardeau without Hutson's Furniture, Lang's Jewelers or a Hecht's Store?

As the saying goes, forever is never forever, and now we are forced to realize what downtown will be like when Hecht's Store closes its doors early next year after 86 years of business.

What a deeply rich and impressive history Hecht's -- and the family behind it -- has enjoyed. The upscale clothing store opened in 1917, a scant 124 years after city founder Don Louis Lorimier got his Spanish land grant and a full 11 years before the existing Mississippi River bridge was completed.

Louis Hecht opened his store amidst the days of downtown street cars, horses and buggies and an occasional automobile. Even then, there was the need for good service and quality clothing. Hecht's offered those things from the very beginning.

Something else the Hecht's family offered was community compassion. Louis Hecht volunteered to serve in World War I. He helped get a synagogue built just in time for his son's bar mitzvah. He underwrote a portrait of Sadie Kent for Kent Library at Southeast Missouri State University. Despite only getting a fourth-grade education, Louis Hecht developed close ties to the university and was invited to become a member of the university's Philosopher's Club.

Perhaps the most legendary contribution involves helping keep a fledgling Southeast Missouri Hospital afloat in its early days. Hecht once gave $50 to pay for groceries that the new hospital couldn't afford.

Louis Hecht's son, Martin -- better known as Marty -- took over the store in 1947 with the help of his wife, Tootie. Later, the Hechts' valued business partner, Dan Elkins, became the store manager. At one time the Hecht name also was on fine stores in Illinois and Kentucky.

Marty Hecht filled his father's big shoes and followed his tradition of giving. The younger Hecht helped start the Jaycee's Golf Course, now owned and operated by the city, as well as serving on several community boards and making numerous contributions -- both financial and otherwise -- to Southeast Missouri State University. He has been a Rotarian for decades. He was named 1991 "Friend of the University." He also served on the university's board of regents from 1965 to 1977.

Like his father, Marty Hecht has been a community leader, a man of unwavering faith, an example to others and, not least of all, a gentleman.

Marty and Tootie Hecht are ready for the comforts of retirement, and Dan Elkins wants to continue working in the fur trade on a national level. The hole they leave in the downtown is a deep one.

The closing of Hecht's Store truly is the end of a classy era. The downtown may have changed around them, but Hecht's devotion to good quality and outstanding service never did.

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