Talking Shop with Charlie Bertrand of Spanish Street Mercantile and Ice Cream Parlor

Monday, October 22, 2012
Charlie Bertrand poses for a photo at the Spanish Street Mercantile and Ice Cream Parlor, 26 North Spanish St. in Cape Girardeau. (ADAM VOGLER)

Charlie Bertrand of the Spanish Street Mercantile antique shop and Ice Cream Parlor has a vision for downtown Cape Girardeau that is as unique as his store.

Q: Where do you find your items?

A: We get them from everywhere: estate sales, auctions, any place that has something interesting. Individuals come in or call us. We buy out houses also and sometimes we'll go in ahead of a sale. The best way is if someone calls and says, "will you come out?" That's the way we like to buy so we know where we are.

Q: What are some of the most unusual pieces you've encountered?

A: There's a car we bought out of a barn in Texas. It's a 1938 American Bantam. There were 135 made. The company did the prototype for the jeep used in World War II, but didn't have enough money to mass produce it so Willys bought the prototype. We also bought the bombing sight off a World War II bomber. We get opportunities to get unique things. Some things people may not want but it will fit in with the overall scheme of things. We get a lot of different and one-of-a-kind things that makes the shop unique. We get a lot of historic items and architectural salvages. And we have to keep our prices good.

The Spanish Street Mercantile and Ice Cream Parlor, 26 North Spanish St. in Cape Girardeau. (ADAM VOGLER)

Q: What inspired you to put an ice-cream parlor in your shop?

A: A guy walked in off the street and told me he had a 1927 ice cream bar in a barn in Essex, Mo. It came from the Langley Drug Store. Every town had its own drugstore. We make our own ice cream with a 1917 ice cream machine. I have college students come in, have old fashioned malts and use our Wi-Fi. Everything here is from Southeast Missouri or Southern Illinois. The ceiling is from 1896 and came from a church in Mounds, Ill. There are 1930s glass lights that came from a school. We have foyer doors from a law office. I took some of the doors from Franklin Elementary School when they rebuilt. There are art deco signs from old stores. We use everything, we don't throw away anything. Everything here is one of a kind. There's nostalgia here. We have things from the early- to mid-20th century. For me, it's all about history. I'm saving things that were around when I grew up.

Q: What are some of your overall thoughts on business?

A: I like to get things started, take it to the next level and give opportunities to people to keep it going. When I got a school district to the next level, I would hire people who could keep it going. I don't hire people who complain; quit whining and let's go. We have got to go forward. Cape Girardeau has so much potential. You don't realize it if you're here all the time. There is not a nicer downtown with more potential than Cape Girardeau.

Q: What is your vision for downtown Cape Girardeau?

A: I've been here for 10 years. I live here in downtown and have two businesses. Cape Girardeau can go to the next level and be one of the finest small towns. We have the river. We have history. We have buildings, if taken care of, that are really special. We have the infrastructure, the businesses, health and the university. We can be successful. We have to retain our people. We have to have a great educational system. We have to move in the betterment of the area. I'm from here and I came back because this is where I want to be.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

A: This is the best time we can go forward in a positive direction. We have to develop and invent and find better ways of doing things. We can't complain about losing jobs, let's create some more. I think this place is going to explode. We need to have high expectations of ourselves and this area. It's about what we expect, not what we demand.

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