Thursday, March 17, 2011
Mike Gilbert, 69, of Callaway County is throwing in the towel after 38 years in business at Mike & Laura’s.
“We’ve been around here long enough. We need some new blood in here,” Mike said.
The bar in downtown Fulton is named after Mike and Laura Gilbert.
The couple was living in Denver, Colo. in the early 1970s, where Mike was working as a foreman at a lumber company, when Laura’s mother was killed in a car accident and the Gilberts moved to Callaway County to care for Laura’s brother and sister. He knew he needed a job and the business was for sale, so in 1973 he bought it.
“I raised a family, had a fairly decent life, probably worked a lot, but people think you’re gonna get rich quick; it might be like that in the city, but in a small community it’s a whole different ball game,” Mike said.
The adjoining salon, Hairtique, was originally used for storage, but in the early 1980s Mike cleared it out and built a beauty shop for his wife who has been a beautician for about 50 years.
Laura had to stop working in the salon due to medical issues, and Mike said he worries about her being around the chemicals in the shop, leaving Norma Kreutez to work the shop alone.
Kreutez suffered from a stroke several weeks ago and will not be working while she is focusing on her rehabilitation in Columbia.
Laura’s physician recently cleared her to return to the workplace, and due to Kreutez’s sudden absence, Laura’s back behind the chair again.
“He told me to go ahead,” Laura said gleefully, “but I try not to stress out and not over book.”
“Hopefully she’ll come back and we’ll work together for awhile,” said Laura.
She added that retirement isn’t for her but wants Mike and Laura’s and the building to sell, saying if she wants to keep working, she can go anywhere in town and her clients will follow.
According to Mike, the building at 403 Court St. has housed a bar and restaurant for as long as anybody can remember.
“Except during prohibition ... Well, you never know, most places had something to drink!” Mike said with a chuckle.
Four apartments reside above the bar, but Mike has not rented them out for several years, saying, “it was too much of a hassle” dealing with careless and irresponsible tenants.
Other renovations to the building include the removal of a partition that divided the sections for whites and blacks during times of racial segregation.
The building is unique because it has store fronts on both 403 Court St. and 5 W. Fourth St. The Fourth St. entrance was reserved for blacks in the early 20th century.
One of the oldest buildings in Fulton, rebuilt after the fire in 1876, 403 Court St. housed a furniture store on the first and second floors and a barber shop on the basement level in 1884.
According to Sanborn maps, the building was listed as a pool hall in 1910 with the barber shop still residing in the basement.
“I hope it stays a bar. I really want to sell it to somebody who will keep it as a bar; keep that history and heritage,” Mike said.
Being in the business for nearly 40 years, Mike has some well-seasoned advice for the new owner.
“They have to work,” he said. “They can’t be their own best customer, that’s for sure.”
A customer from Palmyra visiting with a friend from Fulton, gets up from the bar and says her goodbyes.
“Well, Mike, if I could smoke, I’d stay longer,” she says to Mike as she leaves.
In addition to the failing health of the Gilberts and their employees, Mike cannot deny that the recent smoking ban has had a devastating effect on his business.
“It’s absolutely killed me,” he said.
He’s got other interests outside of the tavern that need his attention, including spending time with his grandson.
“I’ve got a lot of projects around the house, like restoring cars; I’m into model trains,” Mike said.
Looking back on all his years as proprietor of Mike & Laura’s, Mike said, “The best experience I’ve got is learning how to communicate with all people, that’s what you’ve got to do.”