Hoboken is gearing up to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but without many of the traditions that have died out over the years. And now, another tradition is set to leave the mile-square city: The 117-year-old Washington Street business that made its living off the city’s anniversary celebrations and parades.
This is the last year that United Decorating – a renowned souvenir store that has stood on Washington Street since 1899 – will sell its Celtic goods.
While the store still earns 20 to 30 percent of its annual sales selling St. Patrick’s-themed souvenirs in early March, the store used to earn 50 to 60 percent of its yearly earnings when the city hosted the St. Patrick’s Day Parade each year, according to storeowner William Kirchgessner.
Four years ago, the independent Hoboken St. Patrick’s Parade Committee canceled the 25-year-old St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which used to be held the first Saturday in March. After young residents increasingly used the day to throw rowdy parties, Mayor Dawn Zimmer asked the committee to move the parade to a weekday evening. The committee refused and ultimately canceled the parade.
“If the parade was still going on we would probably still be in business.” – William Kirchgessner
Fluorescent green top hats? Clover-shaped beads and necklaces? T-shirts with frisky phrases like “Let’s Get Ready to Stumble” and “Kiss Me, I’m Irish?” They’ve got that.
Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante said last week that crime numbers have diminished on Lepre-Con day in recent years. In 2015, police issued 95 tickets, attended to 39 ambulance calls and made 11 arrests. Also that day, a homeless man set himself on fire in the middle of the road at Bloomfield and Fourth streets. The incident was said to be unrelated to the bar crawl.
“Since the stop of the parade we’ve been trending down [in terms of] calls for service,” Ferrante said last week.
But there’s a tradeoff.
“If the parade was still going on, we might still be in business,” said Kirchgessner.
Over a century
Robert Kirchgessner, a German immigrant and stonecutter, opened the business at 421 Washington St. on the brink of the 20th century. William is Robert’s grandson.
From a historical context, the same year the store opened, the United States signed a peace treaty ending the Spanish-American War, Duke Ellington was born, and Congress approved the use of voting machines for use in federal elections.
During its adolescence, the store decorated themed balls at the Palace Gardens in Oddfellows Hall across the street and outfitted backroom dancers at local cafes.
United Decorating has always sold flags and banners, supplying locals with shamrock shot glasses, leprechaun buttons, and all other sorts of Irish-based apparel.
In fact, Kirchgessner said the store is only open right now for its final St. Patrick’s Day sale. It will close by the end of March.
Jim English, a longtime employee at United Decorating, said that local establishments welcomed the spike in business that came with the parade, especially in this harsh economy.
“I’m sad to see this happen, but by the same token, we’ve held on for a long time and now it’s not financially feasible to continue,” Kirchgessner said.
Kirchgessner said he and his wife will rent the space out but will prohibit a restaurant or bar from moving in.
He said a laundry-drop off service will likely take over the space.
Read The Hudson Reporter’s full story on United Decorating’s history from 2010 by searching “Decorating the town” at www.hudsonreporter.com.
Police chief is ready
Hoboken Police Chief Ferrante told the Reporter that he headed to an agency-wide meeting this past Tuesday to discuss preparations for Lepre-con’s typically chaotic weekend. All 200 of Hoboken’s police officers will work on Lepre-con Day, he said.
Thus far, over 1,000 attendees have liked an online Facebook page for the event.
“We’ll be very proactive in trying to eliminate disputes,” Ferrante said. “We’ll be attacking the quality-of-life complaints like drinking in public and disorderly behavior. We’ve already been proactive with the bars where we have our ABC [Alcoholic Beverage Control] unit visiting, doing inspections, and telling them what we expect on that day.”
In addition to Hoboken policemen, as well as Union City, North Bergen, and Westfield police officers, the Hudson County Rapid Deployment Force will be on hand.
“That team is made of police officers of every city in the county and they offer civil services. They’re brought in in case we get that large fight so they’re usually utilized a few times that day,” the police chief explained.
What used to be a 12 to 16-hour period of “insanity,” Ferrante said, has decreased to an eight-hour block where drunken bouts and disorderly conduct are common.
He said that cooperative bar owners, with whom the Police Department has maintained a constructive relationship, have served as a helpful tool in quelling any fights or disputes.
Ferrante, who said he plans to post updates on Twitter throughout the day, encourages locals and city visitors to exercise caution on that weekend.
Steven Rodas can be reached at email@example.com.