Community Memories...Growing up in the retail business

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Businesswoman Barb Leitgen shares her passion for Guttenberg's rich history. Her parents, Juanita and Carl Kann, were the original proprietors of Kann's Import Shop. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Barbara Kann Leitgen grew up surrounded by retail business. Her parents, Juanita and Carl Kann, established Kann's Import Shop, which she now calls her own, in 1947.

Her friendly personality, unique brand of merchandise and warm welcoming shop are a mainstay in Guttenberg's downtown business district. In a cozy corner of the Import Shop she shared her memories of growing up in Guttenberg. 

"My first memories were growing up in the upstairs of the big brick house on the corner. It was not uncommon for multiple generations to live under one roof," she explained. "When my parents were married, they moved in with my father's parents, Josephine and William W.H. Kann. We lived upstairs and Grandpa Kann had the general merchandise store downstairs. I remember a lovely dining room table that accommodated three generations. My brother Lee and I loved to sit on the warm radiators during cold weather. The brick building we lived in was built by Fleck. He also built the warehouse across the street," she noted. 

The building now houses Kaffee 1858. "My brother and I used to tear around the house. We would run as fast as we could and slide on the rag rug in the kitchen. One time my brother slid and hit the leg of the stove and it fell over on him!" she exclaimed.

Leitgen fondly described her brother. "He was quite a character. In school he learned about planting tulip bulbs. He must not  have heard the teacher say the word tulip, because he came home and planted a light bulb in dirt. He carried the planter up to the attic and faithfully watered it," she laughed. 

Recalling the dark, scary attic, Leitgen said, "In the east corner of the attic there were several boxes with important papers and family photos in them. When my grandfather sold the building the new owners cleaned out the attic and dumped out all the papers and pictures in the town dump. One of the neighbors told my mother 'Your family pictures and important papers are scattered all over the dump.' She quickly flew into action and retrieved the precious documents and family photos." 

Leitgen reminisced about her grandfather's love of music. "We had a music room. Grandpa Kann loved music. He bought his children any kind of instruments they wanted. My father could play anything. Dad wanted to play music so badly. The principal wanted him to further his education in college, but he would only agree to go if he could stop on weekends to play in a dance band." 

By the time Leitgen was four years old her parents grew tired of their crowded living conditions and decided to build a home. "My grandparents owned the vacant lot next door where Kann's Import Shop now sits. They gave my parents permission to build. My mother and father had very little money. My father talked to some fellows who were builders and they told him not to worry. They had an old barn they were going to tear down, and they would use the wood from that," she shared. 

"Grandpa Kann was a good one to have stuff laying around for the kids to play with. One time he built a great big toboggan. It was huge and had a steering wheel. We all took turns driving. My mom used to hook it up to the old Ford and pull us around town. You had to know when to pull the brake so you didn't run into the back of the car," she reminisced. 

Helping out in the general mercantile was a fact of life. Leitgen and her brother took turns waiting on customers. She related, "My brother hated to wait on the Horstman sisters when they came in to buy tobacco. They never wanted to pay the full amount. Tobacco was 14 cents, and they would only give my brother 13 cents. He told me to stick to my guns and make them pay up. The younger of the Horstman sisters did all the talking. I wouldn't give in, and by golly they paid the full amount!" 

Leigten concluded our interview and recalled memories of sitting on the ice cream case with her brother eating Meadow Gold ice cream, shelves full of comic books for sale in the general mercantile, and spying on Charlotte Ihm (Nugent) sunbathing on the roof of the brick building next door. 

Leitgen is thankful to call Guttenberg her home.

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