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The beat behind Kenosha's clothing museum

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Mike Bjorn and stripper friend (courtesy of Mike Bjorn)


KENOSHA, Wis.---Mike Bjorn is one of the best known clothiers in Wisconsin.
He is to pinstripes what Vince Lombardi is to pigskin.

Back in the day Bjorn played drums for a stripper at the Silver Star nightclub on the outskirts of Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo.
When clothes can make a man, he knows that lack of clothes can make a woman.
And Bjorn is the genuine article.

Mike Bjorn's Fine Clothing & Museum (of Suits and Hangers) is in downtown Kenosha, about 50 miles north of Chicago. The clothing and curios store is located in a former Kresge's department store........

.........Ironically, the Kenosha Theater vaudeville house, 5919 6th Ave. is three blocks south of Bjorn's, 5614 6th Ave. The theater opened in 1927 and was the largest theater between Milwaukee and Chicago. Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and other dapper singers appeared at the Kenosha. The movie palace closed in 1963.

In terms of inventory, Bjorn's is the largest men's clothing store in Wisconsin. Besides several thousand of suits and tuxedos (for sale), there's a "Wall of Shame" featuring 99 vintage hangers from defunct men's clothing stores within a 50 mile radius of Kenosha.

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Bjorn operates the store with Judy, his wonderful bride of 36 years.
She recalled that he wore a black turtle neck on their first date.

Bjorn, 65, is a life long Kenoshian who also loves music and art. He began playing drums in 1958 at Washington Junior High School in Kenosha.
"I was in Army bands for three years," he said during a recent interview at his store. "I got out in July, 1969."
A color photo of Bjorn and a Missouri stripper hangs on the museum's wall of fame. They look like an unplugged Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton.

"This was the most boring job of my life," he says while smiling at the picture. "I was the drummer in a strip tease band for two weeks, three shows a night, six nights a week at the Silver Star. The reason the job was so boring is that young ladies like this wanted us to play the same three songs three sets a night. I don't remember her name. Maybe White Dove? I would politely explain, "I know you need medium, fast, faster and fastest to get you on.' But I can do different tempos and different tunes. They always wanted the same song."

By 1970 Bjorn had parlayed his bump and grind into a top 40 four piece act called Dream.
Gotta love that name.

"We were working almost every weekend," Bjorn said. "We could hit all the high notes and do all the disco stuff. We were the Bee Gees. We worked the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva and a place called the Black Knight in Lake Geneva. The owner said, 'Guys, you know how to sell drinks. When you play here we make money off you.' You know the other two bands we were rotating with? Styx and Cheap Trick."

Bjorn was already working in the clothing business so odds are Dream was the best dressed act at the Black Knight.
Their dream was to stay alive.

"The Polyester thing got rolling in the seventies when guys started wearing the leisure suits," Bjorn explained. "Some people are allergic to wool. My son (Brett, 28) is getting more involved in the business and he pointed out that some of the polys look so much like wool, some of the younger guys don't like to wear wool. Everywhere is not air conditioned if you're at a funeral in a cemetery or a wedding reception outside in the summer. You don't want to wear a wool suit."

Everything will catch your eye at the clothing & curios emporium. Even the dressing rooms are themed. The women's room has a Princess Diana motif, complete with clippings from the Chicago Sun-Times. The men's dressing room is dedicated to President Kennedy.
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But I was enchanted with an orange Chicago Bears blazer, matching tie and orange scarf.
Something like this is as useful for Halloween as it is for a Bears viewing party. "Thats an American made blazer, about $160, $170," Bjorn said from a safe distance. ""Hardwick Clothing out of North Carolina. Now downstairs it would be polyester for coat and pants for that kind of money."

I wondered what would happen if someone wore that outfit out onto the streets of Wisconsin.
"There's lots of Bears fans around here, man," Bjorn said. "Maybe on a Saturday night when people have been partying I would be cautious.

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"Any of our suits, we throw the shirt, tie, belt and socks in with the suit sale. Our suits are from $150 to $300. People say, 'Why do you do that?' I was playing a wedding years ago. A guy came up to the bandstand in my brand new suit. He had on Grandpa's shirt and Grandpa's tie and he looked horrible. I said to the wife, 'Our (store) building is paid for, because nobody wanted this building, so Judy, we'll start giving the guy the belt, shoes, suspenders, whatever, because then we know for sure that guy looks like advertising for the store'."

"And it works."


TWO DAVES IN POLYESTER......
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1 Comment

Thanks for writing this story, Dave. I am adding it to my, 'Go See WI' file.

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

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This page contains a single entry by David Hoekstra published on October 11, 2012 1:19 PM.

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