Every Smalltown, U.S.A. has them; these are ours – people and places that stand the tests of time with grace and vigor. Birmingham photographer Major Adam “Gonzo” Colbert shares his first impressions of these quintessential Mobile classics.
In the early ’20s, prizefighter Fred Leege picked up the shoe mending trade when his pregnant wife asked him to step out of the ring. He took a job at Boston Shoe Shop on Conti and Royal streets and eventually bought the business from previous owners, the Dentons.
Today, Fred’s grandson Brand Leege, opposite, is the heart of the place. “He is such an incredible multitasker that if you were to close your eyes and listen to the song of stitching machines, buffers and client exchange, you’d think there were multiples of him running the store, ” Colbert says. “His ability to move flawlessly between greeting customers like a seasoned concierge and triaging well-worn shoes is mind-boggling.”
8 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. M – F. 208 Conti St. 433-2054.
Tom Buhring, Freshmen Football Coach, McGill-Toolen Catholic High School
For 30 years, Coach Buhring has taught life lessons on and off the field to thousands of athletes. “He helps catapult these kids into manhood with strength and honor. He does it well and is very proud of it. A sternness comes across, but he has to be tough. These guys are experiencing their burgeoning masculinity. They are in a realm in which they’re allowed to try to crush each other – battle with pads and pigskin – and he is their leader, in a holistic sense, to ensure their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.”
McGill-Toolen Catholic High School • 1501 Old Shell Road. 445-2900. mcgill-toolen.org
Blankenships’ Universal Hardware
This place is no ordinary hardware store. Yes, the nuts and bolts are there. “Like Mary Poppins’ bag, there’s stuff in every corner.” But it’s the down-home customer service and family legacy that set it apart. “They know your name, and you know theirs. Whether you’re blood or not, you’re part of the family.”
In 1949, Mike Blankenship’s father, Thomas Earl, bought the Universal Supply Co. Even today, each Blankenship has a role in the store’s success. “Mike’s son Mack, above, is the human security system – the ultimate loss-prevention device. Crooks, be warned. Even Mrs. Blankenship decorates the front window that thematically changes with the holiday. She adds a dash of fine, womanly touch. Where else do you find that in a hardware store?”
7:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. M – Sa. 1305 Springhill Ave. 433-3635.
No trip to Dauphin Island is complete without a stop at this legendary roadside fruit stand. The place is “simple, unpretentious, wholesome – not unlike the hand-operated water pump out back.” (So much so that the small business has no telephone on location.)
Shopkeeper Jennifer Tucker, below, “was a pure joy to be around – a hoot and full of energy.” Beneath a humble wooden hut and rainbow umbrella, she sells mouthwatering peaches, tomatoes, watermelons and more with a smile. “Gloria’s is a breath of fresh air that smells uncannily like boiled peanuts.” That’s because the homemade snack is a top seller.
7 a.m. – 6 p.m. Daily. At the corner of Laurendine Road and Dauphin Island Parkway, Theodore.
Crescent Movie Theater
Movie-lover Max Morey “is a man of unparalleled passion who radiates love for life, people and meaningful stories.” That passion was the catalyst that urged him to breathe new life into an old downtown venue. His Crescent Movie Theater is “one of the greatest art houses on earth, showing the greatest films on earth. The concession stand honor system is a cultural phenomenon in and of itself.” Quality entertainment at its finest.
Movie times vary. 208 Dauphin St. 438-2005. crescenttheater.com
Owner Russ Adams has been stocking Bienville Books’ shelves for 10 years. The old haunt boasts novels from as far back as the 1820s and ’30s and rarities like signed copies of “Gone With the Wind, ” “In Cold Blood” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “If I were a book between owners, I would hope to find myself on the shelves of Bienville. Here, book musk is the scent of literary freedom. It makes me a bit sad for all those books stuck in electronic tablets.”
10:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. M – Sa. 109 Dauphin St. 438-2904.
Roshelle Flowers, “the matriarch of the Mobile diner experience, ” fell in love with the food industry about the same time she fell in love with her husband. In the 1970s, the couple worked at her father-in-law Mack Flowers’ restaurants. In 1989, when Mack retired, Roshelle, opposite bottom left, took over the circa 1952 Mack’s Drive-In location. “Here, you get to take a rest, eat and spend time with quality ambassadors of kindness who also happen to make fried okra, po’ boys and fresh burgers the size of Sasquatch’s footprint. If there were a diner attached to your living room, it would be called Roshelle’s because you feel so comfortable there.”
11 a.m. – 8 p.m. M – F. 2904 Springhill Ave. 479-4614.
Jemison’s Bait Shop
The beloved Dauphin Island pit stop has been in Harry Jemison’s family off and on for more than 60 years. “At the pre-break of dawn, the clouds on the horizon feign a cordillera and rose like the great mountain ranges of the American West. The only thing better than watching the sun melt out of the horizon is being met by Debbie Jemison’s bright, smiling face. She and her determined crew are an impressive and smoothly run operation. Any perfect day on the water would have to begin with a bait-run here.”
4 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Su – Th, 4 a.m. – 10 p.m. F / Sa (seasonal). 16871 Dauphin Island Parkway, Coden. 873-4695.
Callaghan’s Irish Social Club
Affectionately known as the Oakleigh District Town Hall, Callaghan’s “makes you want to proudly declare your Irish heritage, even if you have none at all.” If the memorabilia-covered walls, live musical acts, classic shuffleboard and antique jukebox don’t keep you entertained, the people watching alone is a showstopper. “The clientele is as motley and colorful as the Christmas lights and beer signs that give Callaghan’s its signature ambient glow.”
11 a.m. – 11 p.m. daily. Open for brunch at 10 a.m. Sunday. 916 Charleston St. 433-9374. callaghansirishsocialclub.com
Mosley’s Meat Market
Langan Municipal Park
“For the carnivores of the world, this is your Promised Land.” At this classic Mobile butcher shop, high quality meats are treated with the respect of fine wine. The butchers here “are modern mythical figures – experts in their profession with a superlative, comprehensive understanding of all things animal protein.” And it shows in the caliber of their product. “Every man’s habitat should have a framed picture of one of their freshly hand-cut steaks.”
9 a.m. – 6 p.m. M – Sa. 678 Airport Blvd. 344-5764.
Langan Municipal Park
“This place is 100 percent essential all-American-ness. I love the cyclical cascade of ages there, represented by the stalwart and royal live oaks, the parents’ unending support and love, the young kids sowing lifelong memories together while laying an important experiential foundation for their lives, all cohered by the sport of baseball … It’s less about baseball and more about being with your bros in a very special way. When you’re in the dugout, eating sunflower seeds and chewing Big League Chew bubble gum, you’re on top of the world. It’s where young adrenaline is born.”
4901 Zeigler Blvd. 208-1601. cityofmobile.org
Photos by Major Adam Colbert