Robert Smith was looking for the perfect location for the business he had long dreamed of opening.
Smith collects and sells items from a bygone era: record players, jukeboxes, military uniforms, vinyl records.
Smith, 62, lives near Tower Grove Park in South St. Louis.
He decided on the New Town at St. Charles not because it's old, because it isn't. The New Urbanism development north of Highway 370 opened in 2005. The concept was to create something nostalgic: a tight-knit community where people live and shop and walk to the post office.
While detractors liken New Town to Seahaven, the fictional town in the 1998 movie "The Truman Show," it was exactly what Smith wanted.
"I like the flavor," Smith says. "I like the feel. They built this thing to look like America 100 years ago."
He also liked the relative absence of crime and vandalism.
He signed a three-year lease and in August opened Reunion Revolution on Domain Street in New Town.
Walk in and you'll meet the imperial visage of Franz Joseph I, former emperor of Austria. His portrait, done in oil, hangs from the wall. It's yours for $3,800. (Prices on big-ticket items are negotiable.)
The portrait looms over Smith's collection of military uniforms and tunics. They are originals from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Smith will readily decipher the meaning of the buttons, the colors, as well as the specific units that wore these specific uniforms.
Some of the uniforms have gold leaf in the thread. An Italian captain's jacket from 1910, worn by a medic, goes for $500. The jacket is black with a collar and cuffs of purple velvet. Smith runs his hand along the velvet.
"It's wonderful," he whispers.
He bought a red 1895 Britain's Coldstream Guards captain's tunic from the estate of a successful car salesman in Jefferson City. It's display only, at least for now.
He also has a 1985 Chinese Army uniform, a Russian soldier's tunic from Afghanistan and an American World War II jacket. Prices are as low as $20.
Smith has a long fascination with military uniforms. In fact, he emptied his savings account while in high school to buy several military items.
In the store's bathroom you'll find the latest edition of the "Advance Guard Militaria" catalogue.
Smith has an encyclopedic knowledge of what he sells, including the 20,000 vinyl records that take up half the store, and seems to love to talk about his collection as much as he loves to sell.
"I have what you call a near-photographic memory," he says.
He's also obsessive compulsive. Not just in his business, he says. But in his life.
His shop is immaculate. Smith is trim and precise. He is 5 foot 10 and weighs the same 123 pounds he did when he graduated from high school in Springfield, Mo., in 1967. He can wear the same suit he wore on his 1969 wedding day.
Some of the other curios and objets d'art you'll find are:
• a 1953 Coke machine. Smith doesn't plug it in because it's noisy and because it dispenses Cokes for a nickel and Smith doesn't want to sell Cokes for a nickel
• a 1947 jukebox made by the Seeburg company. Five plays for a nickel. The machine springs to life in neon lights when Smith plays a 78 rpm of Elvis Presley singing "Don't Be Cruel."
• a hip-pocket record player the size of a paperback novel, made by Philco in the 1970s. Smith calls it the "grandfather of the iPod."
Smith believes in the value of vinyl like some believe in gold. Its worth will rise again, he says, because the sound of vinyl is superior.
He drops a diamond needle on "Mr. Bojangles," recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1970.
"You remember this song, but you don't remember it this way. Now go and listen to this on an MP3 and tell how many instruments you hear?"
Believe it or not, he says, record companies never stopped making vinyl. On a nearby shelf is a vinyl collection of Coldplay: 1999-2006.
Over 25 years, he says, he has purchased about a million vinyl records. He bought out "Now and Then Records" in St. Louis about three years ago. He plays the 78 rpm "Boogie Blues," recorded by Earl Peterson and released in 1954.
"This record has everything," he says. "It's pre-rock 'n roll. It has a guitar break. A fiddle break. Yodeling. A Buddy Holly hiccup before there was a Buddy Holly hiccup.
"Listen to this," he commands. "This is a fabulous record."
Clearly, this store is his worldly paradise.
Jack Pierson, 32, of Hazelwood has come today looking specifically for vinyl records by blues man Jimmy Reed. He finds one and pays $26.99 for "Jimmy Reed Sings the Blues."
Pierson has collected vinyl for 10 years. He plays the records, as well.
"I prefer records because of the sound," he says. "I think it's better."