Some Corrado Cutlery Memories
by Larry Corrado, April, 2010
I worked part-time for my father, Carmen Corrado, at Corrado Cutlery during my early teen and college years, from about 1956 to 1964. I started out helping address mass mailings of fliers and catalogs, moving up to mail boy and clerk as I got older.
My grandfather, Dominic, the founder, was a railroad water boy working helping to create the 1893 Exposition grounds in the Hyde Park area of Chicago (for The World's Columbian Exposition). He became a barber, but was unsuccessful, supposedly because he was left-handed (and scissors were made to be used with the right hand.) He then took up selling barber supplies from a wagon. Corrado opened a store on north Clark Street in the loop (in the 100 block, I believe.) He later moved to 26 North Clark Street, where the main store remained for many years. In about 1960, the name was changed from D.Corrado, Inc. to Corrado Cutlery.
By this time, the breadth of products sold at Corrado Cutlery had increased dramatically. Barber supplies included tonics, hair clippers, combs, all types of razors and strops, and manicure sets. We had a large selection of pocket knives, sheath knives, and culinary cutlery. Chicagoland chefs often come in looking for that special cleaver or slicing knife. We had a complete range of scissors and shears, ranging from baby scissors for cutting a newborn’s finger nails to the huge, heavy duty shears used in the garment industry. I remember delivering shears to the Hart, Schaffner, and Marx factory west of the Loop many times.
Our consumer optical goods selection was probably one of the most complete in Chicago. We had monoculars, binoculars, jewelers loupes, and astronomical telescopes. Residents of high-rise apartments often came in to buy a spotting scope for looking out over Lake Michigan.
During the 1950s and early 60s, as I was growing up, Dominic was semiretired, coming downtown once or twice a week. He always came into the store very dapper, with a flower in his lapel. He had high standards. I recall an incident in which Carmen, my father, was told to fire a particular employee because Dominic overheard him tell a customer, “I only work here.” ( I don’t remember if Carmen complied or not.) Dominic pretty much left the day-to-day management of the store to Carmen, getting involved only with the purchase of razor strops.
Corrado Cutlery had several branch stores during the 1960s. Locations I recall were 33 East Adams and two locations in the 100 block of south Wabash. I recall spending most of one summer in the early 60s working at the 135 South Wabash location, managed by Dominic’s son Victor.
During the 1950s and into the 60s, the business would often have a booth at the Chicagoland Sports Show (usually held at the Chicago Amphitheatre, and later, McCormick Place.) During my high school and college years, I would help Carmen bring showcases and merchandise to the show and set up our display. I probably got my first customer sales experience at these shows. We would also sometimes travel to shows in the Milwaukee area.
One thing that was important for my father was keeping up good relations with the beat cops in the neighborhood around the store. One of the main reasons was street parking. Generally, the cops would allow a car to stand for 15 minutes or so before issuing a ticket. We would often need more time to load or unload merchandise or mailings, and good relations with the beat cop were a must. For some reason, the Police Department did not furnish traffic policemen with whistles; Corrado Cutlery always stocked traffic whistles which we would sell to cops at cost.
Dominic and his wife Pauline had six children, all of whom, I believe, worked in the store for at least short periods. He died in 1965. Carmen, my father worked there from his college years in the 1930s until his death in 1978.
Larry Corrado is Professor Emeritus, Physics & Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin - Manitowoc. He is the grandson of Corrado Cutlery founder, Dominic Corrado...