• Post category:NEWS

Royal Shade & Awning, which is currently celebrating a century of covering the windows of Twin Cities homes, was a one-person operation for many years under owner Steve Matovitz. The shop, which has been located on Fairview and Saint Clair avenues since the 1970s, eventually came into the hands of employee Fred Dreier, who turned it into a family-run business spanning three generations.

Dreier died in 2015, just shy of his 86th birthday. His daughter, Sue Kortum, remembers her father saying he began working for Royal Shade as a teenager. He would ride his bike to deliver or pick up blinds from customers who needed them fixed or cleaned. “They did a lot of window shade cleaning back then,” she said.

Royal Shade
Mike Kortum Jr. shows off some of the offerings found at Royal Shade & Awning in Macalester-Groveland. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Kortum said the store had no grand plans for a 100th-anniversary celebration, though she had considered something along the lines of getting commemorative pens. She recounted the family’s history with Royal Shade and the involvement of her husband and son, both named Mike, for many years.

The shop operated out of a few different locations before moving to its current spot at 244 S. Fairview Ave. more than a half-century ago. Her father had maintained the store on Selby Avenue near Chatsworth Street for many years before Saint Paul police suggested he move out of the then-dangerous neighborhood. The building had been the victim of arson and robberies. Miscreants also broke the store’s windows, leading Dreier to board them up.

“It’s traditional,” said son Mike Kortum Jr. “Every day is different and it’s a throwback to how things were.”

Royal Shade moved to University Avenue near Highway 280 before coming to its current home in Macalester-Groveland in 1971. Kortum began working full time with her dad in 1973, her husband and son joining her later. While sitting in the charmingly disheveled showroom, Kortum said much of today’s business involves installing new blinds, although repairs also keep the staff busy. At least three people dropped by within 30 minutes on a recent day.

“If customers are just getting a window shade or two fixed, they’ll come in here,” Kortum said. “But otherwise, we usually go to the house to measure for interior window projects and exterior awning jobs.”

 

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Roller shade styles come and go, only to return in popularity once again. Kortum said that window coverings with scalloped semicircular edges at the bottom have made a comeback. Window coverings with trim have a strong customer base among people who own historic homes. “Especially around here, those shades look good in many houses,” she said.

The top seller continues to be honeycomb shades because they offer flexibility. The shades can be pulled down from the top or up from the bottom, which Kortum said is an option most conventional shades do not offer.

Pulling the top down allows homeowners “to get more light, but still have privacy,” she said. Honeycombs do not have a pull cord on the side like many shades. Instead, a handle at the bottom provides the mechanism for pulling them down. Some homeowners complain that the interior cords are exposed when honeycombs open at the top, but the shades would not function without them.

Another popular style are sheer shades that cover a window, yet still allow light in. “During the day, they’re nice because you don’t feel so enclosed in the room that you’re in,” Kortum said.

The other style many homeowners seek are stylish 2-inch wooden blinds that look a cut above the standard ones.

Mike Kortum married into the shade business and still loves it after decades of serving customers. “I like meeting different people every day and seeing their houses,” he said. “Everybody is proud of their homes. It seems like the owners of every house I go into will walk me through and show me the addition they put on or the special fireplace they put in or the new bathroom. Everyone has something special.”

Royal Shade also stores awnings for customers. Leaving awnings on in the winter leaves homes too dark and sometimes damages the awnings, Mike Kortum said. He said before reinstalling awnings in the spring, the company checks to see if they require any repairs.

Son Mike Jr., 38, comes from a generation less likely to buy one of the historic roller shades or awnings of the kind the store sells. Nevertheless, he likes the business because, he said, “it’s traditional. Every day is different and it’s a throwback to how things were.”

— Frank Jossi

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