Kirbyjon Caldwell

Everything I ever needed to know about business I learned while working at Caldwell’s, my father’s clothing shop in the Fifth Ward of Houston.

OFTENTIMES PEOPLE MAKE a big to-do about my MBA, for which I am very grateful, but the truth of the matter is that my real MBA came from the University of Fifth Ward, while working in my dad’s clothing store. I grew up in Kashmere Gardens, a little bit north of Fifth Ward. My mother worked as a high school home economics teacher and a counselor, and my dad owned Caldwell’s Tailors, at 3304 Lyons Avenue. It was almost across the street from the De Luxe Theater, one of the few that African Americans could attend during segregation, and right next door to Club Matinee, one of three places where African American musicians could perform. 

My dad’s shop was just a blast. The store was small and full of merchandise. You walked in, and you had the showcase on the right, the sewing machines in the back, and up front there were mannequins in the window wearing whatever was in style. Back in the day, you had the polyester bell-bottom pants, sharkskin suits, mohair suits. Guys were wearing nylon underwear—100 degrees in July—with wool knit suits and mohair pants. Child, you were clean! Some of my dad’s customers included B. B. King, Bobby Bland, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Ike and Tina Turner. In fact, one evening Ike and Tina came over for dinner to my mom and dad’s house. That was back in their happier days, I guess. Tina kissed me on the forehead before I went to bed. I

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