~ Block party to fete Kline's 125th
Lambertville business to be transformed in 21st century

By Cynthia Williamson
The Packet Group
Friday, Aug. 25, 2000

   LAMBERTVILLE — As a youngster growing up in Lambertville, Bruce Rock could usually be found after school congregating with peers at J.B. Kline & Son to race slot cars.
   "There were 12 or 14 stools, and we would sit around and race," he said "Everybody went there because it was something for us all to do."
   The proprietor, George Kline, encouraged the town's youth to gather in his store. He would organize race events and award trophies to the fastest competitors.
   "George had it all fixed up like a mini-Indianapolis Speedway," Mr. Rock recollected. "It was pretty neat."
   Mr. Rock, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday, has been asked to share those boyhood memories Sunday when he and his Ferry Street neighbors host a block party with the purpose of also commemorating Kline's 125 years in business.
   "We'd like to get everyone from the whole town to come to this thing and anyone else who happens to stop by," said Jeff Kline, 51, who is Mr. Kline's son and a fourth generation of family to run the business, which was begun as a smoke shop by his great uncle, Milton Kline. In one year alone, more than 250,000 cigars were sold, some of which were manufactured on the premises.
   In 1879, Mr. Kline sold the tobacco and cigar business to his brother, J.B. Kline, who expanded the inventory to include elaborate postcards and greeting cards. The business has been passed down through the generations and has evolved over the decades to meet the ever-changing demands of its customers.
   As Kline's enters the 21st century, it is undergoing yet another transformation. Citing stiff competition from office supply chains, such as the Staples stores, Mr. Kline, 77, and his son recently made a decision to shift the focus of the operation to hobby and art supplies. No longer in need of all the space, they are in the process of renovating a portion of the building fronting Kline's Court for a retail clothing establishment.
   The younger Mr. Kline, who is a musician and performs in a local band, will continue selling new and vintage musical instruments from a large room he occupies on the second floor overlooking Bridge Street where he also gives guitar and base lessons.
   "I had six extra guitars that I didn't know what to do with, so I hung them in the window," he said, recalling how the musical instrument sales got its start in 1993. "I had so many people coming in asking about the guitars that it just took off."
   The store has been a second home to Mr. Kline, who practically grew up in the place. His sister, Wendy Fiala, also worked there as did his father's sisters, Elizabeth and Helen, who is 86 and resides in Lambertville.
   He fondly remembers exploring the nooks and crannies of the old building as well as a cavernous cellar where Mr. Kline claims a ghost of Aunt Matilda, "a crazy person who used to play piano," sometimes can be heard pounding out a tune. The old cigar-making machine also is stored somewhere among the clutter and maze of rooms underneath the store's main floor.
   In those days, the office, stationery, hobby and art supply store was a large L-shaped space that started at the main entrance at 25 Bridge St. and wound its way around the corner to the end of Kline's Court. A sizable chunk of the space was sold off in the 1970s and carved into smaller establishments that now serve as restaurants and an antiques shop.
   Many local residents also worked at Kline's, including Betty Weber, Ginny Pearson and the late Margaret Rose of West Amwell.
   "All the little kids came here to get candy," Mr. Kline said. "My grandfather would give it to them for free."
   Since Kline's hasn't had a celebration since 1920, Mr. Kline said he figures it's time.
   "Plus, it's a good excuse to have a party," he said. "That's probably the real reason."
   The elder Mr. Kline, who is a walking encyclopedia of Lambertville's history, said he's looking forward to the festivities. He co-authored a 1996 book, "Images of America: Lambertville and New Hope," which chronicles the town's early years with more than 200 black-and-white images supplied by Mr. Kline. Copies of the book are available for sale at the store.
   The block party is set to kick off at noon. Kline's Court and Ferry Street between South Union Street and the Delaware and Raritan Canal will be closed to traffic until 9 p.m.
   In addition to face painting and other activities for children, several musicians are lined up to perform, including Mr. Kline's band, Route 519 South. Surprises also are in store but he said people just will have to attend to find out what they are.
   The block party also is a fund-raiser for the Hibernia Fire Department, which will be selling refreshments during the event.
   Anyone with memories to share should contact Mr. Kline at 397-7026.

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