When Robert Kirchgessner opened United Decorating Company on Hoboken’s main street in 1899, the German-born decorator and maker of costumes and banners inaugurated a family tradition of nearly a century, offering “Decorations for All Occasions” to residents of his adopted hometown. In its earliest years, United Decorating Co. rented the first floor walkup of 421 Washington from a wine-seller. It later expanded its operations to include a downstairs shop for flags, bunting, canopies for installation, make-up, wigs, masks, and men’s costumes for the city’s many parties, concerts, and theatrical events, while retaining the upper floor for “the ladies costume department,” overseen by Robert’s German-born wife, Katherine.
From the very beginning, United Decorating was almost entirely family-run; Robert and Katherine were joined by their four children in assembling badges ordered by civic and fraternal organizations. Daughters Olga and Emma also hand-sewed “committee suits,” the fancy dress outfits worn by party organizers.
By 1934, William and Catherine’s son, George, was just starting out in the family business. A photograph documenting the 35th anniversary of United Decorating shows three generations of the Kirchgessner family in front of their bedecked store: William (second generation), Robert (first), Catherine (second), and George (third). George became William’s right-hand man until William was ready to retire.
By the late 1990s, George Kirchgessner was no longer climbing ladders to decorate halls and buildings, and no one succeeded him in that role. Dolores died in 2000, and George died the following year. Family members sold flags and Hoboken souvenirs out of the storefront on 421 Washington Street until 2015, when a banner appeared in the window announcing the company’s closure after 116 years.
The company was a great success: within fifteen years of its launch, United Decorating had out-bid or outlasted all of its competitors.
William Kirchgessner began running the business in the early 1930s, with assistance from his wife, Catherine. Following the tradition of her late mother-in-law, Catherine ran the ladies’ costume department and looked after the store when William was called out to decorate local halls and storefronts.
In 1955, after renting 421 Washington Street for more than half a century, the Kirchgessner family bought the property. That same year, George married. While United Decorating continued for the next few decades to hire out canopies and carpet chairs, provide dais for weddings, and to hang bunting and banners, in the 1980s, the storefront shop added new items, overseen by George’s wife, Dolores. In addition to selling flags and packaged, machine-made costumes, United Decorating began to sell postcards and novelties for pranksters, including rubber rats and fake ice. Kids of all ages flocked to the store.