STOPPING TO PICK UP Summit Pale or a nice Shiraz at Thomas Liquors on the St. Paul corner of Grand and Prior, you’d never guess the tidy brick shop bedecked with a grape-vine mural once played a role in one of the most notorious crimes of the 20th century.
In June 1933, the famously bad Barker-Karpis gang—among the country’s “Most Wanted” criminals—kidnapped millionaire brewing company president William Hamm Jr. and used a booth in the Thomas shop, then a drugstore, to deliver a letter demanding $100,000. By many accounts the kidnapping was an outgrowth of a Prohibition-era business dispute between Hamm and a bootlegger. The kidnappers—Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, Arthur Barker, Fred Barker, Fred C. Goetz, and two others—reportedly chose Thomas Pharmacy as a ransom-note drop spot because it was frequented by brewing company official William Dunn, who lived nearby.
The ransom was paid, securing the safe return of Hamm, who presided over the Hamm’s Brewery empire based on St. Paul’s East Side. Wthin six months the gang moved on to snatch St. Paul banker Edward G. Bremer for a cool $200K, double the Hamm asking price … before lamming it from St. Paul with the FBI in hot pursuit.Thomas Liquors makes note of this gangster drama on its website, and the full story is recounted in Paul Maccabee’s engaging 1995 book John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks’ Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936.
Pharmacy turned liquor store
Built in 1922, the Thomas shop started out life as the Rosedale Pharmacy, named after Rosedale Park, by which name the neighborhood near the west end of Summit Avenue had been platted.
The store was built and owned by F.A. Munch, who had previously owned a well-known pharmacy at the corner of Rice and Summit in St. Paul (near where John Ireland Boulevard crosses I-94 today).
F. A. Munch, who disposed of the drug store at 282 Rice street, St. Paul, some months ago, has again engaged in the retail drug business and opened a beautiful pharmacy at Grand and Prior. The new store, which is new in its every appointment, will be known as the Rosedale Pharmacy.” —North Western Druggist, vol. 30, 1922
According to information gleaned from North Western Druggist and other periodicals of the era, the shop was managed by longtime Munch employee named Clarence J. Thomas, who went on to buy the store in the late 1920s and to rename it Clarence J. Thomas’s Rosedale Pharmacy.
The store was a combination drugstore/confectionery. Beer began to be sold in the shop in 1934, just after the end of Prohibition, according to the Thomas Liquor website; the full switch from pharmacy to liquor store came in 1951. In recent years, the store has broadened its focus on wine.
Clarence Thomas’s son Jim took over the business in 1958. Today, the shop is owned by a third-generation Thomas: Jim’s son and Clarence Thomas’s grandson Mike, who began working in the store in 1977.