A retired U.S. postal clerk, Kunkel was a presence on the corner since 1980, selling pretzels to passing motorists and pedestrians alike. His son told KTVI (Fox-2) that he started with treats from south city's Giegerich Pretzel Co., which closed in 1999. He then turned to Gus' Pretzels.
Kunkel died in his home last Thursday, July 6, according to his obituary at legacy.com.
Kunkel was the husband of late Mary (nee Hoffmann); father of Joseph Kunkel III, Theresa Larson, Dorothy Kunkel, Thomas Kunkel and Mary Ellen Everding. A WWII veteran, he served in the Marine Corps.
Kunkel's success as a salesman was not without its controversies. While no one minded one pretzel vendor, at one point, rivals tried to home in on his turf, setting off complaints from motorists about the newbies' aggressive behavior. "I always compared it to fishing," Kunkel told the Post-Dispatch. "If you find a good fishing place, there's always people that come around you."
But while customers thought they were doing Kunkel a favor by complaining about his competitors it City Hall, it backfired. City codes officially forbade street vending outside of downtown. Noted Kunkel, "You can't get rid of them without getting rid of me."
Indeed, the city's attempt to crack down on the vendors met with stiff resistance from the good people of south city, who rose to defend Kunkel's right to sell them salted dough from the median.
Mayor Slay quickly made it clear whose side he was on, writing on his blog,
City inspectors generally have more urgent things to do than chase after octogenarian pretzel salesmen. If no one is hurting anyone, we generally don't enforce minor ordinance violations."And so St. Louis did .... and that was the end of that.
... For whatever reason, the pretzel vendors were getting more and more aggressive. We got complaints from residents that the City was not enforcing the law...If you complain about things like this, we will enforce the ordinances as the Board of Aldermen writes them. If you don't, we probably will not...As for pretzels, I am a customer. I plan to buy one the next time I see a vendor. You should do the same. Or don't.
In remembrance, Gus' Pretzel Shop posted on its Facebook page a photo of Kunkel’s sign with the caption “Rest in Peace South City Pretzel Man.”
The post has drawn more than 1,600 shares. Wrote one woman, "It's people like this that make STL so special."
Added another, "Only bought from him and refused to buy from anyone else at that corner! Godspeed and thanks for all your friendly smiles and conversations before the drivers behind me got irritated! RIP."
Even in death, Kunkel had people smiling — and customers pledging loyalty. Rest in peace indeed.