Kaehler Luggage still relevant one hundred years after birth


Kaehler Luggage tarted life 100 years ago. (Photo courtesy of Kaehler Luggage)
Kaehler Luggage started life 100 years ago. (Photo courtesy of Kaehler Luggage)


Thanks to some trunks, the Winnetka-based Kaehler Luggage chain was born 100 years ago. Now the company is inviting the public to celebrate its century mark at its Mag Mile store, 900 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, at 11 a.m., Jan. 28 2020. The celebration includes a champagne toast, packing demonstrations and a 100-year history.

To find out  more about the company and how the stores are relevant to today’s travelers, Travel Smart talked with  owner Wallace Kaehler Jr. popularly known as “Buzz.” And yes, there will be a trunk at the anniversary party,” said Buzz.

First, a background sheet on the company noted that the business started in 1920 after locksmith Walter Gustav Kaehler (Buzz’s grandfather), was increasingly being asked to repair locks on travel trunks. As a result Kaehler decided to sell luggage and trunks in his shop in Evanston.

Originally called Kaehler’s Lock and Trunk Works, the business also included motor and boat sales before those lines were dropped and the company became Kaehler Luggage in 1938.

In the following years, the business grew as an upscale luggage emporium with stores now in Highland Park, Winnetka, Hinsdale and Chicago. Evanston closed in the late 1990s.

What visitors to the Kaehler stores will find  is way more than mere suitcases.

Buzz Kaehler (Photo courtesy of Kaehler Luggage)
Buzz Kaehler (Photo courtesy of Kaehler Luggage)

“We think of ourselves as travel outfitters, not just a luggage store,” said Buzz who followed his father Walter “Wally” Kaehler into the family business in the 1970s.

He pointed out that the Kaehler stores carry an abundance of items that travelers need or want including the shield scarf that when put over the head protects airline passengers from the drafts so common in planes; cases that protect credit card information from being stolen; and such popular travel items as the Que water bottle that packs neatly but expands at the destination to hold double the amount.

“People also give Que as gifts,” said Buzz

Among his latest accessory additions are the company’s own line, Kaehler 1920.  Begun three years ago, it includes leather Dopp Kits and Duffle Bags in Horween Leather. “I’m passionate about Horween,” he said.

“We also have clothes with SPF built in for sun protection,” he said, adding that his wife and daughter handle the women’s clothes. The company’s flagship store in the former Betty’s of Winnetka location has space for a full line of clothes including the Michelle crewneck, bamboo-spandex blend tee with a UPF of 50.

Among the luggage trends, Buzz noted that travelers have moved from two wheels to four-wheel “spinners.”People even use them as their travel cart and add their other carry-ons to it,” he said.

Buzz pointed out that another trend gaining momentum is “hard shell.” “Polycarbonate is making a difference” Buzz said and noted that frequent travelers he calls “road warriors” like  the lightweight, hard-sided suitcases because they wear well.

But no matter what products he mentions Buzz returns to the company’s mantra of personal attention.

“We’re a specialty retailer. You don’t get just some clerk when you come in. Our staff are trained. They can tell people about travel regulations. They know weight limits and sizes,” said Buzz, explaining that the staff work with customers to find out what they need and want.

“That’s the true value of a specialty retailer,” he said. “When you walk out of here you can have your (TSA approved) combination lock set and monogram already done. No waiting.”

For more product information and travel tips visit Kaehler at World Traveler.

(Ed Note: Kaehler will hold “A Case For Giving” at its four stores through February, 2020. Customers may bring in a gently used bag in exchange for a discount coupon towards a new Briggs & Riley bag.  The bag will be donated as part of the Luggage for Freedom Program. Members of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Chicago North Shore section will then pack the donated bags with new items for women in crisis who are transitioning from domestic violence shelters.)


Author: Jodie

Longtime Chicago Tribune contributor for news and features. Travel writer for What's Happening, Great Lakes Boating, CBS Theater for Examiner and A&E for CBS

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