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Dingle's of Dayton 100 years old

 

July 2, 2020

-Chronicle photo

You name it, Dingle's of Dayton probably has it–or can get it. Dayton's venerable general store is 100 years old this year and owner Mindy Betzler, left, and her Girl Friday Mary Bly-Morgan, are patiently waiting for coronavirus restrictions to be lifted so the centennial can be celebrated with the public.

DAYTON–Long before there were big box stores or Amazon, the people of Dayton and Columbia County got what they needed at 100-year-old Dingle's of Dayton, which to this day remains one of this fair city's crown jewels along its historic Main Street.

Entering the 179 E. Main Street store, through one of two large front doors with age-worn brass handles and thumb latch, and padding across its worn wooden flooring, is like stepping back in time, when impulse merchandising wasn't the force behind displaying the items common to a general store a hundred years ago.

Besides the housewares, power tools, brooms and brushes, sporting goods and other typical "general store" items of merchandise, Dingle's tantalizes the senses with a touch of nostalgia found among the not-for-sale furnishings that line the walls above the everyday displays.

There is a foursome of handsome deer trophies gazing tauntingly down on would-be hunters who cruise the aisles of the hunting and fishing section.

An old washboard rests against the wood paneling, keeping company with scales and a kerosene lantern. There's a basket of wheat stalks, an airplane wing rib and propeller, and a long mural of the Blue Mountains.

A display case contains old glass insulators, vintage glass jars, a cigar box and various items that were once ready, willing and able to be sold but now are relegated to a historical display.

Over the decades, Dingle's has been the "go-to" place for gifts-from Christmas to birthdays, Mother's Day and Father's Day-and there's a centrally located gift-wrapping station to efficiently handle those requests. Go ahead, ask an "associate" at Target or Costco to wrap a gift for you.

The business still carries the Dingle name though it's been under the careful stewardship of Melinda "Mindy" Betzler, who purchased the retail store from Bertram Dingle Jr. in 2004. She and faithful employee Mary Bly-Morgan have been operating the store since, Bly-Morgan having joined the outfit in 1999.

Betzler had been counting on celebrating the centennial in a big way with the multitudes that were expected to flock to the 2020 All Wheels Weekend last month, but the community's precautions regarding the coronavirus changed those plans. The 100-year celebration is still planned, but will be held at a future time when large group gatherings will be allowed.

The altered plans are being taken in stride by Betzler, who counts herself among the population said to be vulnerable to COVID-19.

"We try to make it truly a 'general-merchandise store,'" Betzler said, "as opposed to high-end gifts and exclusive products."

The clothing department has been "pared down" due to the competition with chain retailers, Betzler said, but the toys, hunting, fishing, and sporting goods sections have been increased.

"We try to have a good selection of housewares, light bulbs, batteries-those everyday things that people need-and have fun, too," she said. She started "Ladies' Night Out," eventually expanding to the various retail shops up and down Main Street in the Nineties and 2000s, and still a favorite each December.

Another service Dingle's offers is the wide range of products available through the True Value Hardware system. "If we don't have it," she says, "we can probably get it."

A number of local customers routinely shop the internet, then go to Dingle's and order the same or a similar product. She has customers who don't drive but need items available from Dingle's, or from retailers out of town, and Dingle's comes through with the item and personalized delivery.

Betzler basks in the accumulated history of the venerable store, and loves to hear Columbia County natives' stories of Mrs. Dingle's legendary merchandizing practices. Getting married and registering for wedding presents at Dingle's? Mrs. Dingle would not simply order those pieces purchased by gift givers, she would order the entire set of dishes and keep them for the day when additional or replacement pieces were needed by the family.

"If she liked you, she gifted you an entire place setting," Betzler said.

But Mrs. Dingle was strict, especially concerning youngsters accompanying their moms or dads while shopping. Betzler has heard stories of wide-eyed kids lined up near the cash register to keep them from breaking product on the shelves. "They were scared to death," Betzler said, "but if she saw a kid without a coat, one showed up on that family's doorstep."

For the 84 years prior to Betzler's arrival, through the ups and downs of the national and local economies, and surviving a pair of fires, the Dingle family supplied the wants and needs of the citizenry.

In the April 17, 1920, edition of the Dayton Chronicle: "This week the Prater-Rinehart Hardware Co. passed into the hands of Mr. John Dingle of Coeur d'Alene, Id., and stock taking commenced today."

The Dingle's ownership of the store began as Dayton Hardware and Implement Company, and a number of years later the name was changed to Dingle's of Dayton Hardware, and later shortened to Dingle's of Dayton, according to Dayton Chronicle files.

Prior to Prater-Rinehart, historical photos suggest the First and Main corner store was occupied by T.B. Gilmour Stoves and Hardware, and probably an earlier iteration at the same location was The A. Roth Mercantile. The corner building was known as the Budde Building.

With that, John Dingle launched the family business. Two years later, his sons, W. B. "Bert" Dingle Sr. and Hedley Dingle, joined the company. John Dingle returned to Coeur d'Alene after a couple of years, and Hedley Dingle's association with the store continued until 1932, when he and his wife Clara moved to Coeur d'Alene to open a gift shop.

Bert immigrated with his family from England, spent his boyhood years in Coeur d'Alene, attended high school in Palouse and graduated with a degree in law from the University of Idaho. He served as an Army Lieutenant in World War I. The Dayton merchant married Cletys L. Gossett in 1923, who had come to Dayton to teach in 1920, and the couple began a 57-year marriage (with a "secret" ceremony because school teachers weren't allowed to be married and hold a job). The union included a son and two daughters, W. B. "Bert" Dingle, Jr., Patricia Dingle Dalton, and Ann Dingle Hertig, all deceased.

At age 84, Bert passed away on September 17, 1980, and Cletys died September 15, 1991, at the age of 90, having putting in six days a week for nearly 50 years at the store. "She felt that customers came first and made many a salesman wait until closing time," her obituary read. "For her customers, Cletys always had numerous recipe cards, household hints, messages of inspiration and always asked people to leave their addresses so she could mail them a new batch of recipes."

Many of those homey missives and recipes live on in a 132-page booklet-available at Dingle's, of course-entitled "Mrs. Dingle's Diary of Recipes & Philosophies." The book was compiled by long-time Dingle's employee Nancy Otterson, who worked with Mrs. Dingle for 13 years, and continued up to and including some time following the store's sale to Betzler.

William Bertram "Bert" Dingle Jr. assumed management of the store and operated it alongside his mother until her death in 1991, and then a few more years before selling to Betzler in 2004, and retiring. He died on June 22, 2012.

Members of the Dingle family were active in civic, fraternal and political organizations during their years in Dayton, and upheld a high standard of community involvement and volunteerism.

The original Dingles Hardware and Implement Co. sold farm implements and its solidly built floors were stout enough to "floor" the products for farmers to see and "kick tires."

Betzler's impression of the store's numerous transformations is that the Dingles added oil stoves, and kitchen stoves at some point, and that machinery manufacturers gravitated away from retail to machinery dealerships.

Bert Jr. was active as a volunteer fire fighter with the City Fire Department for 38 years. Good thing, too, because the store sustained two fires, one in early 1929, and another in 1952.

On February 18, 1929, the store caught fire in the basement, apparently caused by an overheated smoke pipe, and fire fighters poured water into the structure for four hours. The building was gutted, the Chronicle reported. An estimated $20,000 in stock was lost, and building damage amounted to $10,000. "The fact that the firm and their stock scattered in several different rooms, all separated by brick walls, is responsible for the comparatively small loss sustained," the Chronicle article read. Bert Sr. and Hedley owned the store at the time.

By September, the Dingle brothers introduced the newly rebuilt store to the community, "constructed at an approximate cost of $15,000. It is 50X115 feet and the feature of the large room is the lack of any supports aside from the walls, the arched roof construction making this possible.

"The construction work was done under the direction of W. L. Rodrick, local contractor. The front part of the building is constructed of white iron spot brick, with a black glaze brick used for trim. The old wall, which was used for much of the east side of the building, will be covered with stucco. Six hundred square feet of plate glass is used in the Main Street front, and in the front section of the east side, affording excellent light as well as an exceptionally large amount of display space."

-Chronicle photo

The Dingle's of Dayton storefront features plenty of plate glass that has displayed its wares over the years.

On December 17, just before Christmas, 1952, fire broke out at 3:40 p.m., discovered in the room on the northwest corner of the Dingle Block, the two-story building west of the corner. "An employee discovered the fire which started 'there by the bolt racks.' That spot was only a few feet from the lay-a-way Christmas gift section, and that circumstance added fury to the fire," the Chronicle article said.

The fire burned the ceiling of the building, but didn't damage the joists or floor of the American Legion Hall on the second floor.

Photos of the damage show charred beams and joists toppled among toy baby carriages and rows of tricycles.

In spite of the damage, Dingle's was open the next day "doing a rushing Christmas business."

Acting Postmaster Willy Jording had evacuated important U.S. Post Office documents and office valuables in the event the fire was unable to be contained to the Dingle Building. At that time, the Post Office was located next door to Dingle's.

 
 

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