Branson’s longtime variety store, specializing in the unique, has been in business since 1961.
BRANSON – With its jars of loose candy, old-fashioned Kit-Cat Klocks, seas of embroidery thread, housewares and more, Dick’s 5 & 10 is an anomaly in today’s big-box world. Instead of sterile simplicity, atmosphere fills the aisles: Vintage shopping baskets, pressed-tin ceiling tiles and the lingering scent of an old hardwood floor remind of another time.
“Many people now want an experience, or a story behind what they buy,” says owner Steve Hartley. “And we think we have that. In fact, we know we have that.”
There are toys, gifts, and vintage hairnets advertised by red-lipped ladies. More than 100 types of soda pop — from famous Frostie to novelty flavors — sparkle rainbow-style on the shelves. Those fizzy gems aren’t financially valuable, but they represent something worth far more than their $1.99 price tags.
“We hit a lot of nerves here at Dick’s,” Hartley says. “From the folks who remember the 5 & 10, it brings back a memory. A good memory. A memory of a simpler time, which is what many people are looking for these days.”
How it began
Make no mistake: Dick’s hasn’t tried to recreate the past. It just never left it behind.
The business began in 1961 when Hartley’s father, Dick Hartley, opened up shop one block away from the current store. But his foray into dime-store service actually started years before that.
After time in the military during World War II, and graduating from Drury College (now University) with a degree in economics in 1950, the elder Hartley was faced with a challenge. “(He) couldn’t find a job,” says Hartley. “So he moved to Chicago and started learning the 5 & 10 business.”
That education took place in the stock room of an S.S. Kresge, a chain that eventually evolved into today’s Kmart stores. After learning the ropes there, and at T G & Y Variety in Oklahoma, he decided that opening his own store was the way to go — and Branson was the place to be. “Dick believed Branson had the most upside potential of the communities they had considered and the decision was made,” states the store’s website.
Hartley and his wife, June, opened their 1,500-foot, Commercial Street store in July 14, 1961. It was quite a task: The elder Hartley did most of the store’s work himself, even building things such as the its counters, before hiring the first employee until 1964.
Twelve years after opening, the family moved the business (with the help of the Baldknobbers’ van) to its front-and-center location in Branson’s historic downtown district.
The new location, however, wasn’t new to such shops. Built in 1915, it was home early on to a dime store owned by two brothers from the Middle East, says Hartley. Later, a Newport 5 & 10 operated there. But when the industry shifted away from dime-store models the store closed — which is when the Hartleys acquired the space in 1973.
The former store, however, isn’t forgotten. Its name still lives in the tiles, a 1950s addition that covers the store’s original hardwood floor.
The floor tiles, placed in the late 1950s, reflects the store’s former name — and covers its original hardwood floor, still visible in spots where the tile has chipped.
Setting the store apart
Looking back, it’s clear that the Hartleys’ ethics — both moral and business — played a role in the store’s story.
“We try to stay with the values I learned 40 years ago,” stated the elder Hartley in a 1996 Springfield News-Leader article. “We don’t want to be out of a certain sewing notion, for instance. And you have to know everything. You have to know about types of face powder, sizes of tools, ladies’ lingerie. It’s hard work. That’s one reason a lot of people don’t want to do it.”
But the store’s success was also tied to something else: strategy. “(My father) learned, not long in his retail career, that he had to be more than just a store,” says Hartley. “He had to offer something more than just buying and selling.”
One of the ways the elder Hartley accomplished that goal was by adding a museum-like feel to the store, starting with a collection of arrowheads.
“It did the trick,” says Hartley. “I mean, the guys came in, they looked at the arrowheads while the women shopped, and they all walked out and everybody had a great time.”
That collection has been joined by many others over the years, including 95 aviation prints, a baseball wall of fame and extensive collection of Barbie dolls. Vintage airplanes fly, frozen in space, from the ceiling. G Scale Trains, including two running overhead, entertain along with collections of old-time Cap Guns, vintage washing machines, green-handled kitchen utensils and Native American artifacts.
While such efforts helped Dick’s in the beginning, Hartley says it differentiates the store today, too.
“Many independent retailers are struggling with what they can do to stay relevant,” he says. “It’s more than just buying it and putting it (out there). You’ve got to tug on a person’s heart.”
Those heartstrings are what brought the younger Hartley back to Branson in 1993. In the 1980s and ’90s, he worked as a buyer and store manager for Dillard’s department stores. After 10 years away, however, he decided home was the best place to be.
Dick Hartley and son Steve are pictured in the store in 1996. (Courtesy of the Springfield News-Leader/photo by Dan Dyer)
“You get a little older, and you start seeing that things weren’t so bad where you came from,” he says. “Or your father wasn’t so bad. Or the family business, which I had worked in since probably age 5, that it wasn’t so bad after all. And what a shame if we don’t keep something like that going.”
After the younger Hartley returned, the father-and-son duo had 13 years of collaboration before Dick’s death in December 2006. But the store remains a family affair: Today, Hartley owns and operates the business along with his mother and brother-in-law, Dave Montgomery.
Visiting the store
Dick’s offers many items related to novelty or nostalgia, such as popular Little Golden Books.
Shopping at Dick’s isn’t designed to be quick: After all, it takes time to make memories. And even on a weekday, chilly afternoon, the store is a buzzing, busy place.
One of those shoppers is Stephanie Adams, who makes a stop at the store every time she’s in town from Illinois on fishing trips with her boyfriend.
“I usually come back because they have unusual things that you can’t find anywhere else,” she says, noting items including a “Wizard of Oz” sign and “Star Wars” memorabilia that she’s taken home from the store.
Those unique items fall under the “novelty” calling that Hartley says help distinguish the store from the rest. “Our 10 department managers are charged with going out and finding unusual things like this,” says Hartley, pointing to a pair of underpants for a girl squirrel. “It makes people laugh,” he says. “They don’t see stores like this anymore.”
That “fun” aisle, as Hartley calls it, contains other gag-like gifts including animal feeders in the shape of unicorn heads, horses that people can wear on their hands, and bacon everything: bacon-flavored dental floss, bacon-aroma air freshener, and even bacon-scented erasers.
Strawberry banana, chili mango and pumpkin pie are only three of Dick’s 40 taffy flavors.
A few isles over, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley displays sell the superstars on cups, mugs, lunch boxes and more. Near the cash registers, Little Golden Books bring smiles, stories and memories. The store’s toy department in the back would make Santa envious, and its “candy emporium” offers grab-by-the-handful sweet treats such as taffy. “Kids can walk in here with ($1) and walk out with a bag of candy,” says Hartley.
Other old-fashioned favorites, including Zots, Big Hunk, Creme Drops, chocolate wafers, and less-than-politically-correct candy cigarettes, are also for sale. Tasty treats from Springfield’s Ozark Mountain Popcorn are there, too, across from those aforementioned bottles of speciality soda, representing more than 100 varieties.
Dick’s sells more than 100 varieties of soda pop.
Grown-up coloring books decorate an end cap; at the front of the store, walls of magnets line up row by row. There are inspirational items, in addition to must-have Branson-themed souvenirs. And, not far away, are rolling waves of embroidery thread, zippers, thread and sewing notions. After all, while the majority of the store’s customers are tourists, that’s not all they see.
“You know, locals still come down all the time because we have a lot of those hard-to-find, staple items they can’t find anywhere else,” he says.
That said, those staple items aren’t sought only by locals. A recent visitor from Olathe, Ks., came for the store’s yarn selection — and was so eager to visit that she stopped at the store before checking into her hotel.
“They have yarn in colors and stripes that I can’t find in Olathe,” she says, arms full of skeins in varying color combinations. “So each time I come, I pick up some that I can mix (for projects) with solids that I have at home.”
The visitor, who declined to give her name, also gets other things while she’s at Dick’s — beginning with a resurgence of memories, triggered by seeing the toys that her children played with.
“We offer so many different ways that (the store) touches a person’s heart,” says Hartley. “The more you get around it, the more you see there’s no place like it.”
Want to shop?
“5 & 10 store worth plenty to customers,” Kathryn Buckstaff, Springfield News-Leader, May 17, 1996