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A Missouri five-and-dime holds its own with novelties

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Courtesy of Branson Tri-Lakes News

(Read caption) Owner Steve Hartley stands next to a jukebox in Dick’s.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent. 

Sitting on Branson’s historic square, a store harks back to an era when families loaded the station wagon and drove to town on Saturday. The store sells “dry goods” from decades past such as “sewing notions,” 1940s starlet paper dolls, dainty handkerchiefs, wax lips, and lye soap.

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This year, Dick’s celebrates its 50th anniversary. It’s one of the last five-and-dime stores in the United States

Started in 1961 by Dick and June Hartley, the store is now run by their son, Steve, who continues his late father’s dream of offering a shopping experience as entertainment. Dick’s woos customers with more than 180,000 different items and novelty décor, such as an extensive framed arrowhead collection and more than 100 World War II-era signed aviation prints hanging from the ceiling.

“You have to have heart and a passion to set yourself apart from those box stores because you can’t compete with their prices,” says Mr. Hartley, who left corporate life in 1993 to join the family business.

Computers don’t track inventory. Instead, clerks working the floor closely watch what sells and what doesn’t. They ask customers what they like. The store is chaotic and lively.

A grandfather shows his grandson a bag of American-made glass marbles, a potato gun, and a yo-yo. Down another narrow aisle, a tourist fills up a vintage wood, cloth, and metal shopping bag with holiday bubble lights. Still another customer peruses the store’s 250 board games and 30 feet of jigsaw puzzles.

Dick’s prides itself on obscure items. Hartley scours trade shows for hot sellers such as the 1950s perfume “Blue Waltz,” cinnamon toothpicks, cap guns, and 20 styles of hair nets in 1960s packaging that sell for 89 cents.

“We will keep that dime-store image, fully assorted and fully stocked,” Hartley says.