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Blanding's Department Store played big role in early DL

Blanding's Department store started in 1887 selling household goods like china, tools, food and clothes. This photo was taken in 1937. Photo courtesy of The Becker County Historical Society

In 1887, Blanding’s Department Store was the first of its kind to pop up in the city, which back then was still called “Detroit.”

Dick Blanding’s grandfather, Arthur M. Blanding, was among the first settlers in town and had the good business sense to start up a store that sold the one thing other settlers coming in on their wagons couldn’t bring with them on the rough roads — breakables such as china and kerosene lamps.

The Blandings didn’t just make money through their business though, they made actual money — currency.

“Blandings made their own money … their own coins,” said Dick Blanding in a July 2012 interview with the Detroit Lakes Newspapers, “because there just wasn’t much actual money in those days … the Blandings coins were accepted all over town.”     

With a booming business and their own local currency, Blandings expanded from a smaller building where Dino Mart is today to a large department store where the Graystone building currently stands.

Blanding and his business partner, J.H. Smith, also built and ran steam crafts for logging as well as a hotel called The Northern Pacific Hotel and Barn.

But soon, Blanding and Smith would part ways and Blanding would team up with another up-and-coming name in town — L.J. Norby.

The two continued to build on their department store until A.M. Blanding’s death in 1899.

E.G. Holmes (Dick Blanding’s great-great-uncle) and without a doubt Detroit’s most successful businessman of that time, took over as president of the company, during which time in 1906, Norby broke off and started his own department store across the street.

In 1914, A.M. Blanding’s two sons, H.D. Blanding (Dick’s father) and C.W. Blanding were old enough to take over the business, and all stock in the company was switched over to the Blanding family.

The business continued to thrive, and when Dick was born on Jan. 21, 1920, he would be handed a last name and a work ethic that would persevere through the hardest of times — the Great Depression.

The lakes meant free recreation to people around the region, which also meant Blanding’s would survive.

It even had a sophisticated “tube” system set up at the cash registers where customers’ money would be placed in a tube that would suck it up into the main office upstairs. It was a safe, secure way to do business and ensure any would-be robbers couldn’t get to the store’s money.          

Blanding’s Department Store is what Dick would call “the Walmart of its time, selling just about everything a person could need — clothes, food, tools, dishes.

Blanding says he always knew managing the store is what he wanted to do, and after his father passed away, he and his older brother, Henry, did just that.

The two brought the Blandings Department Store to another generation of shoppers and remained one of the biggest employers in town for years.

“People that worked for us had families, built homes, owned them and sent kids to college,” he said, proudly.

But times, they were a changing, and soon “the big box” retailers began to pop up.

“The K-Marts, the Walmarts, the Pamidas … we couldn’t compete with them in the hours we wanted to stay open, and so while the store was still successful and we were still making money, we didn’t encourage any of our family to go into the business,” said Blanding.

Mass merchandizing made the business “less fun,” he added, and the Blanding brothers decided to close their doors in the late 1970s.

“We wanted to get out while the getting was good, and thank God we did,” said Blanding, who spent part of his retirement at Rock Lake building a log cabin, investing in several parcels of random lake land and enjoying his family, which consisted of four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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