Watertown Daily Times - Farm & Garden Section

Saturday, April 1, 1978

A Store with Deep Roots: Antwerp Couple, 82 and 91,
Are Still Selling Dry Goods

By William S. Pike- Times Canton Bureau

ANTWERP- Are you fed up? Have you had it? Up to here? Are you tired of bargain basements, high-pressure salesmanship, fluorescent lights, crowds and Musak? Tired of fads on the shelves, windy, eye-catcher ads for the fads, whirring checkout counters and bright plastic wrappers concealing merchandise?

When shopping, do you feel like the mark in a carnival game of chance? When you approach a chain store, do your eyes wind around in their sockets, clicking up dollar signs like a cash register? Do you cough when you get the bill and cry when your kid breaks his mumbly-blumbly on the first test run? Have you ever gotten lost in a big store with full realization that only a few hours of daylight remain?

Don’t give up hope, fellow shoppers. All is not lost. Just drive over to Antwerp and check out a little store there. Dickson’s Dry Goods Store, by name, with foundations sunk deep into American history…further back than the Civil War.

Mrs. Harriett Dickson Allen, aged 82 years, will be waiting behind the counter for you, 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., each and every day but Sunday. Regular holidays excluded, of course.

When business is slow – there are not big sales or promotions- Mrs. Allen sits on a chair, by the front window, watching the town go by or maybe reading her books and magazines. In the winter, Harriett’s husband, Roy, aged 91 years, will have shoveled the snow from the platform outside. The town crews will have cleared the sidewalks. The store front, painted forest green, somewhat dulled with age, will be but a stone’s throw from the bridge, right on the main drag.

Inside, the dry goods at Dickson’s— buttons, shirts, pocket-books, perfume, bed and table linens, pajamas, toys, cards, pencils, pens, thread, jewelry, trousers and just about anything else you can think of— will be arranged on either side of two aisles, with a clock maker’s attention to detail. The wooden floors, worn like old trails, will be swept clean as a whistle and oiled against dust. The electric lights, suspended from a high ceiling, will shed a faint glow over oil and the place will probably be sort of quiet.

Jugs of cattails will be ranged around the sides of the store, above the shelves. Perhaps there will seem to be someplace in there, a clock ticking as if in a library. If it is raining, you will be able to hear the drops hit the big front t windows.

“This store’s been in existence for a long time,” says Mrs. Allen. “Mr. Johnson had it for a long time and then he sold it to Ira Hensdale after he was discharged from the Union Army.

“Mr. Hendsdale, you see, was a veteran of the Civil War. “Mr. Hensdale never had a good vacation and so one year he went to Florida. I think it was 1917. And there he died only a short time after he arrived.”

As Mrs. Allen speaks, she stands behind the counter, near the front of the old store. She glances down occasionally at a book of charge slips upon which she has written some notes. Mrs. Allen’s husband, Roy, comes in at one point and we shake hands. He stands listening for a while, smiling. At last, he turns to go, with a good-natured wave, explaining that his wife can give me the better story on the store.

“After Mr. Hensdale passed away,” Mrs. Allen says, “the store was sold to a Mr. Jacobsen. He kept it just a year.

“An auction was held and the building was sold to Mr. George Frazer. He already had a nice store in Gouverneur and he was thinking this could be a smaller store and he could run the two of them. “If you ever had known the Frazers, you’d know they were very energetic.

“A man named Arthur Porter took over as manager and he later bought the store. But he sold it back to Mr. Frazer and in 1929, or around then, the Frazers took over running the store.”

Mrs. Allen pauses, glancing over her notes, skipping back and forth to make sure nothing has been missed. Then she looks up. “Now,” she smiles. “I’ve told you all that and it’s your turn to ask me some questions.” “Okay,” I say, “How did you get into the dry goods business?”

“Well,” says Mrs. Allen, moving her notes aside, ‘I came on the scene a long time ago.”

“Mrs. Frazer’s boys were home from college and she told me she’d just go crazy if she couldn’t be home with them for awhile. She asked me to work at the store for just one week.” “I said I’d work just one week and —well— here I am today.”

Mrs. Allen and her first husband, Albert Dickson, a Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputy for more than 20 years, brought the dry goods store after George Frazer’s death in 1951.

“And then my husband died in February, 1957,” says Mrs. Allen, “and in 1960, I married Roy Allen of Watertown.

“I continued to run the store and we didn’t change the name of it.” Roy, she explains was retired from the New York Air Brake Co. in Watertown, “so he was free to come help me in the store.”

Her husband, she says, “is very much interested in sports. Sports of all kinds. There’s always a book or magazines around at home or here in the store. We never have a dull moment. “Roy was in educational work for over 35 years…before he began working for the Air Brake. He’s a graduate of Harvard University.”

I ask Mrs. Allen if she sees differences between Dickson’s Dry Goods Store and vaster, more modern places.

“We don’t try to compete with the chain stores,” she says, “Yes, we’re different, I guess.

We try to offer only the nationally advertised brands and the brands we can trust. If somebody bought something at a bargain center or one of these big places and it was bad, they’d think to themselves, ‘Well, what can you expect?’

“But if they buy something from us and it goes wrong, then they’ll be coming back to us.” She smiles.

“Oh we could get cheaper, but…” I ask Mrs. Allen to explain exactly what dry goods are.

“It’s funny,” she says, “but a lot of people ask that same thing. It’s an old, old term.

“It means cottons and laces, and linens, threads and knitting needles.” Just everything that’s dry, I guess.” She smiles.

Roy and Harriett Allen want to sell the dry goods store.

“It’s time to retire, I suppose, says Mrs. Allen. “But I always think…as long as we stay well…if we get through Christmas and inventory, we’ll be all right. “But I keep saying to people, ‘Take the store…take the store.’

She smiles.

“I was born in 1895,” Mrs. Allen says, “You know, in a small town, people make their lives with the churches and the clubs and so on. And with lots of dear friends. When we sell the store, that’s what we’ll miss the most. The people that you meet. Many of them, you don’t even know their names unless you make out a charge slip.”

“But most of them…most of them are super.”