History, Part Seven

May 30, 2021

Compiled, Edited and Some Original Content by Ret Martin

A New Direction and The End 2000 – 2007

2000 – 2007, Brownwood, TX, Dunlaps.  This store was established along the same lines as Stephenville in a portion of a vacant Walmart.  These types of locations existed all over the country, former Walmarts and other big-box retailers which had moved to larger facilities in town, leaving big, empty spaces that could be subdivided.  A Dunlaps store could be easily finished out in one portion of the space, and the rest could go to one or more smaller stores.  Since independent, family-owned department stores were disappearing, and the federal government had placed heavy restrictions on the use of loss-carry-forward, this was the most promising method for expanding the Company.

2000 – 2007, Carlsbad, NM, Carlsbad Mall, Dunlaps.  The store was moved from the Downtown Collin Gerrells & David James location, to the former J.C. Penney location at the mall.

Tom Hoskins, president of The Dunlap Company, retired in February 2000, after 38 years with the company.  He was succeeded by Eddie Martin, son of Edward Martin.  Eddie was an attorney by education and practice.  Tom was the last member of the Hoskins family to be involved in the business.  His brothers, Chuck and Joe had previously left the Company for other opportunities.

In March 2000, a tornado ripped through the downtown area of Fort Worth.  Many buildings were badly damaged, and two people were killed by the collapse of a brick wall just a few blocks away from the Company’s 200 Greenleaf headquarters building.  The headquarters building sustained no damage, but streets throughout the area were blocked off on the following morning.  A few operations employees were able to reach the building before the streets were closed, but the rest of the office staff was stopped a block away on White Settlement Road.  Across Greenleaf Street from the offices was Williams Tool Company, with a series of connected buildings that stretched all the way to White Settlement Road.  The store manager at Williams invited the Dunlaps office employees to come through his store all the way through to a door that was directly across the street from the office, so the office was able to be staffed up to support the stores, despite the roadblocks.  An interesting observation, it was noted by several employees that the roadblocks apparently did not apply to UPS and FedEx trucks, because those vehicles freely moved past the police officers with no impediment.

Led by Eddie Martin, and in response to changes in both the wholesale and retail markets, the Company began a vigorous campaign to concentrate store locations in the south-central and southwest United States, to centralize merchandise buying, advertising and credit card operations, and to unify the design and presentation of all stores through moving, remodeling and rebranding as Dunlaps.  The Stephenville and Brownwood stores were the template.  Mall locations would be closed as leases expired, and emphasis would be placed on strip centers and on the evolving, suburban power center/lifestyle center locations in moderate-size markets.  In addition, the stores were divided into regions, and Regional Managers were selected to oversee them, all reporting to Dale Mathews as Director of Store Operations.  Dale had been with the Company since 1974.

During this period, the Company’s vendors were consolidating their sales operations, and the Apparel Mart in Dallas was closed – the building itself, the main hall of which had been featured in the movie “Logan’s Run”, was later torn down – eliminating the efficiency of Dunlaps’ decentralized buying method.  The days of sending store managers and buyers to market from every store or group of stores were over.  The era of the road salesman was also over.  In a period of about one year, Company purchasing shifted from about 5% corporate to 100% corporate, the corporate buying staff was doubled, and a corporate advertising department was established.  The internet domain, Dunlaps.com was established and a central distribution center was opened in the Mercantile development in north Fort Worth to receive, repack and reship any shipments that could not be drop-shipped directly from vendors to the stores.  Using and potentially expanding the facility as a fulfillment center for internet sales was studied at the time, but using Penney’s internet business as a model, the equivalent amount of business would have been about the same annual volume as the Pauls Valley store, which seemed hardly worth developing a full e-commerce website in those days.  Dunlaps.com was used as a store locator, an advertising platform, and a portal for the Company’s newly-centralized credit card operations using First Data Resources for processing.  Nordstrom later demonstrated that an e-commerce platform could be successfully integrated with brick-and-mortar locations, with internet sales accounting for more than 30% of their business by 2019, but that was a process that took them almost two decades to develop.  Acquisition of an established catalogue/e-commerce fulfillment center was also considered during this time, with an eye toward establishing a foothold in this growing area, but no deal could be done that seemed worth the investment.  With dwindling cash reserves, and e-commerce in its infancy, it seemed too early.  In truth, it was probably exactly the right time, if not a year or two late.

In December 2000, the Company’s offices were moved from 200 Greenleaf St. to 200 Bailey Ave. in Fort Worth, Texas, as a result of a profitable real estate deal initiated by Russell Martin, son of Edward Martin. The Company also began the process of replacing and updating computer systems and equipment, with the attendant problems of going from decentralized to centralized operations.  In addition, NCR announced it would discontinue support for the venerable 9800 mainframe computer, so a new system, based on an IBM AS400 mini-computer running JDA software was installed along with a rack of Dell servers to handle internet and intranet communications.  Marking and receiving, inventory management – including the department number scheme used for more than half a century – daily cash reporting operations, and every cash register had to be replaced.  Every employee in every store had to be retrained.  At “go-live” it was as if almost every person in the Company would be starting a new job.  The technology change was begun in April 2001 with a target date to go live on the new system of April 4, 2002.

Halfway through the project, the terror attacks of 9/11 occurred.  The Company had no personnel in New York at the time, but some key personnel who were travelling had to scramble to make other arrangements to get home.  Dunlaps’ management held a meeting on September 12th, and a choice was presented: continue with the technology upgrade, or begin a going-out-of-business sale in all stores to coincide with the Christmas season.  There was no going back to the old system.  After some discussion, it was decided to continue with the conversion and to remain in business.  The Company was committed.  It turned out that President George W. Bush would declare that it was everyone’s patriotic duty to go Christmas Shopping, and although the retail industry had been in a slump during the first half of 2001, Christmas 2001 was strong.  It was the last profitable year for The Dunlap Company.

In April 2002, the conversion would present another huge challenge, because at “go-live”, the new accounts payable system would not produce a check!  Within a week, Dunlaps’ accounts were on hold with every single vendor.  During the three weeks it took to resolve the problem, Reg, Edward, and CFO Craig Peterson called every vendor to negotiate terms in order to get merchandise shipped.  Manual checks were cut for estimated payment amounts.  It took months to reconcile the payments once the payables system was online, but a hard lesson had been learned.  The world had changed in the Company’s relationships with vendors, even vendors with whom the Company had dealt for 50 years.

Previously, the financial relationship had been with the vendor.  Now the financial relationship was with the factor, that is, the bank from whom the vendor was borrowing money.  There was no handshake, pat-on-the-back, good-ole’-boy, “we know you’re good for it” relationship anymore.  The standard terms for apparel were 8% discount if paid in 10 days, net if paid in 30 days.  The Company had large cash reserves for decades, and wanted to take advantage of the 8% discount, so payment was always made in 10 days.  Despite the fact that Dunlaps was known for paying quickly, one missed payment stopped everything.  The Company had benefitted from the other side of this process for some time.  Because of its reputation for quick payment, Dunlaps was often contacted by vendors to take discounted, over-stock shipments that had been sold to other stores that could not pay.  It was a shock to be on the wrong side of the equation, and particularly frustrating since it wasn’t because of a lack of funds; rather, it was because a computer wouldn’t write a check.  During that three-week period, everyone in Dunlaps’ management thought back to the meeting on September 12, 2001 and thought it might have been better to have started that GOB sale.  That “what if?” thought would return just a few years later.

2001 – 2007, Bullhead City, AZ, Dunlaps. 

2001 – 2007, Lake Havasu City, AZ, Dunlaps.

2001 – 2007, Glenwood Springs, CO, Dunlaps.  Former Beall’s location.  The Coal Seam Fire in 2002 caused the evacuation and closure of the store, but no one was injured and the store sustained no damage.  The fire stopped across the street burning out several cars in a parking lot there.  Some months later, the store manager left the Company, and a replacement was not readily available, so Reg Martin volunteered to run the store until a new manager was hired.  At 70 years of age, Reg spent a month, working bell-to-bell to keep the store operating.

2001 – 2007, Liberal, KS, Dunlaps.

2001 – 2007, Searcy, AR, M.M.Cohn.

2001 – 2001, Searcy, AR, Mam’selle Shop.  The store’s inventory and staff were consolidated into the M.M. Cohn store.

2001 – 2006, Decatur, AL, Rogers Select.  The store was moved from a smaller location within the shopping center.               

During 2001, the Company began reviewing other long-standing relationships with the goal of decreasing costs and improving the services received.   The Company’s banking, property and casualty insurance and insurance agency, and financial audit providers were all changed.

In August 2002, Doug Dunlap, son of Ira G. Dunlap Jr. retired from the Company.  Doug’s son Jeff had worked for the Company briefly, making 5 generations of Dunlaps to be involved in the business.  Doug was the last member of the Dunlap family to be actively involved.

2002 – 2007, Ada, OK, Dunlaps.  Former J.C. Penney location.

2002 – 2007, Del Rio TX, Dunlaps.

2002 – 2007, Granbury, TX, Dunlaps.  The location was sold to Russell Womack, who reopened as Russell’s after resigning from Dunlaps and purchasing the rights to the Russell’s name.

2002 – 2007, Midland, TX, Wadley Ave., Dunlaps.  The Store was moved from the Dellwood Plaza location.  The street was named for the same man from whom the original Midland store, Addison Wadley, had been purchased in 1941.

2002 – 2007, Montrose, CO, Dunlaps.

In January of 2003 the Marmid-owned partnership, MFAL Partners, purchased the IBC Bank building in Marble Falls, Texas with the intent of eventually opening a Dunlaps store at that location.  A fire damaged the building while workers were removing safe deposit boxes from the bank’s vault.  A cause was never determined, but a spark from a cutting torch may have started the blaze.  The store was never opened, and the building was later sold to New Quest Properties of Houston.

Store groups in Utah and Oregon were also considered for acquisition during this time, but favorable deals were never reached.

In March of 2003, the Company began buying imports through the Saks Inc. AMC program.  The opportunity came by way of Jim Leamy, who had been hired recently as General Merchandise Manager, bringing many years of merchandising experience from Belk, Saks Inc. and other retailers.

2003 – 2007, Amarillo, TX, 34th St., Dunlaps.  The store was moved from the Western Plaza location.

2003 – 2007, Durango, CO, Dunlaps.

2003 – 2007, Eagle Pass, TX, Dunlaps.

2003 – 2007, Waco, TX, Bosque Blvd., Dunlaps.  This store was the result of a complete remodel and name change from Goldstein-Migel at Lake Air Mall location, when the mall was demolished and reconfigured into a “lifestyle center”.

2003 – 2007, Huntsville, TX, Kerr’s.  This store was the result of a consolidation of three spaces in the mall.

In September of 2003, the Company converted its borrowing facility from an unsecured line of credit at Frost Bank to a secured line of credit with Wells Fargo Retail Finance, and moved its banking from Frost Bank to Wells Fargo Bank.  Gordon Brothers, a venerable valuation and liquidation company, began periodic inventory valuation audits for Wells Fargo.

Dale Mathews retired as Vice President and Director of Store Operations to pursue other business opportunities, and Russell Womack took over the role, bringing 35 years of store experience into the office.

The Company’s headquarters building at 200 Bailey Avenue in Fort Worth was sold, in another successful deal initiated by Russell Martin.  The Company continued to lease offices in the building.  In December of 2003, the Company sold its private label credit card operation to Shoppers Charge.

2004 – 2007, Abilene, TX, Catclaw Drive, Dunlaps.  The store was moved from the Mall of Abilene location.

2004 – 2007, Lubbock,TX , 50th & Boston, Dunlaps.  The store was moved from the 50th & Elgin location.

2004 – 2007, Roswell, NM, Dunlaps.

2004 – 2007, San Angelo, TX, Knickerbocker Ave., Dunlaps.  The store which had struggled at its inception demonstrated enough success to be converted to the Company’s new format and was moved from the Sunset Dr. location.

2004 – 2007, Wichita Falls, TX, Parker Square, Dunlaps.  Formerly McClurkans.  The store was moved from the old location within the shopping center.

In 2005, Hurricane Rita caused the temporary closure of the Beaumont, Huntsville, Lufkin and Victoria stores.  Only The White House in Beaumont sustained water and wind damage, none of it very bad.  The other stores only had business-interruption claims to file.  It was the first year the Company had ever actually purchased business interruption insurance, making Ret Martin look like a genius.  His contention was, “Even a blind squirrel gets a few nuts.”  The insurance company had provided a significant savings on the property and casualty policy that year, so they had made a case for adding business interruption coverage to be paid for with the savings.  No doubt they regretted offering the coverage.

2006 – 2007, Odessa, TX, Grandview Ave., Dunlaps.  The store was moved from the Live Oak Center location.

2006 – 2007, Victoria, TX, Navarro St., Dunlaps.  The store was moved from the Laurent St. location.  This was the last location to be opened by The Dunlap Company.

Plans were in the works to add a Dunlaps location in north Burleson, TX, in a power center on the west side of I-35.  Signs announcing the location remained on the property for months after the Company closed.  Also, plans were being made to renovate the Stripling & Cox building on Camp Bowie Blvd., reducing the footprint of the store to about 60,000 square feet on the first and second floors at the west end of the building, converting the other 40,000 square feet on the first and second floors in the center of the building to mixed-use, retail-and-office, and restoring the parking deck on the east end of the building (which had been enclosed for additional store square footage in the 1960s), all while updating the façade, returning the structure to a mid-20th century style, which is how the building began its life in 1949.  The store would have been rebranded as Dunlaps, and would have continued to be the flagship store of the Company.

Stephenville, Brownwood, Bullhead City, Lake Havasu City, Glenwood Springs, Liberal, Ada, Del Rio, Granbury, Midland, Montrose, Amarillo, Durango, Eagle Pass, Waco, Abilene, Lubbock, Roswell, San Angelo, Wichita Falls, Odessa, Victoria, Burleson and Camp Bowie were envisioned as a core group of stores representing the new direction for The Dunlap Company.  The new store template was easy to replicate, making the Company easier to run, easier to grow, and easier to market either to the financial community or to other companies as a potential acquisition.  It was a vision that would never be allowed to come fully into focus.  The retailing, banking and equity financing environments were changing rapidly and time was running out.  The Company had used its cash reserves to finance the technology change in 2002 and to move, remodel and/or acquire locations along the lines of the new store template established in Stephenville.

Attempts to obtain financing for on-going operations had failed.  Since early 2006, Dunlaps’ management had seen and heard rumblings in the financial markets of what would become the Great Recession in 2008.  Lenders were increasingly hesitant to extend credit, investors hesitant to put up capital.  Everyone wanted to “wait 6 months”.  Other options that had been explored during the preceding months were potential mergers with or outright sales to Stage Stores or to Belk, either of which would have been fairly natural combinations with few duplications in markets, but deals never came together.  By mid-2007, it was time to go to market to buy for the Christmas season, and no one wanted to provide the necessary financing. 

On June 1, 2007, it was announced that The Dunlap Company would close all of its remaining 38 locations.  The Company was out of time and out of money, so it was decided to contract with Gordon Brothers Retail Partners to liquidate assets and to close all department store operations.  An ad hoc creditors’ committee was established and counsel was hired to settle all claims.  The Chief Financial Officer, the General Merchandise Manager, the Divisional Merchandise Managers, the buying staff, the Advertising Director and the advertising staff, all added in the previous five years, were released over the course of the first few weeks of the liquidation process, as Gordon Brothers’ staff would fulfill all such functions during the liquidation.  Ret Martin acted as the primary liaison between Gordon Brothers’ corporate staff and store personnel.  Reg Martin assisted with vendor communications, and Eddie Martin handled creditor communications, often fielding unpleasant, and sometimes threatening calls.  It was a grueling process, but only 5% of the Company’s 900 employees left during the going-out-of-business process, a testament to their dedication and loyalty.

Attempts to obtain financing to continue operations with a group of 19 stores, “the New Nineteen”, also failed.  Russell Womack, would have run the operation as President, with Ret Martin as Vice President of Operations.  When the financing failed to materialize, Womack resigned, after 38 years with the Company.  The last store location, Stripling & Cox on Camp Bowie Boulevard in Fort Worth, Texas, closed on September 28th.  The Dunlap Company had operated stores for 117 years.  It was the last of the family-owned, regional department stores.

The Company’s offices at 200 Bailey Avenue in Fort Worth, were closed on October 31st.  Ret led a small and dedicated team of office personnel, with the help of his wife, Earlene, and alongside Gordon Brothers personnel, until the last day, and well into that night.  On November 1st, Ret handed the keys of the building over to the landlord.

Some years later, Ret told a colleague, “If somehow we had survived 2007, we never would have survived 2008.  The GOB would have been exponentially worse with so many other retailers doing the same thing.  Smarter men than we lost retail businesses in the Great Recession, and still are as Internet retailing continues to grow.  It’s a disappointment, and we will always consider the ‘what ifs’, but we have nothing to be ashamed of.  We ran a great business for a very long time.  We honored and built on the Dunlap family’s and Retha Martin’s legacy.  We had a great team and great customers who stuck with us to the end.  We missed out on some opportunities that may or may not have made a difference, but so did other retailers.  It’s sad that it’s over, but the world has moved on.  We have to move on too.”

Sources:

Records of The Dunlap Company, compiled and maintained by Ruel C. Martin, R.L. Turley, Richard G. Sprott, Reg Martin, and Ret Martin.

Information compiled by Reg Martin from Veda Rose Dunlap Stanbery, Clyde Hilliard Dunlap Jr., and Ira George Dunlap Jr., grandchildren of Hilliard George Washington Dunlap.

An Interview with R.L. Turley, transcribed by Ret Martin.

Only The Dead Have Done Enough, a memoir by Ira. G. Dunlap, Jr.

Hoskilonians, by Tom Hoskins.

Other remembrances passed down through the 5 generations of the Dunlap, Martin and Hoskins families and coworkers who worked to make The Dunlap Company a successful enterprise.

A Personal Note:

The Dunlap Company was a part of my family, a part of my life from my earliest memories.  When the stores were closed, it was like losing a member of that family.  Many of my coworkers I had known since my childhood.  Many of my earliest memories are from the Downtown Lubbock store on Avenue M, where my father, Reg Martin, was store manager, and my uncle, Richard Sprott, was operations manager.  My first job was packing dishes for a Moonlight Madness Sale at the 50th Street store in Lubbock, when I was 14 years old.  I sorted glass shelving at the warehouse on Texas Avenue in Lubbock during Spring Break when I was 15, and marked merchandise at 50th Street the following summer.  I sold menswear and worked in the cash office at the Seminary South store in Fort Worth, sold menswear again at the Waco store during my gap year between high school and college, and I worked in the accounting office at Company headquarters on Greenleaf Street in Fort Worth while I attended TCU.

The Company not only provided a livelihood for my family and for the families of thousands of employees over the years, it provided opportunities for me to meet people and see places I might never have experienced otherwise.  I’ve seen the Maine coast with its rocky shore and lighthouses, and the sandy beaches of southern California.  As a passenger I’ve ridden in the right-hand seat in the cockpit of four Company planes, and have flown far enough out past Port O’Connor, Texas to see the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico, and flown a figure-eight around Ship Rock in New Mexico.  I’ve seen the sun reflecting off playa lakes like a thousand jewels scattered across the high plains of the Texas Panhandle.  I’ve experienced the fear and watched the heroic actions of our pilot, Mont Jennings, when first, the cargo hatch of the Beechcraft Barron popped open in flight, and then the landing gear would not deploy, forcing him to hand crank the gear down, bloodying his knuckles as he continued to fly the plane, ultimately delivering my family to our destination.  I was four or five years old, and my sister, Katherine, aged eight or nine, was belted into the seat right next to the open cargo hatch.

From the air, I’ve watched the sun set behind Chicago, casting shadows of the skyscrapers across a frozen Lake Michigan.  From the tarmac, I’ve watched the FedEx planes from all over the country lining up in the pattern to land in Memphis at nightfall.  I’ve walked the streets of the garment district in New York City, and dealt with the many characters employed there.  I’ve worked with men and women of all ages, of every faith, of every race and of every color, people from all over the country and from all over the world.  I’ve stayed in the smallest, most outdated hotel rooms at the Milford Plaza Hotel, ridden five-to-a-cab from LaGuardia into The City, eaten in New York diners, had a shoeshine on 5th Avenue, been to a Broadway musical, and taken in the views from the observation deck of the Empire State Building.  I’ve walked the miles of corridors of the Dallas Apparel Mart, and met with dealers on every floor of the Dallas World Trade Center.  I’ve watched glass blowers produce blue-rimmed stemware in Juarez, Mexico.  I’ve watched it snow in Presque Isle, Maine, and rain in Victoria, Texas.  I’ve delivered fur coats to the Texas Unclaimed Property Division, and signed corporate reorganization documents in the Texas Secretary of State’s office.  I’ve driven thousands of miles through a dozen states in all kinds of weather, through plains, forests and mountains, and across the Mississippi River.  I’ve seen miles and miles of pump-jacks and acres and acres of cotton.

I’ve seen the fear, anger and haughtiness of some employees, managers and former owners, when even as the Company provided us with a potentially profitable acquisition, it provided them with continued employment, the continuation of the business they built, and some remnant of dignity.  And I’ve seen other employees, managers and former owners embrace the Company and gladly become a part of it.  I’ve spent the wee-hours of the morning trying to stay awake, propped up in a shoe department chair, waiting for the sun to come up after thieves broke out a set of glass doors to steal a few dollars-worth of dresses.  I’ve experienced the sadness and disappointment of confronting managers about theft and dishonesty, terminating their employment after years of service.

I’ve experienced the pride and satisfaction of seeing my wife’s bluebonnet cotton throw design sell successfully and go far-and-wide, bringing comfort to the elderly, serving as a reminder of home to Texans in other parts of the country, and even to missionaries in other parts of the world, and I had the privilege of working beside my wife Earlene as she helped close the corporate offices.  I had the privilege of editing books for my mentor and boss, Tom Hoskins: Billie’s Journey; New Moore, Texas; and Hoskilonians.  I had the privilege of working with my family: my Grandfather Retha Martin; my Great-Uncle Ruel Martin; my Dad, Reg Martin; my aunt Callie Chalk; my uncles Edward Martin and Richard Sprott; my brothers Richard and Jonathan Martin; my cousins, Eddie and Russell Martin and Rutley Chalk; and my cousin-in-law, Curtis Wheat.  There are dozens of memories, good and bad, years of successes and failures, laughs and frustrations.  It wasn’t always great, and often it felt pretty dysfunctional, but what work environment doesn’t have its challenges?  With The Dunlap Company, we cared about one another; at least I did, and I always thought others did as well.  That’s why people stayed.

Finally, there was the privilege of June1, 2007, when it fell to me as the head of human resources, to announce to the headquarters staff that The Dunlap Company was closing and that half of them would be laid off that day.  As we gathered in the conference room on the third floor of our offices at 200 Bailey Avenue in Fort Worth, I started with, “I’m sure you’re all wondering why we’ve called this meeting…”  They started laughing, and I asked them why.  They answered, “Ret, we’ve been expecting this for the last two weeks.”  The tension lifted, I provided the information they needed to have, and we completed the meeting with tears and laughter.  It was the worst day and the best day of my professional life.  You don’t really know how good your people are until you go through something like that.  They were troopers, dedicated, loyal, good-natured and hardworking to the end.  It was a privilege to have known them and to have worked with them.

Late on the night of the following October 31st, Earlene and I, along with a single representative of Gordon Brothers, struggled to haul the AS-400 computer up onto the trailer of its purchaser, who had failed to bring sufficient help or equipment.  One lamp shown down over the back door of the office as the buyer drove off into the darkness.  No theater could have set the scene more poignantly.  The next day, we handed the keys of the building over to the landlord.  Afterward, on the way down in the elevator, Earlene asked me, “What now?”  I said, “We get to live our lives.”

Or so we thought.  For months after the end, we had folding tables and stacks of boxes full of Dunlap paperwork sitting in our living room as we answered credit purchase challenges, verification of employment requests, and inquiries from city and state officials.  Bad check collections had to be deposited, unemployment claims had to be verified, and withdrawal notices had to be finalized.  It took quite a bit of time, emotional energy and physical effort, but it finally dwindled down to a trickle.

While these personal experiences were not particularly earth-shattering, nor did they have profound effects on world events, they did affect my life in a profound way, serving in large measure to make me who I am.  In that light, I hope the story of The Dunlap Company has a lasting impact for good, illustrating the value of hard work, determination, learning from mistakes, providing value, treating people with kindness, and that all things change.  The stores are gone, but the legacy and the people go on.

Ret Martin
May, 2021

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History, Part Six

May 30, 2021

Compiled, Edited and Some Original Content by Ret Martin

Northern and Eastern Adventures 1991 – 1999

1991 – 1998, Grand Rapids, MI, Monroe Center Downtown, Steketee’s.  Paul Steketee & Company was established in 1862.  Members of the Steketee family were involved in management at the time of the acquisition, including Bob, Rob, Dick Rick and Fred Steketee.  Bob and Rob remained as managers for several years after the acquisition.  The acquisition included a large distribution center and warehouse building on Wyoming Ave. in Grand Rapids, and a small fleet of semi-tractors and trailers.

1991 – 2001, Grand Rapids, MI, Eastbrook Mall, Steketee’s.  This was the flagship store of the Steketee’s group.

1991 – 2000, Grand Haven, MI, Steketee’s.

1991 – 2000, Muskegon, MI, Steketee’s.

1991 – 2003, Kalamazoo, MI, Steketee’s.

1991 – 2003, Holland, MI, Steketee’s.  This was the last of the Steketee’s stores to be closed.

1991 – 2007, Kerrville, TX, Schreiner’s.  Charles Schreiner & Company was established at this location on Water St. in 1869. Schreiner’s had been founded by a Texas Ranger who also had established a large ranch in the area, the famous YO Ranch.  Reg Martin had stopped in at the store on the way back to Fort Worth after a vacation at the Gulf Coast.  The store was owned at the time by the Parker family.  Mrs. Parker, Captain Schreiner’s granddaughter, and her husband Clyde were running the store as well as the telephone company, which had grown out of the store.  The bank that had also grown out of the store had already been sold.  Reg told Clyde that if he ever became interested in selling the store, Dunlaps would be interested in buying it.  He allowed that he knew no one else in the business, so he would certainly give Reg a call if that should happen, but one of his son’s was to be graduated from college in May and wanted to try his hand at running the store.  When Clyde discovered that his son wasn’t as interested as they thought, he called Dunlaps.

1991 – 2001, Littlefield, TX, Ware’s.  Operated as part of the Lintz group.  This was the second time for Dunlaps to buy a store from the Ware family.  The first time was when the father wanted to sell because his son was in the service and he didn’t know when he would be back.  Dunlaps sold that store to Beall’s in 1959.  Having a big new store in Lubbock and good new highways on which to travel in new air-conditioned cars, it was impossible for Dunlaps in Littlefield to compete with Dunlaps in Lubbock.  Later, Jimmy Ware, the son, returned home and couldn’t resist the call of retail.  He opened a new store in the old location, and built a very good business.  Now it was time for Jimmy to retire, and he wanted Dunlaps to buy the store so his managers, Joye and John “Junior” Breedlove could continue working.  While Ware’s in Littlefield was no competition for Dunlaps in Lubbock, it did provide a convenient place for locals to find the same kind of quality merchandise they obtained from Dunlaps, right in their home town, which is why Reg Martin and Tom Hoskins had purchased the Lintz stores and had kept smaller markets on their radar for the past ten years.

1992 – 1994, South Portland, ME, Porteous.  This was the flagship store of the Porteous, Mitchell & Braun Company, which was originally established in 1904 in Portland, ME.

1992 – 2002, Auburn, ME, Porteous.

1992 – 1996, Auburn, ME, Downeast Shop.  Division of Porteous, selling plus sizes in a separate space in the mall.

1992 – 2002, Bangor, ME, Porteous.

1992 – 2001, Brunswick, ME, Porteous.

1992 – 1994, Newington, NH, Porteous.

1992 – 1999, Burlington, VT, Porteous.

1992 – 2001, Frederick, OK, Marcom’s.  Operated as part of the Lintz group.

1993 – 2003, Presque Isle, ME, Porteous.  When Dunlaps bought Porteous it was understood that they had a commitment to open in a new mall to be built in Presque Isle.  It was hoped that the mall would not make, or that there would be a way out of the commitment.  It was not to be, and Dunlaps was locked in for 10 years.  This was the last of the Porteous stores to be closed.

1993 – 1996, Roanoke, VA, Downtown, Heironimus.  S.H. Heironimus was established in Downtown Roanoke, Virginia in 1890.  This was the flagship location of the Heironimus group.  Aretas “Rete” Stearns, a descendant of the Heironimus family, was actively involved in management as company president at the time of the acquisition.  The Heironimus acquisition also included a very old distribution center and warehouse building on Albermarle Street in Roanoke, which was sold in 2004.

With the acquisition of Heironimus, The Dunlap Company was operating 67 store locations in 12 states with approximately 3,500 employees and was producing approximately $200,000,000 in annual sales volume.   This was the largest number of active locations, largest number of employees and the highest annual volume the Company attained.

Heironimus introduced the Company to a number of vendors that could provide custom-designed products at reasonable prices.  There was a company that produced triple-woven cotton throws that could be designed to feature images of local landmarks and iconic emblems.  Another vendor produced painted, cast-resin replicas of landmark buildings.  And another vendor, Fenton Glass, painted custom designs on glassware.  As a result, Dunlaps commissioned and exclusively sold replicas of a series of iconic Texas courthouses and Fort Worth landmark buildings, including the Tarrant County Courthouse, the Will Rogers Memorial Center, the Livestock Exchange, and the Texas & Pacific Railroad Terminal.  Earlene Benson Martin, wife of Ret Martin, created designs for cotton throws that were exclusively sold in Dunlaps stores, including a bluebonnet design for the Texas stores that was also approved and sold in the State Capitol Gift Shop, a cactus flower “Yellow Rose of Texas” design, and a blueberry design and a pansy design that were sold in all stores.  Earlene also created the design template for bluebonnets painted on cobalt blue Fenton Glass decorative items sold in the Texas stores.

The success of the exclusive, specialty items led Reg Martin to establish a group of gift shops in Fort Worth-Dallas area antique malls.  The concept was called Aunt Pitti Pat’s Heirloom Collectibles.  Locations were in antique malls with tea rooms, the idea being that the tea room promoted a more relaxed shopping experience.  Fixtures for the shops were surplus from other Dunlaps stores, modified with the addition of weathered fence boards to create an “antique” look, or fixtures provided by vendors like Fenton Glass.  Reg would supply the shops from vendors from which the Company was already purchasing, as well as vendors he believed the gift departments in all the stores would benefit from promoting, such as Madame Alexander dolls and Fenton Glass.  There was also a vendor from India that produced antique-style quilts.  Reg also supplemented the offering in the shops with antique accessories, side tables and chairs he purchased at area auctions to promote the collectible atmosphere of the shops.  The shops were maintained by Reg and his wife Pat, Pat’s sister-in-law and best friend, June Sprott, and Elaine Welty, wife of Dunlaps’ linens buyer, Jack Welty.  The shops were closed by 2005.

During this time, Estee Lauder Cosmetics moved the Dunlap Company stores from their Major Stores Division to their Specialty Stores Division.  This was a huge blow, as Estee Lauder was a key vendor and significant draw for the moderate-to-better brand shopper.  By switching from Major Stores to Specialty Stores, Dunlaps was forced into second place in markets where Dillard’s and Foley’s were direct competitors, because those stores would receive the Gift-with-Purchase and Purchase-with-Purchase promotions up to two weeks before the Specialty Stores would.

1993 – 2004, Roanoke, VA, Towers Mall, Heironimus.  The location was sold in 2004 to Gordon Brothers.

1993 – 2004, Roanoke, VA, Towne Square Blvd., Heironimus.  The location was sold in 2004 to Gordon Brothers.

1993 – 1995, Roanoke, VA, Tanglewood Mall, The Petite Place.  Division of Herinomus.

1993 – 1995, Roanoke, VA, Valley View Mall, The Petite Place.  Division of Herinomus.  The location was changed to Great Additions, home accessories and gifts.

1993 – 1995, Chesapeake, VA, The Petite Place.  Division of Herinomus.

1993 – 1995, Winston/Salem, NC, The Petite Place.  Division of Herinomus.

1993 – 1994, Blacksburg, VA, Heironimus.  The store was moved in 1994 to the Christiansburg, VA location.

1993 – 2004, Lynchburg, VA, Heironimus.  The location was sold in 2004 to Gordon Brothers.

1993 – 2004, Salem, VA, Heironimus.  The location was sold in 2004 to Gordon Brothers.  This was the last Heironimus location to be closed.

1994 – 1996, Christiansburg, VA, Heironimus.  The store was moved from the Blacksburg, VA location.

1994 – 2003, Huntsville, TX, Great Additions.  Division of Kerr’s, home accessories and gifts.

1994 – 2005, Stillwater, OK, Katz.

1994 – 2007, Hays, KS, Kline’s.  Formerly J.M. McDonald’s.

1994 – 1998, Hutchinson, KS, Pegue’s.

1995 – 1996, Roanoke, VA, Valley View Mall, Great Additions.  Division of Herinomus, offering home accessories and gifts.  The location’s offering and name was changed from The Petite Place.

1995 – 1995, Caribou, ME, L.S.Hall.  The store was purchased to acquire the Estee Lauder franchise, and was merged into the Porteous Presque Isle, ME location.

In May of 1995 a large section of Fort Worth, Texas was pummeled by a hail storm.  Hail stones up to the size of grapefruit fell for 20 minutes over the area around the Company’s 200 Greenleaf headquarters.  Visitors at the annual Mayfest outdoor festival at the nearby Trinity Park were injured, and one person was killed in a nearby neighborhood.  The 200 Greenleaf building sustained little damage, mostly to the cooling fins on the rooftop HVAC units.  Also damaged were a number of Company vehicles in the area.

1996 – 2001, Calcutta, OH, Ogilvie’s.

1996 – 2000, Beaumont, TX, Parkdale Mall, The White House.  Formerly Gus Mayer.  The store was purchased from Randy Ney.

1998 – 2007, Duncan, OK, Dunlaps.  Opened as McClurkans. This was the first store Dunlaps had opened from scratch since San Angelo in 1989, which had not been a good experience, so the Company was a bit over-cautious in attempting another.  The mall owner had approached Dunlaps’ management with a proposal to open a Goldstein-Migel in his mall, as he had seen the Waco store and admired it.  The proposal looked pretty good, but Reg told him he didn’t want a Goldstein-Migel, he wanted a McClurkans.  He asked what a McClurkans was, so Reg suggested he go to Wichita Falls and find out.  After he had been to Wichita Falls with his wife, he agreed.   The name was changed to Dunlaps in 2004.

1998 – 2000, Clovis, NM, Dunlaps Blue Room. Dunlaps had been looking for a location in Clovis and bought The Blue Room as a stop-gap measure and to get Estee Lauder.  There was a large space in the mall, a portion of which Dunlaps’ management thought the store might be able to move into.  The shop was quite small, but the electronics and furniture rental store next door in the same building was in trouble, so Dunlaps bought it, cleared the goods out, doubled the space and added more apparel, accessories and a large home department.

1998 – 1998, Clovis, NM, Rental Shop.  The inventory was liquidated and the space combined with the Blue Room location, doubling the size of the store.

1998 – 1998, Pauls Valley, OK, Reba Jo’s.  The store was merged into the Lintz location. Lintz was strong in home and Reba Jo’s was strong in moderate apparel.  The store was basically a cosmetic shop with Estee Lauder as the main line and a little other merchandise to go along with it. 

1998 – 2001, Florence, AL, Rogers.  Rogers Department Store was established in 1894, and its 1910 Art Deco building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1998 – 2007, Muscle Shoals, AL, Rogers.

1998 – 2001, Decatur, AL, Rogers Select.  The store carried only Estee Lauder and a small stock of better apparel and accessories.  It was moved within shopping center and expanded.

1999 – 2000, Carlsbad, NM, Downtown, Dunlaps.  Formerly Collin Gerrells & David James, adjacent shops.  Collin Gerrells, was a men’s shop and David James was a women’s shop.  Dunlaps first tried to open a store in Carlsbad in the 1950s, but ran into resistance because the mayor’s brother owned a men’s shop and didn’t want the competition.  The brother was Collin Gerrells.  His son inherited the shop, added the women’s shop next door, and divorced his wife. It was she with whom Dunlaps’ management was dealing in 1999.  Dunlaps was able to add Estee Lauder cosmetics immediately and started looking for a place to move and expand the store.  When news came that Penney’s was planning to leave the Carlsbad market, both shops moved in 2000 into the Penney’s space in the Carlsbad Mall and expanded to a full store.

1999 – 2007, Stephenville,TX, Dunlaps.   Dunlaps’ management had been studying the Stephenville market for some  time.  A space had been vacant across from the new HEB Market, and the price was so attractive that it was decided to give it a shot.  It was really the first manifestation of the Company’s new concept, more so than Duncan, OK, and it proved that Dunlaps could open a successful store from scratch.

1999 – 2000, Gonzales, TX, Gindler’s.  Gindler’s was in bankruptcy, and the stores were smaller than Dunlaps ordinarily wanted, but it was thought that they could be nourished and grown.  Besides, the price was cheap.  Gindler’s was added to the Lintz group. 

1999 – 2000, Hallettsville, TX, Gindler’s.

1999 – 2000, Yoakum, TX, Gindler’s.

1999 – 2001, LaGrange, TX, Gindler’s. 

1999 – 2000, LaGrange, TX, The Fashion Shop.  Almost immediately after the Gindler’s acquisition, The Fashion Shop next door to the LaGrange store became available, so the shop was acquired, and Gindler’s expanded into that space and added better merchandise, raising hopes for the location.

1999 – 2000, Nacogdoches, TX, Schmidt’s.  Schmidt’s was a better women’s shop in a small space, but it was thought the Company could build on that base and grow the store in a better location. The Company tried to take the Weiner’s space in the mall in order to move out of the downtown location in Nacogdoches.  Craig Peterson, Senior Vice President in charge of mergers and acquisitions, had negotiated a lease for $4.75 per square foot and took the deal to Tom Hoskins.  Tom thought the space could be leased for less, so he turned it down.  Belk worked out a deal to take the space and to enlarge it.  Schmidt’s was trapped in a small downtown location with limited parking and the handwriting was on the wall.  It was decided to cut the losses and to get out in 2000.

In anticipation of disruptions caused by legacy computer systems’ inability to recognize the year 2000 – the “Y2K Problem”, patches for most of the software operating on the Company’s NCR 9800 mainframe computer were developed during 1999; however, no patches were effective for the Payroll and Accounts Payable programs, so these functions were moved to LINUX-based software running on a separate LINUX computer.  This proved to be problematic for the payroll system, as the custom program that was written produced a flawed W-2 transmittal file for sending to the federal government.  The names, addresses, Social Security numbers, wage and withholding amounts were all correct, but a misplaced “space” on every record in the transmittal file kicked out the whole file.  Of course, no one was aware of this problem until several months after the file was transmitted, and the Company was six months into the second year of using the flawed software.  The third-party programmer who created the software spent a year trying to find the flaw and to fix it, but he never did.  The payroll system was moved to ADP’s PCPW (PC Payroll for Windows) program in November 2002.  All the other mainframe software patches worked without incident when January 1, 2000 arrived.

History, Part Five

May 30, 2021

Compiled, Edited and Some Original Content by Ret Martin

The Move to Fort Worth 1977 – 1990

1977 – 1977, Fort Worth, TX, Downtown, Stripling’s.  Bill Dillard called Retha Martin and told him that the W.C. Stripling stores could be bought.  When Dunlaps management met with Stripling’s attorney, he said that the business had not been offered for sale, but if an offer was made, he was required to take it to the Stripling’s board.  He also refused to allow Dunlaps to see any of Stripling’s financial records, so the Company would be making a blind offer.  It was known from Dun and Bradstreet what the company should be worth, so Retha made an offer.  Dunlaps would pay “book”, based on an examination of the financial records for the past five years.  That offer was taken to Stripling’s board and it was accepted.

Under Stripling’s method, at the end of each day’s business, each register was emptied, the contents picked up by an armored truck for delivery to the Downtown store office, and a fresh bank of funds delivered to the stores.  Meanwhile, the previous day’s bank and receipts were in the office being processed.  Dunlaps management determined that there was a small fortune tied up in this system.  When Dunlaps streamlined the handling process to eliminate the excess cash, the store comptroller quit.  It was good riddance.

The downtown store in Fort Worth was closed.  During the 1920s, W.C. Stripling was doing $20 million downtown in almost 300,000 Sq. Ft.  The complex covered two city blocks with a collection of buildings, the tallest being seven floors.  The top floor housed a candy kitchen where the famous Annaclairs were made.  They had the largest toy department west of the Mississippi, an employee infirmary, a tire store and a gas station.  When Dunlaps bought the company, the store was down to $4 million in sales.  They had a large appliance department with a fleet of service trucks.  Expenses ran 25% of sales in that department alone.  Shortly after the closure, the building was imploded, and the Worthington hotel was built on the site.

One thorn in Dunlap’s side related to the Stripling’s acquisition was that Stripling’s did not carry Estee Lauder Cosmetics.  Lauder was a major draw for Dunlaps stores.  It was a great frustration to the Company’s management that Lauder could not be convinced to expand their coverage in Tarrant County.  At the time, Neiman Marcus had recently opened a store in west Fort Worth, and they had the exclusive right to sell the brand.  That’s how things rolled for about 10 years, until Dillard’s and Sanger-Harris entered the Tarrant County market with multiple locations AND with Estee Lauder Cosmetics.  Dunlaps cried foul.  Their objections fell on deaf ears.  Of course, it was all about economics.  Lauder likely paid off Neiman’s for their exclusive rights, and the increased volume from Dillard’s and Sanger-Harris probably more than made up for that payment.

As with the I.A. Stephen’s acquisition in 1943, the sales volume of the Stripling’s group of stores represented a significant percentage of the total store sales volume for Dunlaps, and it was decided to move the Company offices and computer center into the Stripling’s warehouse building at 200 Greenleaf St. in Fort Worth, in the space formerly used for appliance storage and service.  The construction and remodeling of the space was supervised by Curtis Wheat, husband of Callie Chalk’s daughter, Mary.

Moving the Company offices shortened travel time to the wholesale markets in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles, lowered expenses and led to many organizational changes.  Ruel Martin and J.B. Hoskins retired from active management, remaining in Lubbock.  Ira Dunlap Jr. stepped down as President, also remaining in Lubbock to act as general manager of the 50th & Elgin store location.  Retha’s daughter, Callie Chalk, remained in Lubbock as well, but travelled to Fort Worth regularly to help with special projects.  Tom Hoskins, the manager of the Midland store, was named Executive Vice President and moved to Fort Worth.  Retha’s sons, Edward and Reg were named President and Co-Chairman respectively.

Around this time, Reg’s daughter Katherine asked Retha what his goal was for The Dunlap Company.  He said, “To be as big as Sears.”  Reg asked him once why he rarely hesitated to take on debt in pursuit of a business deal.  He demonstrated by standing two fingers on the edge of his desk, “I’m only comfortable if I’m right here.”  Then he moved his fingers back a few inches from the edge.  “If I’m standing back here, I get nervous.  I have to get back out here on the edge.”  Buying Stripling’s and moving the headquarters to Fort Worth put him and the Company right on the edge again.  It was four years before another major acquisition was made.

As Executive Vice President, Tom Hoskins refined the store budgeting process, the “Profit Plan”.  Each store would submit its plan for each season, focusing on the revenue and expense items over which the store manager had control.  The seasons were Spring (February – July) and Fall (August – January).  The plan consisted of retail sales, mark-on percentage, markdowns, payroll, advertising, and net profit.  Stores were expected to turn their inventories three times a year and to plan for at least a 5% net profit on retail sales.  Industry average for profit at the time was between 4.5% and 5% of sales.  Many retailers lost money during most months of the year, and only started showing a profit during the Christmas Season, starting with “Black Friday”, the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers’ bottom line turned from red to black.  “Black Friday” was an industry insider term, which Dunlaps’ management never used, because it didn’t apply.  Dunlaps stores traditionally made money almost every month, usually only losing money in February and July, if then.  Some stores consistently made money every month of the year.  It was Dunlaps’ tight expense controls and low rents that contributed the most to this performance.

1977 – 1985, Fort Worth, TX, Seminary South, Stripling & Cox.  Originally operated as Stripling’s.  This store served as the Stripling’s headquarters until 1981.  Merged with Cox’s in 1981.  Seminary South was the original mall in Fort Worth, though it was an open air mall.  For years, Sears and Wards had an agreement:  You stay out of my back yard and I will stay out of yours.  Sears had a distribution center in Dallas and considered Dallas as theirs.  Wards had a distribution center in Fort Worth and considered Fort Worth as theirs.  Sears claimed that Wards broke the agreement when they put a store in Mesquite, so Sears opened their first store in Fort Worth in Seminary South.  As it was the only major shopping center outside of Downtown, people came from all over the area.  It was Stripling’s first suburban store.

1977 – 1985, Hurst, TX, Northeast Mall, Stripling & Cox.  Originally operated as Stripling’s.  Merged with Cox’s in 1981. In the late ‘70s, Northeast Mall thought they had a deal with Titche’s to go into Stripling’s space, so they offered Dunlaps a chunk of money to move out, and then found out Titche’s couldn’t make it.  This was after Titche’s had spread the news that they were buying Stripling’s.  Just one small detail, they forgot to talk to Dunlaps about the deal.  The Company certainly would have entertained an offer, but none ever came.  The store was closed in 1985, and the space eventually went to Nordstrom’s, a powerhouse and an exemplary leader in customer service among department store retailers.  Titche’s arrived in northeast Tarrant County after being acquired by Sanger-Harris, building a store in the nearby North Hills Mall.

1977 – 1988, Fort Worth, TX, Ridgmar Mall, Stripling & Cox.   Originally operated as Stripling’s.  Merged with Cox’s in 1981. In 1988, this was the last of the original Stripling stores to close.

1977 – 1979, El Paso, TX, Mesa Ave., The White House.  Formerly Amon Wardy’s.  The location was the remolded home of the White family of El Paso.  It made for a great advertising line, “The White House moves to the White House”.

1978 – 2006, Victoria, TX, Laurent St., Dunlaps.  The lease was finally up in Downtown Victoria and there was a choice to move to the former Beall’s space on North Laurent St., across from the former Penney’s location, vacated when they moved to the new mall north of town, or to the new mall itself along with Dillard’s.  Retha always said that no one was ever going to do all the business in town, so it was decided to remodel the old Beall’s location and fight it out.  The store was moved in 2006 to the Navarro St. location.

1979 – 2004, Abilene, TX, Mall of Abilene, Dunlaps.  The store moved from the Downtown location and originally operated as Grissom’s.  The name was changed to Dunlaps in 1987.  The location was sold in 2004 to a shopping center developer, Eric Seitz, for cash and a note, and moved to the Catclaw Dr. location.

1979 – 2004, Big Spring, TX, Marcy St., Dunlaps.  The store was moved from the Downtown location into a former supermarket space in the parking lot of the mall on the southern edge of town.  Wal-Mart later bought the mall out of bankruptcy, and even though the Company had never failed to pay the rent, sending it to the last designated receiver, Wal-Mart thought Dunlaps was in arrears and should vacate the property.  After the misunderstanding was cleared up, Wal-Mart unveiled a plan which would turn Dunlaps’ store front to face the side street instead of the main thoroughfare, and putting Dunlaps at the back door of Wal-Mart.  Company management pointed out that Dunlaps had final approval of any change of that kind and would not sign off on the plan. Wal-Mart turned the store back as it should have been, revealing the fact that the 800 pound gorilla doesn’t always sit wherever it wants.

1981 – 1982, Guthrie, OK, Lintz.  Six Lintz department stores were purchased.  These were small, downtown department stores located in small towns, exactly the kind of stores Retha Martin had started moving away from in the 1950s.  They were pretty old-fashioned too, answering the phone, “Lintz’s Department Store, your store of smiling service!”   Reg Martin and Tom Hoskins believed there was money to be made in the small towns as the rents were low and people in those towns appreciated the convenience of having better brands represented closer to their homes.  David Archer, their former president, ran the stores as a separate group within the Company.

1981 – 1983, Terrell, TX, Lintz.

1981 – 1990, Cleburne, TX, Lintz.

1981 – 2000, Brady, TX, Lintz.  Formerly Rosenberg’s.

1981 – 2003, Pauls Valley, OK, Lintz.

1981 – 1988, New Braunfels, TX, Jacob Schmidt.  Part of the Lintz group.

1981 – 2003, Denton, TX, Denton Center, Russell’s.  When the Golden Triangle Mall opened on the south side of Denton, Dunlaps management decided to open a Dunlaps in part of the vacated Sears space in the Denton Center shopping center on the north side of town, across the drive, and just a few dozen yards from the new Russell’s Department Store branch under construction.  Russell’s carried better apparel and cosmetics, so Dunlaps was going to come in at lower price points.   While still in the planning stage, word came that Russell’s was in trouble.  Jimmy Russell, grandson of the founder, H.M. Russell, had tried to expand, not only by opening a branch in Denton  Center, but also by buying Daube’s in Ardmore, OK and by opening a group of junior shops called Poise ‘N Ivy.  By the time he had re-trenched, he was too deep in trouble to bring it back.  Russell closed the junior shops, sold Daube’s back to the family, closed his warehouse, closed the downtown store in the historic McClurkan building, and had moved the remaining inventory into their new Denton Center location.  It still wasn’t enough to save the store.  Dunlaps bought what was left of the merchandise, negotiated out of their Denton Center lease, and upgraded plans for its own Denton Center location under the Russell’s name. The new Russell’s store was opened with about 2 ½ times the inventory needed, creating a “Golconda” of a Grand Opening Sale, as Retha would say, but causing an overstocked situation that plagued the store for years.

Roy Gibson had been the controller for Russell’s.  In that capacity, he had done all he could to keep the local community from knowing that Russell’s had been in financial trouble.  He was retired from both the US Air Force, having served as a bomber pilot in World War II, and was retired from Sears, having been the store manager at their Denton Center location before the store was moved to the Golden Triangle Mall.  With the new Denton Center store about to open, he was tapped to serve as store manager, but was diagnosed with leukemia shortly before the grand opening.  The menswear buyer, Dick Hastings, who had been a close friend of Jimmy Russell from their college days UT and NTSU (now UNT), was chosen to step in as store manager.  After his cancer went into remission, Gibson returned to serve as credit manager for Russell’s.

Retha Martin died in 1981 as a result of an automobile accident, leaving the leadership of the Company to his sons, Reg and Edward, and to Tom Hoskins.  He had been the visionary, driving force of The Dunlap Company for 60 years.  He was generous and good humored, but could be quite harsh when disappointed.  He was a tough boss, but he took time every day to greet staff members and to share stories.  With no more than a 9th –grade education, he had a brilliant mind, a quick wit and was an avid reader.  His wife and all three children had college educations, and he strongly encouraged all his grandchildren to pursue college educations as well.  At one point in the 1960s, he served as Chairman of the Board of The Dunlap Company, Chairman of the Board of Citizen’s National Bank in Lubbock, and Chairman of the Board of Regents of Texas Tech University simultaneously.  While Edward said he had noticed Retha was beginning to show signs of mild age-related dementia in his final years, he was actively involved in the management of the business until his death.

1981 – 2007, Fort Worth, TX, Camp Bowie Blvd., Stripling & Cox.  Formerly Cox’s.  Cox’s of Fort Worth had started life as a drugstore in Stephenville, Texas, evolved into a department store and just kept expanding.  First in Stephenville, then to Fort Worth and to Waco.  R.E. Cox was the first in Fort Worth to see that the future did not lie in the downtown area, and in 1956, he closed his downtown store in the Fort Worth Club building and built shopping centers anchored by Cox’s stores; north on Belknap St., east on Lancaster St., west on Camp Bowie Blvd. and south on Berry St.  His stores were powerhouses.

R.E. Cox hit his Waterloo when he bought property in the new North Hills Mall and moved his Belknap St. store to that location.  The new store was 120,000 square feet, but did no more business than they had done in the old 40,000 square feet on Belknap St.  He went from $100 a foot to $33, with an enormous increase in expenses.  Reg Martin believed Mr. Cox’s suicide was a direct result of this blunder.

After the dust settled following the death of Mr. Cox, Reg contacted Mr. Cox’s son, Earl, whom Reg knew socially, and as a result of Earl’s hiring three of Dunlaps’ advertising directors from the Lubbock store while Reg was manager there.  The Company offered to merge the Fort Worth operations, keeping Earl on as Chairman, and with an opportunity for any of the Cox’s stockholders who wanted to cash out.  Earl presented the plan, and all the stockholders opted to cash out, including Earl.  R.E. Cox Realty maintained ownership of the buildings, so Earl Cox continued to be a landlord for the duration.  He also went on to open Offco discount and used office furniture in Fort Worth and served on the board of directors of Happy Hill Farm along with Reg for many years.

Cox’s was merged with Stripling’s.  The Camp Bowie Blvd. location was the flagship store of the Cox’s group, became the headquarters and flagship store of the Stripling & Cox group, and eventually the flagship store of The Dunlap Company in 2004.  This was the last store of The Dunlap Company to be closed.  The building was torn down after Stripling & Cox closed, replaced by a strip center with food and specialty retail.

1981 – 1995, Fort Worth, TX, Berry St., Stripling & Cox.  Formerly Cox’s.  Merged with Stripling’s.

1981 – 2005, Fort Worth, TX, Lancaster Ave., Stripling & Cox.  Formerly Cox’s.  Merged with Stripling’s.  In 1989, the store flooded early one morning as a result of a burst water pipe in the basement.  An 8” main supplying the fire sprinkler system entered the store in the basement.  Apparently the aging pipe and soil movement over time stressed the pipe right at the point where it entered the building, quickly filling the basement, which covered only ¼ of the space under the selling floor of the store.  The water soon rose to about 4” in the store.  The entrances on the west and south sides of the store were about 18” lower that the main floor, so water was almost two feet deep pressing against the doors, pushing them outward and spraying water a dozen feet out into the parking lot.  It took more than an hour for the city to find the cut-off valve, buried several inches under the asphalt in the street.  More than a million gallons of water had passed through the meter, the bill for which was included in the insurance claim.

1981 – 2000, North Richland Hills, TX, North Hills Mall, Stripling & Cox.  Formerly Cox’s.  Merged with Stripling’s.

1982 – 1983, Robstown, TX, Lieberman’s.  Operated as part of the Lintz group.

1982 – 1999, Wichita Falls, TX, Downtown, McClurkans.   Dunlaps’ management had visited Wichita Falls earlier, because Perkins-Timberlake was for sale, and the team wanted to get the lay of the land.  Reg knew he didn’t want to buy Perkins, but wanted to see the McClurkans stores.  While walking through McClurkans’ Custom Shop (for plus sizes) at Parker Square, Ikard Smith, the store’s owner, saw the team from Dunlaps and knew he was being checked out, but he didn’t know by whom.  He introduced himself and mentioned, “You must be in town to negotiate for Perkins.”  Reg told him that they had no interest in Perkins, but if he ever wanted to sell his stores, Dunlaps would be delighted to talk with him.  With that, Smith provided a grand tour. 

The downtown store was the flagship store of the McClurkans group, with a main entrance featuring a down-draft air-curtain that allowed an open-air passage between the store and the street.  Ikard Smith stayed on and served as honorary chairman of the McClurkans group for many years after the acquisition.

1982 – 2004, Wichita Falls, TX, Parker Square, McClurkans.  In addition to the main store and the plus size shop, they also had a separate leased toy store owned by Bob Bolen of Fort Worth.  The Custom Shop and the toy store were eventually closed.  The main store moved to a new location in the shopping center in 2004 and the name was changed to Dunlaps.

1982 – 1989, Denton, TX, Golden Triangle Mall, Russell’s.   The store was purchased as McClurkans, and merged with Russell’s.  The store had been built by McClurkans when the mall was built, and Ikard Smith had spared no expense.  Everything was high-end: imported off-white floor tile that was impossible to keep clean, imported cream-colored wool carpet that was equally impossible to keep clean, jute fiber walk-off mats that were impossible to replace when worn, inlaid in the floors at the parking lot entrance, and a state-of-the-art, electro-mechanical time clock to control the lights and HVAC.  Once the device went out of adjustment, there was no one qualified to fix it, so lights and air-conditioning would come on at all hours of the night, creating horrendous electric bills.  State-of-the-art when it was installed, the system was obsolete and unserviceable in less than 5 years.  The cost of building and operating the store was probably a major factor in Smith’s decision to sell McClurkans to Dunlaps.  Tom Hoskins used to say, “State of the Art will break you.”  He also pointed out that almost every company in financial distress Dunlaps purchased had recently built a “Taj Mahal” building.  The same seems to hold true for a lot of companies that go bankrupt; there’s usually a “Taj Mahal” headquarters or flagship location in their recent past.  “Pride goeth before a fall.”

Smith had hired Priscilla Sanders to manage McClurkans at Golden Triangle Mall.  She had been a buyer and a manager for Carson, Pirie, Scott and for Robeson’s in Illinois.  Her first day on the job for McClurkans was to take inventory for Dunlaps.  She said it was quite a shock, but she was committed, having moved herself and her son from Illinois in order to take the job.  She stayed on for several years before moving on to manage the Sears store at Golden Triangle Mall, and then the Sears store at Hulen Mall in Fort Worth.

The Russell’s location at Golden Triangle Mall was sold in 1989 to Dillard’s, next door in the mall, to expand their men’s department.  Big problem.  Although floor plans had been sent to Dillard’s and always referred to the mezzanine, Dillard’s assumed the square footage quoted was all on the main floor.  When they discovered their error, they objected to the price.  Dunlaps told the broker that if Dillard’s was not satisfied, the deal was off; the option was theirs.  They completed the purchase.

1983 – 1994, Arlington, TX, Lincoln Square, Stripling & Cox.  The location was sold in 1994 to Steinmart.

1984 – 1986, Graham, TX, Morrison’s.  Operated as part of the Lintz group.

1984 – 2006, Arlington, TX, Little Road, Stripling & Cox.

1985 – 2003, Amarillo, TX, Western Plaza, Dunlaps.  Purchased the location from Sakowitz of Houston out of bankruptcy.  Bobby Sakowitz had bought the store from White & Kirk with the promise to pay for it out of earnings.  He also had kept Mrs. Kirk on as Chairman of the division.  Sakowitz was a flamboyant operator, and built beautifully appointed, luxurious and expensive stores.  Strangely enough, the division never made a profit.  Sakowitz ended in bankruptcy after much ill-advised expansion.  Bob Cox was a store manager of this location for several years.  He announced at a managers’ meeting one year that he had come to the realization that the secret of the retail business was “to buy more of the goods that do sell and less of the goods that don’t sell!”  He was dead serious, and his pronouncement brought down the house.  He was right, of course, but that’s the big challenge; figuring out ahead of time which goods will sell and which won’t.  A wise retailer understands that he or she buys his or her markdowns.  Getting upset about goods not selling doesn’t solve the problem.  The customers vote with their wallets.  If they don’t buy it, the price isn’t right.  The Amarillo store was moved in 2003 to the 34th St, location.

1986 – 2007, Beaumont, TX, Stagg Dr., The White House.  Originally part of The Boston Stores chain of Fort Smith, Arkansas, the Beaumont and Lake Charles stores were purchased after the death of Jerome Ney, the owner of The Boston Stores.  Mr. Ney had been a contemporary of Retha Martin and had been a good friend in business.  To purchase The White House, Reg dealt with Mr. Ney’s son Randy, who acted for the estate.

1986 – 2002, Lake Charles, LA, The White House.  At the time of the purchase, The White House was the only better store of its kind in Lake Charles.  Dillard’s planned to enter the city in a new mall to be built on the east side of town, but that mall did not develop.  With Dunlaps’ permission, and with remuneration to compensate, the mall was expanded to include Dillard’s.  Not the best solution, but acceptable.  Then Montgomery Ward took bankruptcy and Foley’s bought their lease in the mall.  As it was not a large space, Dunlaps offered Foley’s the White House space as well, but they reconsidered and offered Dunlaps theirs!  Dunlaps’ management didn’t like any of the options, so it was decided to close the store at the end of the lease in 2002.

1987 – 1992, Galveston, TX, Eiband’s.  Eiband’s had been one of the oldest stores in Texas and occupied a prominent place in downtown Galveston.   At the time Dunlaps bought the store, they were in bankruptcy after opening a large store in the former Woolco space in Galvez Mall, and were closing the downtown store in an attempt to stay alive.

When Dunlaps bought the store, it was with the understanding that if Sears closed in the Mall, Eiband’s could vacate without penalty.  Dunlaps knew that the Mall of the Mainland in Texas City was planned and that Sears was scheduled to open there.  If they opened in Texas City, it was likely they would close in Galveston.  After Sears closed, Dunlaps’ management decided to stay to see if something else would develop.  It was years before anything did.  The Mall was eventually bulldozed to make way for a power center.

1987 – 1995, Fort Worth, TX, City View, Stripling & Cox.  This location marked the tenth Tarrant County location of Stripling & Cox.

1988 – 1988, Amarillo, TX, Wolflin Village, Colbert’s.  The store was purchased as a bankruptcy closeout.  Carriel Nipp had joined the Company and helped create a plan for Dunlaps to acquire liquidation projects.  As the Company management searched the country for stores to acquire, they regularly came across stores that were too far gone to salvage.  Tom Hoskins saw an opportunity to establish a liquidation division, headed by his son-in-law, Carriel.  Colbert’s was the only project that actually materialized from this plan, but Carriel was instrumental in executing a number of store closing sales the Company conducted in the following years as leases expired at various locations.

1989 – 2004, San Angelo, TX, Sunset Dr., Dunlaps.  This store was built “from scratch”, taking an abandoned space in a shopping center.  It’s one thing to build new store locations in an established market, such as the Stripling & Cox locations in Tarrant County, or to move a store from a location with an expired lease to a new location in the same town; quite another to pioneer a location in a new town.  This was such a situation, and it was the first “from scratch” store since Dunlaps in Altus, Oklahoma in 1963.  It was nothing like acquiring a store under a different name and continuing the operation.  It was a learning experience, and as such, it was often painful.  The store limped along, survived, and eventually began to thrive.  It was moved in 2004 to the Knickerbocker Ave. location.

1989 – 2007, Lufkin, TX, Clark’s.  Clark’s was profitable, but in the mid-1980s, banks were in trouble.  Retailing is a lot like farming; the retailer only makes money when the crop is harvested.  The harvest in retailing is the Christmas season.  As was common practice with farm loans, Clark’s deal with the bank had been to pay quarterly interest payments, and to pay down the principal after Christmas.  When the Resolution Trust Company took over Clark’s local bank, they saw that only interest payments had been made on his loan that year – Christmas was several months away – and so they assigned the loan to collections, even though his loan was current according to their agreement.  Jimmy Clark had just made plans to remodel and to increase the size of his store, so he was in a bind.  The bank was sold by the RTC to NCNB (North Carolina National Bank), and Clark continued to struggle with them, referring to NCNB as “Nobody Cares, Nobody Bothers”.

Reg Martin had visited with Clark on each of his trips to the area, so Jimmy called and asked for a meeting to ask Reg’s advice.  He and his wife Jan arrived at the office on a Saturday morning and met with Reg and Edward.  When he presented his situation, Edward said, “The solution is obvious: sell us your store, we will be your bank, and you can run the store for us instead of for your family.”  Jimmy owned 25%, his sister in California owned 25%, and his father who was retired, owned 50%.  Jimmy was doing all the work and was in a box.  He said later it was a great deal for him, because he was able to concentrate on what he loved best, merchandising, while Dunlaps did what he liked least, banking.  Inventory for the purchase of Clark’s was conducted on the same day inventory was taken for the purchase of M.M. Cohn.  Ten stores purchased in one day, likely a record for The Dunlap Company.  Jim Clark was a big proponent of the Dunlap systems and profit plan, often waxing eloquent on the subject at annual managers’ meetings.  When Jim and Jan decided to “retire” to New Mexico, he became manager of Dunlaps in Carlsbad, NM.

1989 – 1990, Little Rock, AR, Downtown, M.M.Cohn.  The store remained open only a short time in order to complete the requirements of a 99 year lease.  The M. M. Cohn Company was established by Mark Mathias Cohn in 1874 in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  His grandson, Dan Phillips was actively involved in management as company president at the time of the acquisition.  Dunlaps’ management knew there was a problem with all the M.M. Cohn stores except University, McCain and El Dorado.  The Company was able to see their way out of all the others except the Memphis, Hickory Ridge location.  That one would take some time.

1989 – 2007, Little Rock, AR, University Mall, M.M.Cohn.  This was the flagship store of the M.M. Cohn group, and became the headquarters location of the group.

1989 – 2007, North Little Rock, AR, McCain Mall, M.M.Cohn.

1989 – 2007, El Dorado, AR, M.M.Cohn.

1989 – 2001, Memphis, TN, Hickory Ridge Mall, M.M.Cohn.

1989 – 1992, Memphis, TN, Southland Mall, M.M.Cohn.  Formerly Gerber’s.

1989 – 1993, Memphis, TN, Laurelwood Center, M.M.Cohn.  Formerly Gerber’s.

1989 – 1992, Germantown, TN, M.M.Cohn.  Formerly Gerber’s.

1989 – 1993, Oklahoma City, OK, M.M.Cohn.  Formerly Clarke’s, of Tulsa.

1990 – 2007, Plainview, TX, Gabriel’s.  Operated as part of the Lintz group.  Gabriel’s was owned by three brothers.  Two ran their Plainview store, and one their San Angelo store.  The two in Plainview wanted to sell.  One was in charge of men’s and the other was in charge of women’s fashion.   Dunlaps gradually replaced menswear with home accessories and added cosmetics when Marsh & Son (formerly Cobb’s) went out of business in Plainview.

1990 – 2003, Huntsville, TX, Kerr’s.  Operated as part of the Lintz group.  Kerr’s of Huntsville was purchased out of bankruptcy from Brockman’s.   Kerr’s was originally downtown on the square as a typical small town store.  The store was moved to the mall and reduced to a women’s fashion shop with shoes and cosmetics.  Brockman bought the store and then went into bankruptcy.  Dunlaps’ management looked at all of Brockman’s stores, but the only one they liked was Kerr’s of Huntsville.  One of Dunlaps’ buyers had been with The Fair of Beaumont and reported that when they had a store in that mall, it was one of their best.  Dunlaps added some men’s Tommy Hilfiger and Polo, and a small amount of home accessories, but the space was too limited to do much else.

1990 – 2006, Arlington, TX, Park Row, Stripling & Cox.  Former Monnig’s location.  Monnig’s had been another Fort Worth retailer, and in the months leading up to Dunlaps’ purchase of Cox’s, Monnig’s had been a potential acquisition; however, overtures made by Reg to the principal of Monnig’s had borne no fruit.  Reg said that with the entry of Dillard’s and Sanger-Harris into the market during the 1970s, there were too many players in the moderate-to-better retail segment in Tarrant County.  At least one had to go away.  It ended up being Monnig’s.  In a way, so did Stripling’s, because all the original Stripling’s locations, downtown and in Northeast, Ridgmar and Seminary South malls, were closed, leaving only Cox’s suburban shopping center locations, the North Hills Mall location, and the Lincoln Court, City View Center and now Park Row, all opened since the merger of Stripling’s and Cox’s.

History, Part Four

May 30, 2021

Compiled, Edited and Some Original Content by Ret Martin

The Shift to Larger Markets 1960 – 1976

1960 – 1974, Lubbock, TX, 4th St., Dunlaps.  This location probably had been one of the Cobb’s locations purchased by St. Claire’s in 1957.  It was directly across the street from the north end zone of Jones Stadium on the Texas Tech campus.  The scoreboard featured an advertisement for Hemphill-Wells, the Company’s cross-town rival in the moderate-to-better department store market.  Clearly visible below the scoreboard, beyond the stands, Dunlaps’ sign could be clearly seen on the front of the store.  Retha Martin thought it was a great joke, particularly when he was entertaining guests in his box seats at a Tech home game, knowing that Hemphill’s was paying a lot of money to advertise on the score board, and Dunlaps was getting the same exposure for free.

1960 – 2004, Lubbock, TX, 50th & Elgin, Dunlaps.  This was the first suburban store for Dunlaps in Lubbock.  The store was expanded in 1968, and became the flagship store of The Dunlap Company in 1971.  The expansion almost doubled the size of the store by building a second floor over the parking lot to the rear of the store, providing covered parking.  The store moved in 2004 to the 50th & Boston location.

1960 – 2007, Hobbs, NM, Broadmoor Center, Dunlaps.  The store moved from the Downtown location.

In 1960, Dillard’s had purchased Brown-Dunkin of Tulsa and again approached Dunlaps, this time with the proposal to sell his Tyler store (Mayer & Schmidt).  Dunlaps was not having a good year.  In fact, the Company would lose money for the first time in its history.  Dunlaps was opening two additional stores in Lubbock and still would not do as much in three stores as had been done in one store the previous year.  The Company had moved and doubled its space in Hobbs, and was doing the same in Midland.   In addition, Dillard had leased many of his departments; accessories, shoes, women’s fashions, luggage and much of home.  Dunlaps didn’t know how to run a store full of leased departments.

Again the timing was not right. Retha said no.  However, he did suggest that Dillard should consider selling his accounts receivable, as Dunlaps was in the process of doing, based on a plan borrowed from The Boston Store of Ft. Smith, AR.  So the plan, which Jerome Ney had borrowed from Sears, was passed on to Dillard’s.

By selling the accounts receivable to the bank, Dunlaps was in a position to expand credit terms.  Terms had previously gone from 30-60-90 day accounts to six-month option accounts.  Terms went to 10-month option accounts, with a significant increase in balances.  This increased available cash for operations and for expansion.

1960 – 1963, San Angelo, TX, Downtown, Shopper’s Paradise.  The store was opened in the old Cox, Rushing & Greer location to finish out the lease.  The Company decided to try a discount concept by opening a Shopper’s Paradise in Caprock Center near the 50th Street store in Lubbock, and in the downtown spaces in Hobbs and San Angelo, to finish out the leases.  If the concept worked, it would be developed further.  It didn’t work.

In the 1960s, the retail department store business was shifting.  Throughout the Company’s history to this point, women made their own clothes and their children’s clothes.  Up until the 1910s, the only store-bought women’s clothing were shirtwaists, fitted blouses that were worn with a jacket and long skirt for shopping, church or other social functions.  For housework, women usually wore house-dresses and aprons.  All of these clothes would be made by the woman herself, or by a seamstress or a dressmaker if the woman was of means.  Piece goods, that is to say, fabric, and notions (needles, thread, buttons, etc.) were a huge percentage of the stores’ business.  Meanwhile, menswear was half the stores’ business.  Shoes, small leather goods and linens rounded out the typical store offering.  As women’s fashions began to rapidly change in the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s, women continued to make their own clothes, following the fashion trends.  The advent of ready-to-wear, that is, dresses, skirts and blouses… and trousers… that were “ready to wear” right from the store, began to change everything along with the arrival of cosmetics.  Women were now buying the clothes they used to make.

The mark-on structure changed as well.  Now the general rule was “keystone” or 50% mark-on at retail.  If a retailer paid a vendor $10.00 for and item, the retailer would mark it $20.00 for sale to the customer.  There was no more 10% or 20% rate-up.  All the retailer’s expenses, markdowns and profit came out of that 50% retail mark-on.  Except for cosmetics, where the mark-on was 40%, because there were no markdowns in cosmetics.  The cosmetics companies took back any unsold inventory, and cosmetics companies promoted not with discounts, but with gifts-with-purchase or purchase-with-purchase promotions.

Women’s apparel became the dominant department in the store, followed by menswear and cosmetics, with shoes, accessories, children’s, linens and gifts rounding out the typical lineup in a Dunlaps store.  By 1970, piece goods and notions were relegated to the fabric stores, a fringe business for hobbyists.

Also during this period, store manager bonuses were changed to 10% of the store’s profit for the year, 20% of any increase in profit over the previous year.  Retha Martin was criticized by some of his colleagues for paying his store managers so much, with some store managers’ earnings exceeding his own at times.  His response, “Sure, they’re getting 20% of the profit – the Company’s getting 80%!”

1961 – 1962, Hobbs, NM, Downtown, Shopper’s Paradise.  The store was opened in the old Dunlaps location, to finish out the lease.

1961 – 1964, Lubbock, TX, Caprock Center, Shopper’s Paradise.

1962 – 1964, Midland, TX, Town Shop, Dunlaps.  The store was reopened in part of the Downtown space.

1962 – 1967, Tucson, AZ, Dunlaps.  Construction workers in Arizona went on strike in 1967, after the streets in front and to the side of the store had been ripped up to be replaced.  They stayed that way for one year.  The only way to get into the store was through the residential area behind the store and to come in through the back door.  There was a clause in the lease that permitted the store to close by paying a year’s rent.  The payment was gladly made to get out of a hopeless situation.

Tom Hoskins, nephew of J.B. Hoskins, started to work for Dunlaps at the Avenue M location in Downtown Lubbock in 1962 while he was attending Texas Tech.  He had grown up on a dry land cotton farm just south of Lubbock.  His performance and business sense soon caught the eye of Retha Martin.  Tom would become a store manager, and eventually would rise to the presidency of the Company.

1962 – 1976, Lubbock, TX, 34th St., Dunlaps.  This location also probably had been one of the Cobb’s locations purchased by St. Claire’s in 1957. 

1962 – 2002, Midland, TX, Dellwood Plaza, Dunlaps.  The store was moved from the Downtown location, Ken Plotner was a long-time manager of this store after Tom Hoskins was called to the Company offices to serve as Executive Vice President in 1977.  Ken presided over many successful years at the store, alongside his wife, Martha, who acted as the store’s women’s wear buyer.  The store was moved in 2002 to the Wadley Ave. location.

1963 – 1971, Altus, OK, Dunlaps.

1963 – 1976, Santa Fe, NM, Plaza East, Dunlaps.  Formerly Hubbard’s, the store was bought out of bankruptcy.  The assistant manager of the store was Rose Bishop, who was married to a man named Slim.  Slim Bishop.  The store was moved in 1976 to the Plaza South location.

1963 – 2006, Odessa, TX, Live Oak Center, Dunlaps.  The store was moved from the Great Oil Basin Center.  A long-time, very successful manager of this store was Don Bullock.  Don told a story of looking for a job as a young man in west Texas in the 1940s.  Walking down the street one day, he looked in the window at Dunlaps and noticed the nicely dressed men and women working there.  He said the choices at that time were farming, ranching, the oil fields – outside work – or in a store or office – inside work.  He decided that “inside work” was right for him.  He went in and applied for a job.  By the time Don retired, he was an officer, director and stockholder of the Company.  The store moved in 2006 to the Grandview Ave. location.

1964 – 2007, Pampa, TX, Coronado Center, Dunlaps.  The store moved from the Downtown location.  This store was often a proving ground for young managers.  Tom Hoskins, Rutley Chalk and Jonathan Martin all managed this store locations at various times.

Louis Edward Martin II “Edward” married Sharon Allison of Levelland, TX.  Her father was a bank president there and served with Retha Martin on the Texas Tech Board of Regents.  Edward and Sharon had a son, Louis Edward III “Eddie” in 1966, and another, John Russell “Russell” in 1974, both of whom would work for the Company.

1965 – 1973, Port Arthur, TX, Bluestein’s.  The store had been remolded and was preparing to reopen when all the retail store employees in town went out on strike in an attempt to unionize.  All the other retailers, which were either Regional or National Chains resisted, but it was “life-or-death” for Bluestein’s.  As a result, Bluestein’s was the only unionized store in the State.  In addition, Frank Bluestein’s daughter had recently committed suicide, so Frank decided to sell.

Dunlaps’ plan was to buy the store, move it to the Jefferson City Shopping Center, and eliminate the union in the move.  Dunlaps assumed the union would strike, but at that time it was illegal to picket on private property.  Since the store would be deep inside a parking lot with excellent access from both sides, it was thought that the strike would be ineffective.  The plan was put into action and the contract was signed.  

Part of the consideration was $85,000 in cash to be paid at closing.  During the closing, Ruel Martin went to the bank and cashed in a Bluestein’s C.D. that had matured for $100,000.  The down payment was made with, as Frank Bluestein said, “…my own money!”.  The U.S. Supreme Court soon ruled that unions had the right to picket on private property, and Dunlaps’ management could see that they were dead in Port Arthur, and the store was closed in 1973.

1965 – 1967, Lubbock, TX, Monterey Center, Red Cross Shoe Store.

1967 – 1968, St. Joseph, MO, Downtown, Hirsch’s.

1967 – 1990, St. Joseph, MO, East Hills Mall, Hirsch’s.   Closing this location in 1990 was another case of being in a mall that was enlarged to include a major store.  Dillard’s came in and took all the fun away.

 Dunlaps always resisted mall locations.  When the South Plains Mall in Lubbock opened in the mid-‘70s, Dunlaps ran an ad, “Don’t get malled, shop at Dunlaps”.  While malls offered climate-controlled comfort year-around, to be effective, they required all the stores in the mall to remain open during all the hours the mall was open.  Dunlaps stores in suburban shopping centers tended to be open from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, until 9:00 PM on Thursday, and until 6:00 PM on Saturday.  Malls were open until 9:00 PM six days a week, and generally speaking, no more business was done during those extra hours.  In addition, malls relied on the HVAC of the stores, with their open mall entrances, to provide the climate-controlled comfort they boasted about in their advertising.  All of this contributed to increased costs to operate in mall locations.  As an anchor store retailer, the hope was that the extra traffic generated by people using anchor store entrances to access the mall shops might generate more revenue for the anchor stores.  Dunlaps had limited success with mall locations, primarily provided by acquisition of store groups with mall locations, but the suburban, neighborhood shopping center was where Dunlaps’ success remained for decades.

1967 – 1967, Lubbock, TX, 4th St., Sid Moore Interiors.  The store was consolidated into the Dunlaps Ave. M location.  Sid Moore was doing a lot of commercial work and needed additional financial backing, and Dunlaps needed someone to head up the decorating department.

Retha Martin was always looking for opportunities for investment, including real estate, oil and gas and banking.  In 1968, the Company bought a 3,000 acre ranch for $1,200,000 from the Citizens National Bank after they had acquired it in foreclosure.  The property was named Wolfforth Farms after the nearby town of Wolfforth.  Ruel Martin’s son-in-law, A.B. Enloe, was put in charge, and the property was improved with irrigation wells and fencing.  Cotton became the primary crop. 

Also during this period, the Company acquired its first airplane.  With stores being purchased in farther-flung locations, Retha thought it was more efficient if he and a group from the corporate offices could fly to visit stores, instead of making lengthy road trips.  The pilot was Mont Jennings, a World War II Air Corps veteran.  The first plane was a Beechcraft Barron, which was destroyed in the Lubbock tornado in 1970.  The plane was soon replaced with a Cessna 414.  Retha had a model of this plane on his desk.  A group was making store visits in New Mexico when they landed in Santa Fe in a rain storm.  As the plane pulled up to the private aviation terminal, one of the ground crew, wearing a hooded rain slicker, ran out to chock the wheels before the props stopped turning.  After chocking the wheel on one side, he turned and walked right into the still-turning propeller.  He did not survive the injury, and the plane was grounded for repairs.  Soon after it was repaired, Retha traded the plane to Roy Furr for a pressurized Piper Navajo with color radar.  Mont retired, and Willard Taylor was hired as pilot.  He also came from Furrs.  Willard left shortly after the Company moved to Fort Worth.  The last plane the Company owned was a large, 8-passenger, twin-turbo-prop Merlin, tail number DC400, which was sold in the early ‘80s.  The last pilot employed by the Company was Frank Feister, who went on to become a Boeing 767 instructor for American Airlines.

1970 – 1970, Tulsa, OK, Utica Square, Vandever’s.

1970 – 1990, Bartlesville, OK, Vandever’s.

1970 – 1992, Tulsa, OK, Southroads Mall, Vandever’s.   Vandever’s of Tulsa and Bartlesville was bought out of bankruptcy for about $340,000 in cash and the assumption of their debt.   During the negotiations, the representative of Teachers Life Insurance Company, who held a note for $1,650,000, asked Retha what Teachers could do to help the deal along.  This took him by surprise, but he recovered quickly and responded, “Reduce your note by half.”  Teachers agreed to a $650,000 reduction.  Gold Bond Stamps, another creditor, agreed to a $200,000 reduction.  All other creditors received 100%. 

Vandever’s had an income tax loss carry forward of $2,000,000 which, at that time, could be used against the future operating profits of Vandever’s.  Dunlaps would buy the corporation in order to use the loss-carry-forward.  This was the same type of arrangement that had been used to purchase Roach’s of Del Rio and Cox, Rushing & Greer of San Angelo.  Many of the Company’s acquisitions would essentially pay for themselves in this way.  Dunlaps would acquire the corporation that owned the stores, thus acquiring the loss-carry-forward.  When the losses were exhausted, the subsidiary corporation would be merged into Dunlaps.  This method was used to make a number of acquisitions from the 1960s through the 1990s.

In Tulsa, the downtown store had been closed, but there were still 13 years left on the lease.  The landlord agreed to cancel the lease for $250,000.  The Utica Square store had a bankruptcy cancellation clause which went into effect when Vandever’s came out of bankruptcy.  Dunlaps was willing to live out the lease, but the landlord wanted the Company to sign a longer lease and to spend $650,000 on the building.  Dunlaps closed the Utica Square store and tried to sell the leasehold improvements (escalators and lighting) to the landlord for the $200,000 left on the books.  The landlord offered $50,000, so it was decided to take the leasehold improvements out of the store.  While in this stalemate, the landlord leased the building to Diamond’s of Phoenix, a division of Dayton-Hudson.  Suddenly they needed the building in a hurry and the landlord called back.  Dunlaps had stuck to their guns and the landlord paid $200,000 for the leasehold.  Dillard’s later bought all the Diamond stores.

1971 – 1972, Joplin, MO, Downtown, Ramsay’s.

1971 – 1976, Carthage, MO, Ramsay’s.

1971 – 1984, Joplin, MO, North Park Mall, Ramsay’s.  Originally Vandever-Ramsay.  The original visit by Dunlaps management to discuss purchasing Ramsay’s was scheduled for May 12, 1970.  To spread traveling risk, Reg had flown in to Joplin separately on the 11th.  On arrival, he called his contact there to verify where and when the meeting would take place the next day.  The contact’s first question was, “How did you get here?”  Reg said, “I just flew in from Lubbock.”  “What about the tornado?” he asked.  “Oh, that was two weeks ago in Abernathy.  It was close but we had no damage,” Reg answered.  “Not that one, the one going on now.  Turn on your T.V.” he said. 

Unbelievably, Reg was able to call direct to confirm that all was well with his wife, Pat, but she was not able to contact Retha and Ruth, so Reg called from Joplin and got through immediately to Retha.  All was well with them, and Reg was able to call Pat again before the long-distance lines were jammed as well.  Of course, the trip to Joplin was off. 

Negotiations to purchase Ramsay’s began later in 1970 with the bank that had 95% of the stock in trust, but the owner of the remaining 5% refused to go along.  Seven months later, the Company bought the assets only at a price that included the profits (or loss) from the time the negotiations started.  Neither Dunlaps nor the bank realized that the store actually had a profit for the period.  Dunlaps was able to buy the stores as a division of Vandever’s and use the profit against Vandever’s loss-carry-forward.

The next day it was discovered that the Company plane had been flipped over and was a total loss, the Lubbock Municipal Airport having taken a direct hit.  There was little damage to the Downtown, Ave. M location in Lubbock, but the 20-story Great Plains Life building on the opposite corner of Broadway and Ave. M took a direct hit and was damaged badly enough twist the building’s frame.  There was some fear in the early hours that the building would collapse – Retha secretly hoped it would fall on the Dunlaps building, as business had been way off for several years, and since it was the middle of the night and no-one was inside either building at the time, no one was likely to be injured or killed.  Fears of collapse were quickly dismissed as engineers certified the tower safe, and Retha’s secret hopes were dashed.

There was only ever one serious offer to buy The Dunlap Company.   It came from Sheldon Greenberg, who owned The Fair of Beaumont, TX.  Sydney Linn contacted the Company about a potential sale, and it was agreed that if Dunlaps could get its price, the Company would sell.  Book value of the Company was a little over $5,000,000. Retha told Sydney the Company would sell for $10,000,000; however, the price was firm and he would not negotiate. 

Greenberg and his crew made a tour of the stores and proceeded to insult and belittle everyone they met, including Retha. Everyone had begun to have second thoughts anyway, so as soon as they came back with an offer that was less than, but actually pretty close to his price, Retha said, “The deal is off!”   By 1978 the Company’s net worth had increased to more than $10,000,000, and a few years later The Fair was in bankruptcy.

1972 – 1977, El Paso, TX, Downtown, The White House.  The acquisition of The White House in El Paso provided The Dunlap Company with its first NCR mainframe computer.  The White House assets also included a lodge in the Franklin Mountains, a snow plow and a Jeep CJ-5, all of which were sold.  The location was moved to the Mesa Ave. location in 1977.

1972 – 1992, El Paso, TX, Bassett Center, The White House.  When it was built, in the 1950s this was the largest department store on one floor, west of the Mississippi River, at 103,000 square feet.  Its main aisle was 25 feet wide, a huge waste of space by later standards, but at the time, it was a symbol of luxury and sophistication.  In the late 1980s, the store was reconfigured into 40,000 square feet, giving up 60,000 square feet to be converted into additional shops on the mall.  The conversion process was grueling, inasmuch as the store was never closed during construction; first moving everything into 60,000 square feet while the 40,000 square foot space was remodeled, then moving into the 40,000 square feet with a tunnel-like temporary entrance while the mall remodeled the 60,000 square feet.  The new store was much more efficient to operate, and much more in line with Dunlaps’ other locations in the 30,000 – 40,000 square foot range.

1973 – 1973, Joplin, MO, Downtown, The Bargain Barn.

It was at about this time that The Dunlap Company embarked on a serious misadventure: Webb’s City in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Webb’s City was never truly part of the Company; the controlling interest being purchased through Marmid, which at the time was still independent of Dunlaps.  Despite this independence, many resources of the Company were used to evaluate and then to operate it, particularly Ira Dunlap Jr. for operational oversight, Neil Ellis as merchandise manager, and J.B. Hoskins, whose son-in-law, Fred “Scotty” Scott, brought the store to his attention. 

Scotty had worked as the store manager at Dunlaps’ Levelland, TX store, but had left to go to work for “Doc” Webb at his store in Florida.  Scotty contacted J.B., and told him he thought the store would be a great opportunity for Dunlaps.  A team was sent to evaluate it, and the store was acquired by Marmid, but it was much more than “a store”.  Doc Webb advertised Webb’s City as the largest drug store in the world.  He had opened his drug store in downtown St. Petersburg and had been so successful, that he started adding other lines of business.  By the time Dunlaps came along, the store covered several city blocks in buildings as much as four stories high, and included a department store, a hardware store, a grocery store, a furniture store, a plant nursery, a gas station, a barber shop, a beauty salon, a parking garage, and a drug store.  There was a replica of the original drug store on the top floor of the main building, alongside an arcade with pinball machines and trained chickens and ducks.

This was a complete departure from the trend away from downtown locations, and was a surprising move for Retha Martin to approve, let alone embrace.  It may have been the grandeur Doc Webb’s vision that captivated him, or a wistful memory of what the Downtown Lubbock store had been, or his friendship for J.B. Hoskins that encouraged him; it’s impossible now to be sure.  Along with the main location in downtown St. Petersburg, there was a grocery location in Pinellas Park, and several convenience stores.  They sold so much gasoline downtown and at the convenience stores, they ran their own tanker trucks from a nearby refinery several times a day to keep the tanks full.  Another store was added in short order, a store called Wilson’s in Downtown Gainsville, Florida.

As Ira Dunlap Jr. put it, they never could get anything going at Webb’s City.  It lost money from the start, and kept losing money.  Richard Sprott, Dunlaps’ Controller at the time, theorized that Doc Webb must have run the company on a cash basis.  As long as his cash balance was increasing, he figured he was doing okay, but when that balance started decreasing, he figured it was time to get out.  That’s when Scotty Scott and Dunlaps came along.  After Webb’s City lost money for a couple of years, a group of employees offered the Company a promissory note for about half of what the Company had paid for the store.  The deal was accepted, and about a year later, Webb’s City filed for bankruptcy.  Shortly thereafter, most of downtown St. Petersburg was boarded up, including the Webb’s City complex.  The promissory note, of course, had to be written off.  This was when Marmid became a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Dunlap Company.

1974 – 1984, Las Cruces, NM, Loretto Mall, The White House.  Dunlaps in Las Cruces’ name was changed to The White House, making it a branch of the El Paso White House stores.  This was the third time the Company operated a store in Las Cruces under The White House name.

1975 – 1979, Big Spring, TX, Downtown, Dunlaps.  Formerly Hemphill-Wells, which had originally purchased the store from Fisher’s during World War II, when Mr. Fisher was drafted.  Dunlaps had worked out a plan to purchase the store from Fisher when he left for the war, and he had left his power of attorney with his office manager.  The office manager told a friend at Hemphill’s about the deal, and said that if they would meet the price, she would sell the store to them.  They did and she did.  It took 30 years, but Dunlaps was there to buy the store when Hemphill’s was ready to sell.  The store was moved in 1979 to the Marcy St. location.  

1976 – 1990, Santa Fe, NM, Plaza South, Dunlaps.  The store was moved from the Plaza East location into the former J.C.  Penney space.  It was an ideal location for foot traffic.  The store backed up to Water Street, where there was a city parking lot, so the store provided direct access from that lot to the Plaza.  The added space allowed the store to add linens, gifts, menswear and shoes.  When the lease was up in 1990, the landlord was willing to renew at six times the rent, from $3 to $18 per square foot.  The Company’s profit formula would never work at $18 per square foot for rent.  When Dunlaps left, the landlord divided the space into small shops within the larger space, probably for even more per square foot than he had offered Dunlaps.  He added an elevator, a café, and open hours from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM seven days a week.  While it was probably a much more effective use of the space, women who worked in downtown shops, galleries and offices were disappointed to lose a place to buy lipstick and panty hose.

1976 – 1977, Waco, TX, Downtown, Goldstein-Migel.  When the Dunlaps management group travelled to Waco to complete the purchase of the store, the Goldstein management held a party to introduce the new management to the employees.  The dress affair was held at the local country club, and Reg wanted to make sure everyone on the Dunlaps team made a good impression.  Callie Chalk, Reg’s sister, was among the team from Lubbock, and Reg was concerned that her cigarette smoking might be off-putting to the Waco group, so he asked her to refrain during the event.  When she arrived at the event later that evening, she was smoking and carrying a carton of cigarettes tucked under one arm.  When she was asked why she was carrying a carton of cigarettes, she would say, “Ask Reg.”

Reg, Edward and Callie got along well as adults, although there was always a hint of some sibling friction that never seemed to rise to the level of actual rivalry.  Reg attributed their getting along and working well together to the fact that they did not socialize together, rarely spent holidays together, lived in different areas of town, didn’t go to the same church, and didn’t take vacations together, reducing the chances of their stepping on each other’s toes or for conflict to develop between in-laws.  Many of the stores the Company acquired over the years had suffered from sibling rivalries and warfare between in-laws.  Reg said he was determined not to let it happen to The Dunlap Company.

1976 – 1977, Temple, TX, Goldstein-Migel.

1976 – 2003, Waco, TX, Lake Aire Mall, Goldstein-Migel.   Abby Freed had been the president of Goldstein-Migel, and he stayed on as a consultant, maintaining an office at the Lake Aire location for a number of years.  The store was completely remodeled in 2003 and the name changed to Dunlaps when it was “moved” into the Bosque Blvd. location, when the Lake Aire mall was demolished and completely reconfigured into a “lifestyle center” with Dunlaps anchoring the west end in a portion of the original Goldstein-Migel space.

Many of the owners of the stores Dunlaps acquired had “goodwill” on their books, or wanted Dunlaps to pay for “goodwill”.  Retha refused to pay for goodwill, but he was willing to pay a former owner/president/manager a stipend for a period of time, and often to provide an office and even a title in order to engender goodwill in the community.  The Company sought out stores that had good names in their communities.  Even though most of the stores acquired were in financial trouble, the towns they served rarely knew of the trouble.  Keeping a senior member of the prior management onboard, as well as keeping the name of the store, helped maintain a sense of continuity in the community, a strategy that was very successful for the Company for many years.

1976 – 1979, Abilene, TX, Downtown, Grissom’s.  The store was moved in 1979 to the Mall of Abilene location.

1976 – 1979, Abilene, TX, River Oaks Center, Grissom’s.  The store was consolidated into the Mall of Abilene location in 1979.

History, Part Three

May 30, 2021

Compiled, Edited and Some Original Content by Ret Martin

The Move to Lubbock 1943 – 1959

1943 – 1943, Henderson, TX, Dunlaps.  Paul Davis, a former traveling rep, contacted Retha about Reed’s, a department store in Henderson, TX, where he was working.  At his suggestion, the store was purchased and he became the store manager.  In December, 1943, the store burned.  Within days, another store space was found, and the store was re-opened using the inventory and fixtures from the Altus, OK store.

1943 – 1950, Odessa, TX, 4th & Grant, Dunlaps.  Purchased and liquidated a variety store at this location, remodeled, then moved the Dunlaps store from the Elliott Hotel space into this new space.

1943 – 1954, Lubbock, TX, Ave H Downtown, Dunlaps.  Formerly I.A. Stephens.   In December of 1942, the first information that I.A. Stephens Company might be for sale came to Retha Martin’s attention. Stephens carried better merchandise and was noted for a millinery shop leased by Trix Wood.  Even at that time, Trix carried women’s hats that sold for $100 to $150.  The men’s department carried Levi’s 501 jeans for $3.75 and Stetson 7X Silver Belly beaver hats for $100.  It was not unusual for a farmer or rancher to buy both, frequently in multiples.

Even though Lubbock had a population of only about 35,000, local department stores included, besides Penney’s, Sears, and Ward’s, Stephens, Hemphill-Wells, and Hanna-Pope.  Not all that unusual, as most towns at that time and for many years after, had a similar mix of several national and local stores.

Inventory at I.A. Stephens was taken on January 1, 1943, and the deal to purchase the store was completed.  The merchandise was purchased at actual cost, not cost plus 20%.  The accounts receivable were purchased at their face value, with no reserve for bad depts.  The lay-aways were purchased for the current balance.  The building was leased from I.A. (Steve) Stephens, who was also hired as store manager.  The total purchase price was about $150,000.  The store’s sales volume was such a significant percentage of the volume of the total Company that it was decided to move the Company’s offices from Eufaula, OK to Lubbock, TX. 

In the first year that The Dunlap Company operated the Lubbock store, the store made a profit of $170,363.  This amazing performance provided Mr. Stephens a bonus of $31,573.  Of course, it also provided Ruel Martin the same bonus, since it was by far the highest bonus paid to any store manager that year.  The Company had to apply to the federal government for permission to pay such high bonuses, because of war-time wage controls.  Mr. Stephens had a pretty good year that year.  He got the money from selling the store to Dunlaps, a regular salary, monthly rent from the Company for the building that he owned, and a huge bonus.  Because of his immediate success with the store, selling over $1,000,000 in the first year, Mr. Stephens was named “Chain Buyer” and took several trips to New York City to work with the Kirby-Block buying office.

In the spring of 1944, Mr. Stephens went back to New York on a buying trip.  He met a man named Logan, who ran a large piece-goods (fabric) distributorship in the southeast.  Because of the war, there were strict quotas for production on manufactured goods.  Logan had firm commitments from fabric mills all over the south for specific percentages of their production.  He had told the Kirby-Block buying office that he wanted to move all of this merchandise in a single sale to one buyer.  Mr. Stephens learned about Mr. Logan’s deal and said he was interested.  It is not known whether or not Mr. Stephens told Retha Martin about the deal; regardless, Mr. Stephens took the deal himself; after all, he had all of that money from the sale of the store and the bonus, and regular income from the rent on the store.  He came home from New York, resigned from Dunlaps, and set up fabric stores all over West Texas.  He would bring a railroad boxcar load of fabric into a town, and advertise a special price for bolts only.  Women would line up, literally all the way around the block, waiting for the store to open, and would clean the store out in a day.  I.A. Stephens’ fabric stores were successful throughout West Texas for many years, and The Dunlap Company built on its own success for many years thereafter as well.  J.B. Hoskins moved from Midland to become the manager of the Lubbock store.

During the Second World War, retailing was so different that it’s hard to imagine.  There were price controls, but there were no markdowns!  As merchandise was so hard to find, there was no reason to mark anything down.  Ladies hosiery was a good example.  Panty hose had not been invented.  Nor had seamless hose.  Nylon was new and impossible to get.  On the rare occasion that any kind of hosiery was received, salespeople only had to call their customers on the wait list for a total sell-through, at the controlled price.  The stores even hired ladies who sat in the hosiery department and mended hose for customers.  Shoes were rationed, so the customer was required to furnish a shoe coupon for each pair purchased.

Sheets were another item impossible to find.  The options were simpler as there were only single and double sizes, but that didn’t matter; nothing was available.  J.B. Hoskins found some rolls of white muslin and brought it into the storage building across the alley from the store.  The lady in charge of domestics and a young Reg Martin would unroll the appropriate length, rip it off the roll, fold it and send it to the sales floor without hems.  The store sold out of that also.  J.B. Hoskins was a savvy merchant.  He once pointed out “Everybody sells Coca-Cola” to emphasize the point that a merchant has to find ways to differentiate himself from the competition, whether it’s through price, service or selection; otherwise, he’ll find himself lost in the crowd.

Retha’ wife, Ruth, gave birth to Louis Edward Martin II “Edward” in 1944.  He was named “the second” after Retha’s father, even though his name was spelled differently.  At some point during this period of time, Retha bought a Lincoln Continental, a very high-priced, luxury car, as a company car.  When making store visits around the country, he would drive that car and park it in front of the store, which would attract attention to the store.  Retha drove high-line, luxury cars for the rest of his life, including Chrysler Imperials, Cadillacs and Rolls Royces.  The house he and Ruth bought when they moved to Lubbock in 1943 was at the corner of 19th Street and Boston Avenue.  Built in 1917, the Palladian-style, all masonry construction home still stands today, covering 8000 square feet on two floors, with a basement, a full-height attic, and a detached 4-car garage with second-story servants’ quarters.

Shortly after the war, Retha and J.B.  Hoskins were on their way home from a New York City buying trip, and they were approached by a manufacturer of men’s clothing who had a large stock of heavy wool suits he had made for a store group that had taken bankruptcy.  The manufacturer had to sell the suits immediately or he would be in trouble.  They knew and trusted the man, so they struck a deal to purchase the entire shipment at a great price and Retha wrote out a personal check for the entire amount while using the hood of the cab to write on.  When the suits came in, they filled the entire men’s department suit racks and had a riot.  Returning servicemen were the best customers, in spite of the weight of the fabric.

In a similar vein, J.B. bought a freight car full of upholstered furniture and immediately had buyer’s remorse.  He was certain it would be a disaster.  Then news came that the entire shipment had been lost in a fire.  Suddenly he was certain that we had missed the biggest deal of the century.  That was J.B.’s way.  He would complain about a drought, how the cotton crop would be a bust, and the store’s business would be in the tank, then when it would start raining, he would complain that the worms would eat all the crops.

The Lubbock store expanded at the Avenue H location in 1945 by taking over the adjacent space on the east, to the corner.  This former drugstore space had a basement and a small balcony.  The basement became a bargain store, and the balcony housed better women’s apparel.  The Lubbock store was expanded several times by taking adjacent property until it occupied the 1/4 block facing Broadway.  The store began expanding into the space behind the store, across the alley.

Following the end of World War II, the invention of the submersible irrigation pump led to the conversion of most of the available land on the High Plains to cotton farming.  As mechanical cotton pickers had not been invented, cotton was pulled by hand, primarily by migrant workers from Mexico who followed the crop.  During these years, 100,000 workers and their families would move across the country.

A big item sold in the store at this time was a long canvas bag.  The bags were made in the alteration department and sold to the migrant workers.  Each bag had a canvas strap for hooking over the shoulder, so both hands could be used to pull cotton.  Work gloves and straw hats completed the outfit.  Most migrant workers wore sandals.

The entire area was growing rapidly.  Texas Technological College, later to become Texas Tech University, was one of the driving forces of that growth, along with the booming cotton, grain and petroleum business in the region.  Other businesses based in Lubbock were growing as well, including Furr’s, with grocery stores and cafeterias, Underwood’s barbeque cafeterias, and the local newspaper, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.  Retha developed life-long friendships with the principals of these businesses and other business leaders, and worked with them to help foster this growth, primarily through donations to and volunteer leadership in area non-profit organizations as well as Texas Tech.  The population of Lubbock County went from 51,782 in 1940 to 101,048 in 1950, with similar increases throughout the High Plains.

Also during this period, Ruel Martin pioneered the use of air-conditioning in the stores, knowing that shoppers would prefer to shop in a cool store during hot weather.  Dunlaps was the first store in most towns to feature air-conditioning.

In 1950 the Lubbock store produced $2,000,000 in sales, and the Company purchased the portion of the building which it had been leasing from I.A. Stephens.

1944 – 1962, Borger, TX, Dunlaps.  Formerly The K.C.Store, which carried better goods than Dunlaps had carried when previously operating in Borger.

1945 – 1959, Littlefield, TX, Dunlaps.  Formerly Ware’s.  The original Ware’s of Littlefield was purchased, the store remolded, and the name changed to Dunlaps.  Mr. Ware was unable to continue the operation of his store after his son Jimmy was drafted.  The store was sold in 1959 to Beall’s.

1945 – 1963, Henderson, TX, Dunlaps.  This was a new, expanded building in the old location that had previously burned.

1946 – 1952, Las Cruces, NM, Downtown South, Dunlaps.  Formerly The White House, but not associated with The White House of El Paso, TX.

1946 – 1958, Clovis, NM, Dunlaps.  Formerly Mandell’s.

1947 – 1958, Victoria, TX, Downtown, Dunlaps.  Formerly Levy’s.  Levy’s of Victoria was operated by Lichenstein’s of Corpus Christi.  Morris Lichenstein had bought the store from his uncle and was running it as a branch.  At the time the Company bought the store, it occupied a two and three story complex on the downtown square and sold a complete line, including furniture, carpet and appliances.

1947 – 1962, Terrell, TX, Dunlaps.  Formerly The McCord Co., which was the better store in town.

1947 – 1963, Kermit, TX, Dunlaps.

The Dunlap Company incorporated as a Texas corporation on August 31, 1947, by transferring $1,092,000 in partnership assets to the Corporation.  The fiscal year was set to end on the Saturday nearest January 31st each year in order to incorporate after-Christmas sales and returns in the same accounting period as the Christmas shopping season.  Physical inventory would be taken in all the stores on the following Sunday, and the new fiscal year would begin.  Since the Company operated on this type of fiscal year, some years required 53 weeks, and the debate would ensue as to which 52 weeks to use for comparison purposes, as the stores’ weekly performance was always compared to the same week of the previous year.  The main driver of this comparison was the Christmas season.  Other key comparison periods were Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day, and the wild card, Easter, because it moves dramatically on the calendar from year to year.  The length of the Christmas season was also an important factor to be considered in any comparison, because of the movement of Thanksgiving Day as it relates to Christmas Day.

Company profits were reinvested in the Company to pay down debt and to finance expansion and acquisition of new locations.  As a result, the Company rarely paid dividends.  This was the “all in”, “work-‘til-you-die” philosophy that Retha Martin and the Dunlap Brothers lived by and that was instilled in management and family members alike.  If there was a crisis, it was “all hands on deck!”  Everyone was expected to step up and to pitch in.  For family members, the expectations were higher: come in earlier, stay later, work harder.  As Reg put it, “The family name might get you the job, but you have to keep the job, and you have to set the example.”  Members of management were expected to lead by example and to do whatever it took to keep the stores operating, cleaning up after storms, floods and fires, picking up merchandise out of the street after a delivery truck overturned, standing guard after a break-in until repairs could be made, even cleaning restrooms if there was a mess and the housekeeping staff had gone home.  Every member of management was expected, and usually did what they had to do to keep the stores open, protected and running efficiently.

1948 – 1962, Spur, TX, Dunlaps.  Formerly B. Schwarz & Sons.  The store was purchased from M. C. Golding, who was paid 100 cents on the dollar for the inventory and accounts, and $1,000 for the fixtures, a total of about $65,000.  The building was leased for 10 years at $250 per month against 2% of sales.  From July 18, 1948, the purchase date, until January 30, 1949, the fiscal year end, the store sold $158,000 and made a profit of $7,100. The manager of the store was Fred B. “Scotty” Scott, J.B. Hoskins’ son-in-law.

1948 – 1964, Pecos, TX, Dunlaps.  Formerly Pecos Mercantile Co.

1949 – 1961, Levelland, TX, Dunlaps.  The store was sold in 1961 to Beall’s.

Tom Wooten, who had a store in Texarkana, had been a friend of Retha’s for several years.  He had sold 40% of his store to Bill Dillard in 1949, who had sold his original store in Nashville, Arkansas to raise the money.  The dual management concept they were using was not working for Wooten, so he offered to sell his remaining 60% to Dillard for $100,000.

One of the people Mr. Dillard contacted to raise the money was Retha Martin.  His proposal was for Dunlaps to buy Wooten’s share and he and Dunlaps would each own 50% of Dillard’s Inc.  The store had been losing money and, in addition to the need for capital, it also needed $200,000 in operating funds.  When Retha pointed this out, Mr. Dillard said, “Yes I know and I am counting on you to find it.”  Although Retha felt Mr. Dillard would turn the store around, he doubted his own ability to raise the necessary operating funds.  Even though they didn’t become partners, the two remained fast friends and visited often until Retha’s death.  That’s how Dunlaps missed out on owning half of Dillard’s.

Also during 1949, the Company had an opportunity to buy control of Broadway Department Stores, a group of stores located in Los Angeles, with sales of $50,000,000 and a net worth of $15,000,000.  All the voting stock of the Broadway was held by the Arthur Letts Estate in the trust department of a bank in Los Angeles.  The bank was trying to liquidate the estate and, through Retha’s banking connections, offered to sell Dunlaps the stock for $1,000,000.  The Broadway had $1,000,000 in its treasury, but the problem was how to get the money out without declaring a dividend.  Retha couldn’t figure it out, so he passed.  Prentis Hale, who owned Hale Bros. Co. in San Francisco, saw the answer.  He personally bought The Broadway for $1,000,000, then he had the Broadway buy Hale Bros from him, for $1,000,000.  He kept the stores and his money!  The combined group he named Broadway-Hale.  That’s how Dunlaps missed out on owning The Broadway stores.

Later, Retha said, “Even if I had been smart enough to buy the stores, I still wouldn’t have been smart enough to hire Ed Carter to run them.”  Carter, Hawley & Hale was successful for many years, but has since gone bankrupt.

1949 had been a wet year in the Lubbock region, but starting in 1950, a seven-year drought began, which affected all of the Company’s stores in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico.

1950 – 1959, Snyder, TX, Dunlaps.

1950 – 1964. Post, TX, Dunlaps.  The store was sold in 1964 to Brice Martin, the store manager and Retha Martin’s cousin.

1950 – 1966, Odessa, TX, 5th & Grant, Dunlaps.  Moved from the 4th & Grant location to the new building at 5th & Grant.  The store was expanded in 1954 by buying the property behind the store and constructing an addition to house an enlarged linen department.

1950 – 1955, Dennison, TX, Madden’s.  The store was bought from the Madden family and sold back to them in five years.

Callie Martin, Retha’s daughter, married John Rutledge Chalk, a physician in Lubbock.  They had three children, Mary Carolyn in 1952, Ann Russell in 1957, and John Rutledge II “Rutley” in 1959.  Mary, Ann and Rutley would all work for Dunlaps at one time or another.  Callie and John eventually bought the house at 19th Street and Boston Ave. in Lubbock from Retha and Ruth, and owned the house until John’s death.

1952 – 1974, Las Cruces, NM, Downtown North, Dunlaps.  The Las Cruces store was moved from the Downtown South location, across and up the street north to the new, larger building.  It was expanded in 1964, then moved to the Loretto Mall location in 1974.

1952 – 1952, Littlefield, TX, Little’s.  The store was purchased from the Little family and consolidated into Dunlaps.  The Little family moved to Lubbock and opened a store there.

1953 – 1959, Brownfield, TX, Dunlaps.  The store was bought from Latham’s, who moved to Lubbock and opened a store there.  The Brownfield store was sold in 1959 to Beall’s.

1953 – 1964, Port Lavaca, TX, Dunlaps.

1953 – 1955, Las Cruces, NM, Downtown South, The White House.  The store was reopened in the original space under the original name, The White House.  Since the Dunlaps was unable to negotiate out of the old Las Cruces lease, it was decided to reopen the store as The White House, and run it as a discount store.  The landlord was so upset that so much more business was being done than he had done, then moved the store and re-opened in his building as a discount store under his old name, that he sued the Dunlaps for defaming the character of his building.  It took a lot of time and energy, but Dunlaps finally prevailed.

1954 – 1970, Lubbock, TX, Ave M Downtown, Dunlaps.  The store was moved from the Ave H Downtown location into this newly-built, mid-20th century-modern building, located on the former site of Lubbock General Hospital.  The store had two floors and a basement covering most of the block on Broadway except for a Parking Plaza on the west end which provided valet parking access to the parking garage constructed on the southwest corner of the block, and onto the roof of the store itself.  The Oval Room upstairs showcased couture fashions and looked out onto the corner of Broadway and Ave M from a two-story window which housed a 30 foot flocked tree at Christmas.  The Tea Room upstairs featured white table cloths, Lenox china and silver plated flatware.  Some people called it Mr. Retha’s dining room.  There was also a Coffee Shop with an orange tree which dispensed orange juice and had cages of parakeets in its branches.  A Beauty Salon, an Organ Loft, a Barber Shop, a Travel Agency, an Interior Design Studio and a Post Office completed the special features of the store.  This store was the jewel in the crown, and the flagship store of The Dunlap Company.

Company offices were housed in the building for a short time, until the growth of the Company and the expansion of the office required them to be moved to a warehouse building at 720 Texas Ave. in Lubbock, across the alley from the Avalanche-Journal warehouse building.  Business at the Ave. M location declined during the late 1960s.  This decline reflected a nationwide trend of consumer retail away from central business districts and toward suburban shopping centers.  The Ave M location was closed following the tornado of May 11, 1970.  While the store itself sustained very little damage, many buildings in the Downtown Lubbock area were severely damaged or destroyed.  26 people lost their lives.

Richard Sprott, Reg Martin’s brother-in-law, was the operations manager at the time, and he went to the store immediately following the storm, and stood guard against potential looting.  He said that when the sun came up, he heard a car pull up to the store and found Alma Pierce, the piece goods department manager entering the store.  Knowing that the police and National Guard were patrolling the streets, he asked her why she was there and how she had gotten past the police line.  She said she had heard on the radio that city workers were to report to work, and since she worked in the city, she must be expected at work.  When a National Guardsman had stopped her and asked her if she was a city worker, she told him she was, so he let her through.  She stayed and started cleaning up broken glass.

1955 – 1958, Muleshoe, TX, Dunlaps.  The fixtures and merchandise for this store were moved from the Holdenville, OK location.

1955 – 1964, Pampa, TX, Downtown. Dunlaps.  Formerly Murfee’s, the store was purchased from Rice-Stix, the wholesaler in St. Louis with whom the Company had done a great deal of business over the years and had developed an excellent relationship.  The store expanded in 1959, then moved in 1964 to the Coronado Center location.

1956 – 1965, Andrews, TX, Dunlaps.

Mayer & Schmidt of Tyler, TX had been offered for sale, and Dunlaps had a contract to buy the store.  The day of the closing was the day Retha’s father, L.E. Martin died.  Retha called to postpone the closing, and the owners of Mayer & Schmidt explained that it was not possible for them to postpone.  If Dunlaps could not fulfill the contract, they were prepared to sell the store to Dillard’s.  Retha told them that Mr. Dillard was a fine merchant, and they should indeed sell the store to him.

Many factors were working against the stores in the smaller towns during this period, including the continuing drought with its effect on the Company’s stores.  Rainfall in 1956 amounted to less than 11 inches. Other factors were better highways and air-conditioning in automobiles, which made highway travel to the larger markets more pleasant, all of which contributed to the development and growth of stores in larger towns.

As a result, at the annual meeting of the Corporation, which was held in El Paso that year, Retha presented a plan to close the smaller stores and moving into larger markets, such as El Paso, with several stores. These stores would be located in suburban strip centers.  Enclosed shopping malls were just beginning to be developed, and were not a factor in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico yet.

The Dunlap family liked the idea of going into larger markets, but didn’t want to leave the smaller towns as long as the stores there were making money.  But money was the problem.  There was not enough capital to do both, so as leases expired, the Company began closing the smaller stores and waited for opportunities to develop in larger markets.  This process took time.  By 1969 the Company would be down to just 15 stores.

In 1956 Reg Martin married Patricia Sprott, whom he had met while she was attending an Alpha Phi sorority function at his parents’ home.  Reg’s mother, Ruth, was an Alpha Phi, and a group from The University of Texas at Austin, including Pat, was in town to establish a chapter at Texas Tech.  Pat gave birth to a daughter, Katherine, in 1957, and a son, Retha Reginald III “Ret” in 1961.  Another son, Richard Russell, would be adopted in 1969, and another son, Jonathan Ruel, would be born in 1971.  Starting at young ages, all four children would work in the stores in various capacities and at various times.

1957 – 1962, Beeville, TX, Dunlaps.  The store was purchased out of bankruptcy.

1957 – 1983, Farmington, NM, Dunlaps.  The Farmington store was opened after a long ordeal.  The Company was looking for a building and finally signed an agreement to remodel an old automotive garage which was on the best corner in downtown.  First the City Inspector condemned the roof, so the roof was taken off.  Then he condemned the walls, so the walls were torn down. Then he condemned the foundations, so the Company had to start from scratch, and built a new building for the landlord, from the remodeling plans.  What wasn’t known until later was that the City Inspector was the landlord’s brother.  Meanwhile, the merchandise purchased for an August opening was beginning to stack up.  It was soon joined by the purchases for September, then for October.

Ken and Martha Plotner and Martha’s mother, Golda Bozarth, had gone to Farmington to open the store and, due to the delays and the lack of space in which to operate, they were forced to rent a small warehouse where they could check the merchandise, mark it, then repack it for storage.  They soon used all available space in town and had to send the overflow to Albuquerque.

The oil boom in Farmington was causing a strain on all utilities to the extent that the only way to communicate by telephone was to reserve a time in advance.  Ken reserved 8:30 A.M. each day.  During one of these calls, Ruel Martin discovered that the ceiling tiles had not been received.  He traced them and told Ken when to expect the train to arrive from Durango.  The train didn’t arrive from Durango as it had fallen off the track on the way to Farmington.

The day before the Grand Opening, the contractor was still grinding the cement floor to take out ripples so they could lay the tile.  Cement dust was on everything, and the carpet was still being laid in the fashion area.  The store finally opened on Monday October, 21st.  In 13,000 sq. ft. the store sold $20,900 on opening day and $36,600 for the week.

The store was split-level in the back with a half basement under a mezzanine.  Fashion was upstairs, and domestics and linens were downstairs, with a leased Singer Sewing Center in part of the downstairs space.  Singer sold well into six figures the first year.  Every Native American on the nearby Navajo Reservation seemed to want a Singer, whether they had electricity to run it or not.

1957 – 1960, Del Rio TX, Roach’s.  Roach’s of Del Rio was purchased out of bankruptcy for $1; however, no sales were recorded on the Company’s books until 1959. Roach’s was an old fashioned store that not only carried apparel for the family and home furnishings, they also had a full hardware department, a grocery store with butcher counter, including fresh cabbrito, a bakery in the basement, and a beer, wine and liquor department.  Since there was a loss carry-forward at the time of the purchase, it was necessary to maintain a separate corporation to take advantage of the tax benefits that were available at that time.  Some of these records may have been lost at the time of the May 11, 1970 tornado in Lubbock, or during the Company’s move to Fort Worth in 1977.  When Beall’s bought the store in 1960, Reg said, “They were smarter than we were, because they hired the Penney’s manager to run it, and hit a home run.”

As of the end of 1957, the Cobb Family had built a group of stores throughout West Texas.  They had stores in Abilene, Amarillo, Lubbock, Odessa, Plainview, Wichita Falls, and others.  Tom Cobb, who was not in good health, was in control and had over-expanded in a sluggish period.  He was another victim of the drought.  Cobb was a customer of The Citizens National Bank, where Retha was Chairman-Of-The-Board. 

Retha negotiated a contract for Dunlaps to take over the stores, but he was not too hot on the deal, because of the perceived conflict of interest.  Mr. Cobb had kept coming back to Dunlaps for help and didn’t seem to have any other options.  Since all this had culminated on Tuesday, December 31, 1957, Cobb’s attorney suggested that the group return to his office on Thursday, January 2nd.,  following the New Year’s Day holiday, which would give his secretary time to make the final corrections to the contract without staying late on New Year’s Eve.

It was well known that Retha Martin could be found in his office even if the stores were closed, so on January 1st, many of the Cobb store managers arrived at Retha’s office to get directions on how to proceed for the coming year under the new ownership.  Retha told them that they really should wait till the deal was final.

On January 2nd, at the appointed time, all the Cobb’s stockholders, except Tom Cobb, were gathered in their attorney’s office along with Retha, Ruel and their attorney.  No one could find Tom Cobb.  After a couple of hours, Cobb’s attorney apologized and everyone went on their way.

It was soon discovered that Cobb had sold the stores to I.A. Stephens on January 1st for less money than Dunlaps had offered.  The difference was that Stephens had promised Cobb a continuing income.  When the Stephens deal became public, many, including Cobb’s attorney and stockholders, urged Retha to sue, but all Retha had to say was, “It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Cobb’s sweetheart deal didn’t last long.  Stephens fired him before the year was out.  Stephens sold the Abilene store to Grissom’s, the Amarillo store to Blackburn’s, the Odessa store to G.C. Murphey, the Plainview store to “Rusty” Marse, Cobb’s brother-in-law, and the Wichita Falls store to McClurkan’s.  In Lubbock, the Cobb’s store at 34th and Indiana Ave. went to Mrs. Stephens (Lena) in a divorce settlement, becoming Lena Stephens’, while the Cobb’s stores at 34th Street and Avenue H and on 4th Street at University were sold to St. Claire’s, out of Muleshoe.

1958 – 1960, San Angelo, TX, Downtown, Cox, Rushing & Greer.  The store was purchased out of bankruptcy for $945; however, no sales appeared on the Company books until 1962.  This was a similar deal to Del Rio, and the records are missing.  Through one of Retha’s banking connections, Dunlaps was offered the San Angelo store.  Retha and J.B. Hoskins walked through the store, and J.B. reported that the inventory was at least $200,000 short.  The creditors (the Bank and the Newspaper) who were offering the store to Dunlaps, didn’t believe Retha and J.B. could be so certain with just a walk-through.  They assumed the claimed shortage was a negotiation ploy.  Besides, if it were true, the store was bankrupt.  Retha got mad and said Dunlaps would just count it and prove he and J.B. were right.  The following Sunday, a crew from Dunlaps went in and counted the inventory.  The store was $199,000 short, and the creditors forced the store into bankruptcy.  The inventory had to be counted again at the time of the purchase.

1958 – 1963, Odessa, TX, Great Oil Basin Center, Dunlaps.  The store moved in 1963 to the Live Oak Center location.

1958 – 1978, Victoria, TX, Downtown, Dunlaps.  The timing could not have been worse.  The airbase in Victoria closed, and business in town took a massive hit.  Six men’s shops went out of business as a result. The old Levy building was condemned as soon as Dunlaps moved out in 1958, so there was no going back.  A year later, Penney’s moved from downtown into a mall on North Laurent St.  Dunlaps had a 20 year lease to live out.  When the lease expired in 1978, the store finally moved two blocks north to the Laurent St. location.

1958 – 1958, Pampa, TX, Friendly Men’s Shop, Merged into Dunlaps.  The Company was unable to renew the lease in Pampa because the landlord had leased the space to The Friendly Men’s Shop, a power-house in menswear.  A new location couldn’t be found, so Retha hired a broker to find one.  After scouting all over town, the broker came back with the suggestion that the Company buy Friendly Men’s since the owner was getting a divorce and needed to sell.  The Company bought the shop and consolidated the two stores. With the addition of Friendly Men’s and the subsequent growth in business, additional space was needed in Pampa, so space was leased in 1959 on the second floor of the building next door, and an elevator was installed in the original store building that opened onto the ground floor of the original store and opened into the new space through the back of the elevator on the second floor.

The Dunlap Wholesale Division was opened in the Lubbock warehouse at 720 Texas Ave. to handle direct imports after the Company’s first buying trip to Asia.  The Company was represented in Hong Kong and Japan (the only viable markets at that time) by MacDonald Hong Kong Ltd.  On one of the trips, the buying team was approached by that office to become the distributor for a Japanese car manufacturer.  The buyers had seen very small, 4-passenger cars on the streets and had ridden in a few that were used as taxis.  The manufacturer had distributors for the East and West coasts in the US, but wanted someone for the Central US to bring the cars in through the port of Houston. 

The cars were small, boxy and ugly.  J.B. and Ira Jr. and Reg could barely fit into one with the cab driver.  It would take a commitment of $200,000 in cash (about what the Company was making in profit that year) and a plan to develop a network of dealerships to market the cars.  Not knowing that much about selling cars in general or about this car named Datsun in particular, the deal was turned down.  Later Datsun was rebranded as Nissan.  And that’s how Dunlaps missed out on becoming the Central US distributor for Nissan.

During this period, Reg took the lead in negotiating directly with Leonard Lauder to open Estee Lauder cosmetics in all Dunlaps stores in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico.  This brand, along with other exclusive, high-end cosmetics, apparel and shoe brands would help differentiate Dunlaps as the better store in town, and became an important factor in determining which stores to purchase for expansion into new markets.

1959 – 1963, Durango, CO, Dunlaps.

History, Part Two

May 30, 2021

Compiled, Edited and Some Original Content by Ret Martin

A New Beginning: 1922 – 1942

In 1922, Retha Martin married Tony Flam of Muskogee.  She was 16; he was 21.  L.E. Martin, Retha’s father, and Ruel Martin, Retha’s brother, and Herbert Riead, the head bookkeeper, had changed their minds about staying in Oklahoma and decided to join the Dunlap family in Pasadena.  Ruel’s wife, Veda, and Herbert’s wife, Ada, were homesick for their mother, Mrs. Hilliard (Julia) Dunlap, who had moved to California with the Dunlap brothers after the death of her husband in 1921, so they persuaded Ruel and Herbert to move to California, along with L.E. Martin and his wife Myrtle.  Clyde Dunlap had started a group of stores in Southern California, and the three men would help run them.  L.E. moved in April, and Ruel, who was best man in Retha’s wedding to Tony, waited until after the wedding in June to leave.  Ruel’s wife, Veda, whose heart had been weak since her bout with rheumatic fever as a child, became ill on the train journey west, and Ruel had to carry her from the train to her brother’s home, where she died two weeks later.

1923 turned out to be a remarkable year.  There was a record high price for cotton, and McIntosh County, Oklahoma (Eufaula) produced 100,000 bales of cotton.  That year the Eufaula store sold $40,000 and netted a $10,000 profit; that’s right, a 25% profit.  At 40%, Retha’s share of the profit was $4000, so he was able to pay off his $2000 loan from the Dunlap family, something he likely thought would have taken years to accomplish.  In fact, it would take another ten years for McIntosh County to produce another 100,000 bales of cotton.  1923 was a remarkable year indeed.

As the story goes, Retha’s wife, Tony, also wanted to move to California with her new in-laws, but with the amazing success of the store, Retha was determined to stay in Oklahoma.  During an argument about the subject, she threw an iron at him, striking him in the forehead.  In those days, an iron for pressing clothes was an actual piece of wedge-shaped cast iron with a handle, also known as a “sad iron”, “sad” being an archaic term meaning “heavy” or “solid”.  The iron would be heated on the stove or the hearth, then picked up using a cloth or a detachable wooden handle.  Retha and Tony divorced shortly thereafter.  The mark on Retha’s forehead was evident for the rest of his life.  He wryly attributed the mark to having been kicked in the head by a mule when he was a child, an entertaining metaphor for what really happened.

It was about this same time that groceries were discontinued and Dunlaps became a Junior Department Store, rather than a General Store.  Junior Department Stores focus primarily on apparel and accessories, while Full Line Department Stores include home furnishings and appliances.  There are no store records from these years.  When asked about business during The Great Depression, Retha said it was just another series of tough years in Eastern Oklahoma.  The primary problem being that there was no money.  Currency was very hard to come by, so many stores began printing their own scrip, which could be traded for goods.

Things were also tough in California for the Dunlap family, so Ira Dunlap began spending time in Oklahoma.  He would travel around the area looking for stores that could be bought or spaces that could be leased, in an effort to increase Partnership revenues.  Ira’s son, Ira Jr. and grandson, Douglas Martin Dunlap, both eventually worked in the Company, actively involved in management for many years.

There is evidence that there was a store in Okemah, Oklahoma in 1926, witnessed by a framed “Blue Ribbon Sale” ad, printed in red ink, which states, in Retha’s handwriting, “…This should have been in blue but they used all the blue ink in Okemah.”  The ad was used to carry the invitation, “Come to our sale.” Sent to Ruth Koch of Checotah, Oklahoma.

Retha married Ruth Russell Koch (she pronounced it “Cook”) in August of 1927.  She was the daughter of Rudolph Julius Koch and Callie Jenette Russell.  Koch was a wealthy land owner and early investor in Oklahoma oil and gas production.  Ruth gave birth to Callie Russell Martin in 1930 and to Retha Reginald Martin II “Reg” in 1933.

Ruel returned to Oklahoma during this time and married Florence Wright, a childhood friend of Zeta Martin.  He went to Coweta, Oklahoma to open a store in a building the Dunlap brothers had built and still owned there.

Buying was done centrally out of the Eufaula store, using the warehouse in the back of the store for central receiving and storage.  Rice-Stix of St. Louis, Missouri was the primary supplier, though many manufactures had road salesmen.  Earl Eddins traveled for Jarman Shoes, from whom were bought Jarman Friendly Fives.  Five dollars was a lot of money for a pair of shoes, but Retha always liked better merchandise.  Earl and his wife Kay lived in Muskogee and became great friends of Retha and Ruth.  This was highly unusual, as Retha usually wanted to keep his distance from his suppliers, but the Eddins friendship would last for 3 generations.

Rice-Stix also had traveling salesmen, one of whom was John Davies.  Davies’ daughter, Nancy, married Russell Edward Koch, Ruth’s youngest brother.  It was the naming of this brother that caused Ruth to refuse to use or acknowledge her middle name, Russell.

1933 – 1934, Frederick, OK, Dunlaps.

1933 – 1935, Muskogee, OK, Dunlaps.

1933 – 1943, Altus, OK, Dunlaps.  Moody Rogers was the store manager. The fixtures and merchandise were moved in 1943 from this location to the Henderson, TX location.

1933 – 1959, Idabel, OK, Dunlaps.  Formerly Wiesenfeld’s. 

The stores in Altus, Frederick, Idabel and Muskogee, were all added on August 18, 1933. The Idabel store was purchased from Morris Wiesenfeld, an old acquaintance, who wanted to retire and to return to Germany for a visit.  Two weeks after selling his store, he called “Rita” (Retha) and asked him if he would take care of his money for him while he was gone, since he didn’t trust the banks.  The country was still reeling from the effects of 1929.  The amount he wanted “Rita” to look after was $40,000.  The payable was carried on the books for many years as “Special Capital”, until it was repaid.

Reg told a story of a menswear buyer he was traveling with in the early ‘50s, making store visits.  As a buyer, he regularly made trips to New York City, and he was always dapper and well turned out.  While in Idabel to visit the store, Reg and this buyer stopped at a local café for breakfast.  Reg ordered breakfast, and the waitress turned to the menswear buyer for his order.  He explained that he was hungry for pancakes, but wondered if the cook would make silver-dollar pancakes like he enjoyed when visiting New York.  She looked at him quizzically, and he explained that silver-dollar pancakes were about an inch-and-a-half in diameter.  She looked at him quizzically again, and asked, “And you want a stack of ‘em?”  He said, “Yes.”  A few minutes passed, and out came the plates.  Reg received the breakfast he had ordered, and a plate with 3 tiny pancakes was placed before the menswear buyer.  He laughed and said, “No, you don’t understand, in New York, they cover the plate with silver-dollar pancakes!”  The waitress replied, “Look mister, I don’t know how they do things in New York City, but in Idabel, Oklahoma, a stack is three!”  The Idabel store was sold in 1959 to Ewell Hill, the store manager.

The fixtures for the stores in Altus, Fredrick and Muskogee were bought from C.E. Stone, whose stores did not survive the depression.  Ira Dunlap used the store in Altus as his headquarters when he was visiting from California.  Ira brought Bryce Martin and Earnest Dunlap with him.  Bryce, who was Retha’s first cousin, the son of William Preston Martin, L.E. Martin’s brother, became the manager of the Fredrick store and Earnest Dunlap, a cousin of Ira’s, became the manager of the Muskogee store. 

1934 – 1935, Vernon, TX, Dunlaps.

1934 – 1938, Wellington, TX, Dunlaps.

1934 – 1940, Childress, TX, Dunlaps.

1934 – 1958, Okemah, OK, Dunlaps.

1934 – 1936, Seminole, OK, Dunlaps.

1935 – 1936, Ada, OK, Dunlaps.

1935 – 1938, Shamrock, TX, Dunlaps.

Ruel closed the store in Coweta in 1935, and joined Retha in Eufaula to take over accounting and operations, as evidenced by the fact that there are records of sales and profits for the company from 1935 forward.  Ruel was the meticulous operator; Retha was the visionary.  They often butted heads, but made a good team for many years.  Retha would tell Ruel what he wanted to do, and Ruel would tell him why he couldn’t do it.  They would get into a terrible argument, and storm away from each other.  After a few minutes, Ruel would walk into Retha’s office and start telling him how he could do what he wanted to do.  Ruel’s compensation was $150 per month, plus an annual bonus equal to the highest annual bonus paid to a store manager in the Company.

The store managers at this time received a salary and a year-end bonus based on the store’s profit.  The bonus was 5% of the first $10,000 in profit, 10% of the next $10,000 in profit, and 20% of any profit over $20,000.  Most of the stores fell into the first category.

The pricing practice at this time was to increase the cost of the goods by 20%. The new amount, the rate-up amount, was then used as the cost component for figuring a standard 50% mark-on at retail; that is, the mark-on, or mark-up, is 50% of the retail price.  Some other stores used a 10% rate-up, not 20%.  All price tags were coded with the actual cost, the department, the rate-up cost and the retail price.

1936 – 1936, Homer, OK, Dunlaps.

1936 – 1961, Seminole, OK, Dunlaps.  The New York Store was next door to Dunlaps and was the fine store in town.  The store belonged to a family by the name of Schoenbrun who later went to Tyler, Texas to open the New York store there.  It was not unusual for merchants with names they thought might be difficult for Americans to pronounce to do business with names like “The New York Store”, “The Boston Store”, “The City of Paris”, “The Guarantee”, “The Broadway”, “The Fair”, “The White House” or “The Popular”.  Often, this was done to avoid antisemitism and anti-immigrant sentiments.

When the New York Store went bankrupt in Siminole, Dunlaps bought the store, changed the name to Dunlaps and closed the old Dunlaps location next door.  John and Zeta Smock, (Zeta was Retha’s sister) who had married in 1934 and had been working in Eufaula where John was the manager, went to Seminole to run the store. 

At the request of the Mayor of Seminole, John Smock agreed to continue offering credit as was the New York Store’s practice, without telling Retha.  Sales were increasing rapidly, and when Retha called to find out what was happening, John had to confess.  Retha couldn’t argue with success, so the credit department stayed, “on a trial basis”.  By 1938, the Seminole store was selling $100,000 per year.

Seminole was a booming oil town that had not been able to keep up with its growth.  Mona Clardy related a story about Seminole when she and her husband Josh were working for Anthony’s in Seminole before they went to Odessa, Texas to manage the Dunlaps store there.  She told of going to an afternoon tea at a friend’s home.  She wore a floor length lace dress, a big floppy hat and, for crossing the muddy streets, black rubber boots.  She would carry her dress shoes and her gathered skirt in her arms until she arrived at her destination where she would exchange her boots for her shoes and leave the boots on the front porch.

Mona also told of selling evening dresses on lay-away to the women who worked the hotel across the street.   They would make their selection on Saturday afternoon and come in frequently during the night to make payments, often paying them out the same day they put them in lay-away.  In towns such as Seminole, it was not unusual for stores to stay open until midnight on Saturday.

As larger stores were added that carried better merchandise that other stores did not carry, the manager of that store, or his buyer, began going to market to cover the additional duties.  Thus began the drift away from central buying and the development of individual identity of the stores, a distinction that grew and became the Company’s hallmark until 2001.

1936 – 1938, Poteau, OK, Dunlaps.

1937 – 1938, Blytheville, AR, Dunlaps.

1937 – 1938, Caruthersville, MO, Dunlaps.  Due to their location, it appears that the Blytheville and Caruthersville stores were purchased as a pair.

1937 – 1947, Atlanta, TX, Dunlaps.

1938 – 1942, Borger, TX, Dunlaps.  The store offered credit.  Retha told a story that Borger had grown too fast for its jail, so police would handcuff the Saturday night rowdies to a rail that was set up down the middle of the street, similar to an old western horse-rail.

1938 – 1960, Hobbs, NM, Downtown, Dunlaps.   Brown Tredwell was the store manager.  The store offered credit.  The Hobbs store reached $100,000 in sales in 1939.  In 1946, the salt content in the soil around Hobbs was causing the cast iron natural gas pipes in town to become corroded and to leak.  When cold weather came in the fall of that year, the gas company advised everyone not to turn on their gas without calling them to come inspect the lines and to turn it on.  Apparently, Mr. Tredwell misunderstood, or just didn’t pay attention.  When the employees in the store told him that they were cold, he turned on the gas.  After a while, they were still cold, and started to smell gas.  Mr. Tredwell called a plumber instead of the gas company.  When the plumber arrived, someone lit a cigarette.  Amazingly, only two of the clerks were slightly injured.  Mr. Tredwell claimed that the plumber lit the cigarette.  The plumber claimed it was Mr. Tredwell.  Given that there were so few injuries, and that there is no evidence of an interruption in business at the location that year, the extent of the explosion was probably restricted to blowing the windows out.  The store moved to the Broadmoor Center location in 1960.

While visiting with his father-in-law, R.J. Koch of Checotah, Oklahoma, Retha heard from a visiting oil man about the oil boom in the Permian Basin area of Texas.  When Retha started looking in that area, it didn’t take him long to find stores to buy.

1939 – 1943, Odessa, TX, 2nd & Grant, Dunlaps.  The store was located in lobby space in The Elliott Hotel.  The Odessa store was a $100,000 per year store.  Ira G. Dunlap Jr. came from California to learn the business before entering medical school, and went to work in the Odessa store.  He never returned to school, opting for a life-long career with the Company.  Retha Martin mentored Ira Jr. much as Ira Sr. had mentored him.

1939 – 1960, Monahans, TX, Dunlaps.    

1939 – 1941, Odessa, TX, Downtown, Martin’s.  Martin’s was a group of small stores scattered across West Texas, unrelated to the Retha Martin family.  Many of the stores were only open in the fall, catering to migrant workers.  Dunlaps carried brand name merchandise and Martin’s carried lower priced goods.

1940 – 1955, Holdenville, OK, Dunlaps.  The fixtures and merchandise were moved to the Muleshoe, TX location in 1955.

1940 – 1940, Monahans, TX, Martin’s.  The story goes that after the closure of Martin’s in Monahans, and although the Martin’s stores were not related to the Retha Martin family, it was decided not to open stores under the Martin’s name going forward, as the name was associated with lower-price goods, and Retha wanted to be known for better quality merchandise.  The store was liquidated in 1940. 

1941 – 1962, Midland, TX, Downtown, Dunlaps.  Formerly the Addison Wadley Co.  In 1941, Rice-Stix offered to open the Company a $100,000 line of credit.  That line of credit was used to purchase the Addison Wadley Company.  The one Addison Wadley store was selling more than any of the other Dunlap stores.  It was the #1 full-line department store in Midland.  Apparently, Mr. Wadley agreed to sell the company without consulting his junior partner, J. B. Hoskins, who held a 25% interest.  Hoskins was taken aback by the announcement, but agreed to stay on as store manager for a year.  He stayed on for more than 50 years, purchased an interest in The Dunlap Company, and held a number of positions of authority in the organization.  His nephews, Tom, Joe and Chuck Hoskins, joined the Company over the years as well. 

The Dunlap Company had a reputation for controls.  Retha Martin, on the advice of an accountant, had visited a store in Tennessee some years earlier which had a perpetual inventory system, by department.  This system was adapted for the Dunlap stores, resulting in Form D.  It all fit on one large 11” x 17” sheet of paper.  Originally there were only about 12 departments.  As departments were added and the form grew to 2 pages, it became Form D-2, which continued to be used in computerized form through the year 2000.  This level of inventory control, fairly advanced for the time, was so aggravating to J.B. Hoskins, that he would call in, sometimes twice a week, and resign, but Retha always managed to calm him down and talk him into staying.

The building the Company had been leasing in Midland was purchased in 1951, and was expanded in 1954 by taking in the space on the corner, formerly occupied by another store.  It was necessary to buy the property, but Dunlap’s capital was stretched too thin and the banks were concerned that too much capital was going into buildings, so Marmid (Martin/Midland) was incorporated by Retha to buy the property and lease it to Dunlaps.

Marmid later became a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Dunlap Company and was used to purchase a number of real estate, oil & gas, and other retail and non-retail assets, including Company airplanes and Retha’s Rolls Royce.  The Midland store moved to the Dellwood Plaza location in 1962.

1942 – 1962, Portales, NM, Dunlaps.

1942 – 1942, Portales, NM, Finney’s.  The store was merged into Dunlaps.  Finney’s was a men’s store whose former owner, Sol Finney, became the manager of the combined stores.

History, Part One

May 30, 2021

Compiled, Edited and Some Original Content by Ret Martin

Preface:

The Dunlap Company opened or acquired 251 locations, operated in a total of 18 states, and employed thousands of people during its 117-year history.  The stores were vital parts of their communities, providing goods, services and employment, and contributing to charitable organizations.  Following is a list of store locations in order of the year the store was opened or acquired.  Also included is the year the store was closed or sold, the city and state, the name of the store, and additional information about the location, if any.  Between the store location listings are notes and anecdotes related to that general time period as well.  Some of this information may be flawed due to errors in record-keeping, lapses of memory, and poor transcriptions of oral histories.

Before the Beginning:

The founder of the Dunlap stores, Hilliard George Washington “H.G.” Dunlap (1859-1921) and his wife, Julia Ann Eliza Cornatzer (1860-1942) were born and raised near Gadsden, Tennessee (about 12 miles northwest of Jackson).  They were married in March of 1878.  Their first child, Ira George (1878-1962), was born the following December, and was the father of Ira George Dunlap Jr., and the grandfather of Douglas Martin Dunlap.

Hearing of land that could be claimed in Indian Territory and hoping for better prospects, the Dunlaps and a number of other families (mostly related) decided to move west.  During 1879, the group traveled by wagon to Pope County, Arkansas, where they ran out of money.  The journey took six weeks, and included crossing the Mississippi, an encounter with horse thieves, and the death of one of the children in the group.

Hilliard’s health was such that he was not able to do the work required on a farm, so he began to sell thread and other small items out of a covered wagon, door-to-door, to the area farmers.

The census of 1880 for the Illinois Township, situated just outside of Russellville, Arkansas, listed in the household of Thomas Rooker Cornatzer, a farmer:     

Dunlap; Hilliard, son-in-law, peddler

                                Dunlap; Julia, daughter, 19, housekeeper

                                Dunlap; Ira G., grandson, 1

Hilliard eventually went to work for the White Brothers’ store in Russellville where he earned about $30 per month. The family grew with the birth of Carl Washington (1882), Ada (1884), Ethel (1887), and Clyde Hilliard (1889), and with the addition of Julia’s mother and sister, Lou, after Mr. Cornatzer’s death in 1886. Mrs. Cornatzer did alterations at White Brothers’.  Julia was very resourceful and frugal, and in spite of having such a large family to feed, was able to save $3,000 during a ten year period.  Each month, the family would buy a barrel of flour and a keg of molasses, which they would augment with whatever they could grow around their place.  Many families kept a small garden and chickens to supplement their diets.

With the expansion of the railroads in the late 1880’s, northeastern Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, began to attract many settlers.  Hilliard studied the map and picked out Wagoner as a likely town to grow, and he began offering merchandise for sale out of a covered wagon, which he drove there and back regularly, starting as early as 1880.  He painted a blue star on the side of the wagon canvas to identify himself.  He and his cousin, Bela Taylor, went to Wagoner to look for housing and business opportunities.  Wagoner was situated in the Creek Indian Nation, where the Tribal Legislature collected taxes and granted licenses to businesses.

Located at the crossing of three railroads: The Missouri, Kansas & Texas; The Kansas & Arkansas Valley; and The Missouri Pacific, Wagoner was a railroad center as well as a ranching center.  Large herds of cattle would be driven in from Texas in the spring to graze on the high prairie grass during the summer, then to be shipped out when they were fat.

Satisfied that Wagoner had a future, Hilliard and Bela’s father, John, purchased the three story Bernard Hotel as an investment and as a way to provide housing for the families. On the trip from Russellville to Wagoner, the women and children traveled by train while the men brought the livestock, farm implements, and household goods by wagon.   Because superstitious hotel guests would not stay in room # 13, it became the Dunlap’s home while they built a house. 

Hilliard also bought, in partnership with Bela’s brother Hervy, a building that was located across the street from the hotel.  This building, which became vacant when the Davis & Jones store moved over to Main Street, became the Star Store, having a blue star painted on the front, which helped those who could not read to identify the business.  The year was probably 1890, but may have been as late as 1892. Both the hotel and the store would benefit from the ranching traffic, the Creek Indian population, and the farmers who were just beginning to move into the area.

The Beginning: 1890 – 1921

1890 – 1907, Wagoner, Indian Territory, Dunlaps.  The store was originally opened as The Star Store, then operated as Dunlap & Taylor, before Taylor left the partnership.

In addition to being Hilliard’s cousin, Hervy Taylor also became his brother-in-law when, in 1893, he married Julia’s sister Lou.  Together, Hilliard, Hervy and their families built a prosperous business.  By traveling first to Fort Smith, AR, then later to St. Louis, MO to buy merchandise, they stocked their store with all manner of dry goods, hardware, furniture, saddles and tack, guns and ammunitions, buggies, wagons, and groceries.  As business increased, they enlarged their building and replaced the blue star with the names “Dunlap & Taylor”.  They also bought the block-size building that had been built for Davis & Jones nearby, and used it as a warehouse for wagons, buggies and coffins.  Davis & Jones may have over-expanded during the recession of 1893, just as Dunlap & Taylor were getting started with lower overhead.

Hilliard and Julia’s family also grew with the births of Bonnie (1892), Jessie (1895), Ruth (1896) and Veda (1899), for a total of nine children.

During this time Taylor left the business and the name of the store was changed to Dunlap’s.  There was an epidemic of smallpox; two of the Dunlap babies, Bonnie and Jessie, died of flu on the same day; Ruth and Veda both contracted rheumatic fever; and Ruth later died of heart failure when she contracted diphtheria.  Taylor’s departure could well have been for health reasons, or Hervy might just have wanted to strike out on his own.  Veda Dunlap Stanbury, grand-daughter of Hilliard, reported that she visited the Taylor family in later years in Henryetta, OK, where Hervy was operating a store there that he had bought from Dunlap Bros. in 1921.

The rise, rapid expansion and segmentation of the retail business was a direct result of the industrial revolution.  As more mass-produced consumer goods became available along with mechanized transportation for distribution, retail outlets began to proliferate and follow the frontier expansion.  First were the general stores, providing non-perishable groceries, dry goods and as well as coffins, wagons and buggies.  As time went by, general stores changed, becoming more specialized.  Some became grocers, which expanded and added perishable foods as refrigeration became available, eventually becoming super markets.  Dry-goods stores became department stores, discount stores and five-and-dime stores.  Hardware stores arose, as did numerous specialty shops for menswear, womenswear, etc.  The Dunlap Company followed the department store pattern.

1904 – 1921, Coweta, OK, Dunlap Bros.  The store was originally opened by Hilliard’s sons, Ira and Carl who moved to Coweta, built a building, and opened as Dunlap Brothers’ Bargain Depot.  Like their father’s store, this was also a general store, but as the brothers did not like the credit business, they sold strictly for cash.  The store was later called Dunlap’s Red Hot Cash Store.  Ira was the promoter and Carl was the merchant.  Oklahoma became a state in 1907, and because of corruption in the Department Of Indian Affairs, all Indian land leases were cancelled.  Farmers who had leased their land from the Creek Nation, suddenly could not make their payments.  This and the financial panic of that year caused Hilliard to close his store in Wagoner and to join his sons in Coweta.  The store would serve as the headquarters location until 1915.  A location in Wagoner, OK would be opened again in 1909.

Around 1910, Lewis Edward “L.E.” Martin moved his family from Hardin, MO to Coweta to open a restaurant, Martin’s Cafe, which was located across the street from the Dunlap Brothers’ store.  Martin had inherited a block of land in “Tulsa Town” and traded it for a block in Coweta, because at that time, Coweta was thought to have better prospects.  This is how the Martin family missed out on the boom in Tulsa real estate that resulted from the oil boom, instead becoming connected to the Dunlap family.  Martin brought with him his wife, Myrtle May Willian Martin, and their children, Viola Marie born in 1897, Ruel Castleton born in 1898, Retha Reginald born in 1901, and Zeta Vern born in 1907.  There were also two other children who died in infancy: a boy named Zaza Glen in 1904, and an un-named baby in 1906.

In 1911, Dunlap Bros’, a partnership, was established to handle the growing business, showing four partners; Hilliard, Ira, Carl, and Clyde, who had turned 21 and was helping Carl in merchandising.

Viola Marie Martin and Clyde Dunlap were married in 1915.  Marie, who had turned 18, had been working at the store since she was about 16.  L.E. Martin was also working at the store, as was Retha Martin, who was working as an extra in the Grocery Department.

1905 – 1912, Porter, OK, Dunlap Bros.  As stores were added, the buying was done centrally, with the whole Dunlap family involved. 

1907 – 1921, Broken Arrow, OK, Dunlap Bros. 

1909 – 1911, Catoosa, OK, Dunlap Bros.

1909 – 1912, Charleston, AR, Dunlap Bros.

1909 – 1912, Pauls Valley, OK, Dunlap Bros.

1909 – 1912, Stigler, OK, Dunlap Bros.

1909 – 1912, Wagoner, OK, Dunlap Bros.

1909 – 1920, Bixby, OK, Dunlap Bros.  Ruel Martin, who had just been graduated from High School in 1917, became store manager. The store was sold in 1920 to Jesse Dunlap, Hilliard’s brother.

1909 – 1920, Checotah, OK, Dunlap Bros.  The store manager was Alvin Ellington.  Alvin Ellington had been working in the Broken Arrow store and had married Mary Pugh, who had also worked at the store in Broken Arrow.  Alvin and Mary had a daughter in 1913, Margaret, who later married R. J. Koch Jr., Retha Martin’s brother-in-law.  Alvin’s sister was Parthenia “Thena” Ellington, who had married Bela Taylor.  The store was sold in 1920 to Alvin Ellington.

1909 – 1920, Haskell, OK, Dunlap Bros.  The store was sold in 1920 to Ed Dunlap, Hilliard’s brother.

1909 – 1921, Boynton, OK, Dunlap Bros.

1913 – 1963, Eufaula, OK, Dunlaps.  The store was originally opened as Dunlap Bros. and served as the headquarters location of the Company from 1921 to 1943.

1914 – 1921, Okemah, OK, Dunlap Bros.  In 1916 Retha Martin left school at the age of 15 and joined the Dunlap Bros.’ business full time.  His school principal told him he’d never amount to anything.  He went to work in the Okemah store, where his father, L.E. Martin had been named store manager.  His business skills caught the eye of Ira Dunlap, who mentored him for many years.

1915 – 1916, Weleetka, OK, Dunlap Bros.

1915 – 1916, Wetumka, OK, Dunlap Bros.

1915 – 1920, Bristow, OK, Dunlap Bros.  The store was originally opened as Dunlap’s Red Hot Cash Store.

1915 – 1922, Muskogee, OK, Dunlap Bros.  The Company headquarters were moved from the Coweta store location to the Muskogee store location, which also was the location of a warehouse to receive goods for reshipping to the various store locations and for central storage.  Record keeping until this time was generally pretty casual in businesses such as Dunlap Bros.  Common practice was to add up the assets at the end of the year, and if you had more than when you started, you had a profit; if you had less, you had a loss.  After Congress enacted the Internal Revenue Act of 1913, the Dunlap brothers brought in W.H. Riead “Uncle Herbert”, who had married their sister Ada, to handle the bookkeeping.  Ruel Martin returned from World War I in 1918, married Veda Dunlap, and moved to Muskogee, to manage the store.

1916 – 1920, Tulsa, OK, Dunlap Bros.  Briefly served as Company headquarters.

1917 – 1921, Henryetta, OK, Dunlap Bros.  The store was sold in 1921 to Hervy Taylor, Hilliard Dunlap’s former business partner.

1917 – 1921, Okmulgee, OK, Dunlap Bros.  L.E. Martin became store manager in 1919.  The store was sold in 1921 to Fulford Dry Goods Company. 

1918 – 1920, McAlester, OK, Dunlap Bros.

1919 – 1920, Durant, OK, Dunlap Bros.

1919 – 1920, Holdenville, OK, Dunlap Bros.

1919 – 1920, Shawnee, OK, Dunlap Bros.

1919 – 1921, Ada, OK, Dunlap Bros.

1919 – 1921, Cleveland, OK, Dunlap Bros.

1919 – 1921, Pauls Valley, OK, Dunlap Bros.  In 1920, the Dunlap brothers went to California on a vacation/scouting trip, traveling by train, since highways were mostly unpaved roads or nonexistent.  They made many stops along the way, visiting owners and managers of various stores.  Everyone was complaining of a shortage of cash and an overage of merchandise.  The brothers were worried about the economy, so they decided it was time to cash out their inventory, move to California, and invest their money there.  Their father, Hilliard, was also ill, and he soon died in 1921.  This provided additional motivation to the brothers, who all wondered if they might die young as well.  Retha Martin had become the leading manager of the company by then, so he was put in charge of closing the stores.

19 of the 20 Dunlap Bros. stores then in operation were closed between 1920 and 1922. It was fairly easy to sell or close the stores, because most locations were on a month-to-month lease.  All they had to do if they could not sell the store was to notify a landlord 30 days in advance of the closing.  “Store Closing” signage and supplies would be taken by a small team to the location, and the sale would commence.  When the sale was completed, signs, supplies and residual merchandise would be taken to the next location, and the process would be repeated. 19 stores could be closed in 19 months.  The plan was for Retha to complete the closings and then to join the Dunlap family in their new store operations in California.

Instead, Retha saw an opportunity to remain in Oklahoma.  As it turned out, Ruel Martin, Retha’s brother and manager of the Muskogee store, L.E. Martin, Retha’s father and manager of the Okmulgee store, and Herbert Riead, the head bookkeeper, decided to stay on in Oklahoma as well.  Retha negotiated with the Dunlap family to purchase a 40% interest in the store for $2000, which he borrowed from them (a leveraged buyout), and to stay in Oklahoma to run it.  The tradition of leasing almost all store locations continued throughout the Company’s history, and although the length of leases expanded to 5 or 10 years with multi-year options, the principle remained the same and contributed to the Company’s ability to reposition store locations efficiently when market conditions changed.  Ironically, the Dunlap brothers all lived very long lives.

Interview with R.L. Turley

July 29, 2019

The following recollections are the result of an interview with R.L. Turley on Tuesday, July 30, 1991, transcribed by Ret Martin.  Mr. Turley had retired from The Dunlap Company in 1980, so he warned that some of this information is probably inaccurate due to loss of memory over time, and because some is based upon stories that he had heard.  However, during his long career, Mr. Turley was renowned in The Dunlap Company for his memory.  As Ira G. Dunlap, Jr. recalled, Mr. Turley’s remarkable filing system was in his head.  He could recall dates and amounts of invoices without any apparent effort.  His “desk” at the company offices consisted of two big, metal office desks pushed together face-to-face, with a massive pile of paper covering almost the entire surface.  On one side, there was a small work space/writing surface bounded by his adding machine and his telephone.  Ask him about some item, and he would jam his hand into the pile, and out would come the relevant document.

Mr. Turley also had an interesting interview technique for new accounting clerks.  Vester Patterson, longtime Accounting Manager and Accounts Payable Manager, said Mr. Turley would sit the candidate down at a desk with an adding machine and a pile of old inventory sheets, and he would say, “Check these totals.”  Then he would go back to his desk and his own work.  After an hour or so, he would go back to the job candidate and tell them that they were hired or that he couldn’t use them.  He had been listening for a certain tempo from the candidate’s adding machine.  If that tempo wasn’t reached, the candidate was out.

R.L. Turley started with The Dunlap Company in June of 1942, as a bookkeeper at the Company offices in the Eufaula, Oklahoma store.  He was involved in the move of the Company offices from Eufaula to Lubbock, Texas in 1943.  He was drafted into the Army in March of 1944, served in Military Intelligence during the war, and was discharged in June of 1946.  He then returned to the Company.  He was also involved in the move of the Company offices from Lubbock to Fort Worth, Texas in 1977.  Mr. Turley acted as Vice President and Assistant Secretary beginning in March of 1971, and as Vice President and Secretary beginning in October of 1975.

Mr. Turley said that in 1920, the Dunlap brothers, Carl, Ira (Sr.), and Clyde went to California on a vacation.  They took the train, which was the only reliable form of cross-country travel in those days.   They bought tickets point-to-point, stopping where they wanted, and then buying tickets to the next place where they wanted to stop.  Along the way, they visited many other general merchandise stores and talked to the owners and managers of these stores.  They spent some time in California, liked the weather and the business climate, and they made a decision.  Everywhere they had stopped along the way, the store owners and managers had complained of a shortage of cash and an overage of inventory.  The brothers decided it was time to retire and move to California.

It was fairly easy to close the stores because the buildings were rented by the month.  All they had to do was give notice to the landlord, have a big Going-Out-Of-Business Sale, close the store and move the residual goods to the next town.  By 1921, there were three stores left.  Eufaula, operated by Retha R. Martin, the Company general manager; Muskogee, Oklahoma, operated by W. Herbert Riead, a Dunlap brother-in-law; and Okmulgee, Oklahoma, operated by Ruel C. Martin, also a Dunlap brother-in-law and brother of Retha Martin.  The Dunlap brothers moved, with their widowed mother to California, leaving Retha in charge of this small operation.

Eventually, the two Dunlap sisters, who missed their mother and brothers, persuaded Herbert and Ruel and the Dunlap brothers to close the Muskogee and Okmulgee stores.  Herbert and Ruel would go to work for the Dunlap brothers in their new business ventures in California.  Carl went into the real estate business.  Ira went into stocks and bonds.  Clyde went into the retail business.  Everyone tried to persuade Retha to close the Eufaula store and join them in California to operate the new group of stores, but instead, he made a deal with the Dunlap brothers.

Retha would purchase a 1/3 interest in the Eufaula store, and would have a 1/4 interest in any new store that the Company purchased or opened.  (These figures vary from the percentages stated in other family stories.)  The Company started to prosper and to grow again.  Ruel returned to Oklahoma in 1935 to operate the Coweta, Oklahoma store.  In 1936, Retha persuaded Ruel to move to the Eufaula store to take over the bookkeeping for the Company.  His compensation would be $150 per month, plus a year-end bonus equal to the highest bonus paid to any Dunlap store manager.

When Mr. Turley, joined the Company in 1942, the stores operating were:

Eufaula, Oklahoma — Retha Martin, manager

Seminole, Oklahoma — John Smock, manager, brother-in-law of Retha and Ruel; married to their sister Zeta.  Alvin Penney followed as manager.  John and Zeta Smock remained with the Company until their retirement in the 1980s.

Okemah, Oklahoma — C.W. Dunham, manager

Idabell, Oklahoma — Charles Hill, manager.  The store was purchased for $25,000.  Ira (Sr.) advanced the Company $20,000 at 7% interest to buy store. This note was on the books for some time as “Special Capital”.  Two weeks after the deal was done, the former owner, Morris Weisenfeld, came to Eufaula to visit Retha.  He said that he was planning to take his family to visit Europe and would not need the money he had gotten for the store until he returned from his trip, so he loaned the money back to the Company.  (Ira G. Dunlap, Jr. tells a different version of this story in his memoir, “Only The Dead Have Done Enough”.)

Atlanta, Texas — Mr. Weworka, manager.

Holdenville, Oklahoma — Pax Brogdon, manager.

Odessa, Texas — Josh Clardy, manager; wife Mona, bookkeeper.  The Clardy’s were in charge of the Odessa, Texas store when Ira G. Dunlap, Jr. started his career there in the late 1930s.

Monahans, Texas

Hobbs, New Mexico — Brown Tredwell, manager.  In 1946, the salt content in the soil around Hobbs was causing the cast iron natural gas pipes to become corroded and to leak.  When cold weather came in the fall, the gas company advised everyone not to turn on their gas without calling them to come inspect the lines and turn it on. Apparently, Mr. Tredwell misunderstood.  When the ladies in the store told him that they were cold, he turned on the gas.  After a while, they were still cold, and started to smell gas.  Mr. Tredwell called a plumber instead of the gas company.  When the plumber arrived, someone lit a cigarette.  The building blew up!  The roof was completely blown off, and all four walls were blown out.  Amazingly, only two of the clerks were slightly injured. Mr. Tredwell claimed that the plumber lit the cigarette.  The plumber claimed it was Mr. Tredwell.  (Given that there were so few injuries, and that there is no evidence of an interruption in business at the location that year, the extent of the explosion may have been exaggerated; probably more like all the windows blew out.)

Portales, New Mexico — Sol Finney, manager.  Mr. Finney may have been the former owner.  First contact with Mr. Finney may have been made when the brothers went on their vacation to California.

Mr. Turley was preceded as bookkeeper by Runt Courtney, who had taken a vacation to California, and never came back.  Mr. Turley worked in the office from 8:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., Monday through Friday.  On Saturday, he would work on the selling floor from 8:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M.  Of course, employees didn’t leave when the store closed.  The shelves and stock had to be straightened, and the floor swept out to be ready to open early the next day.  The top seller in Eufaula during the week was Maggie Tucker, but Mr. Turley said he would usually out-sell her on Saturdays.

The pricing practice at that time was to increase the cost of the goods by 20%. The new amount, the rate-up amount, was then used as the cost component for figuring a standard 50% mark-on at retail; that is, the mark-on or mark-up is 50% of the retail price.  Some other stores used 10% rate-up, not 20%.  All price tags were coded with the actual cost, the department, the rated-up cost and the retail price.

The store managers in those days received a salary and a year-end bonus based on the store’s profit.  At that time, the bonus was 5% of the first $10,000 in profit, 10% of the next $10,000 in profit, and 20% of any profit over $20,000.  Most of the stores fell into the first category.

The primary resource for the Company at that time was Rice-Stix, a wholesale distributor based in St. Louis, Missouri.  In 1942, Rice-Stix offered to open the Company a $100,000 line of credit.  That line of credit was used to purchase the Addison Wadley Company of Midland, Texas in May of 1942.  The one Addison Wadley store was selling more than any of the other Dunlap stores, it was the #1 full-line department store in Midland.  J.B. Hoskins had a 1/4 interest in the store, and stayed on as manager after the purchase.

The Dunlap Company had a reputation for controls.  Retha Martin, on the advice of an accountant, had visited a store in Tennessee some years earlier which had a perpetual inventory system, by department.  This system was adapted for the Dunlap stores, resulting in Form D.  It all fit on one large sheet of paper.  Originally there were only about 12 departments.  When the form grew to 2 pages, it became Form D-2, which continued to be used in computerized form through the year 2000.  This level of inventory control, fairly advanced for the time, was so aggravating to J.B. Hoskins, that he would call in, sometimes twice a week, and resign, but Retha Martin always managed to calm him down.

In December of 1942, the first information that I.A. Stephens Company of Lubbock, Texas might be for sale came to Retha Martin’s attention.  Inventory was taken on January 1, 1943, and the deal to purchase the store was made.  The merchandise was purchased at actual cost, not cost plus 20%.  The accounts receivable were purchased at their face value, with no reserve for bad depts.  The lay-aways were purchased for the current balance.  The building was leased from I.A. (Steve) Stephens, who was also hired as store manager.  The total purchase price was about $150,000.  Because of Mr. Stephens’ immediate success with the store, selling over $1,000,000 in the first year, he was named “Chain Buyer” and took several trips to New York City to work with the Kirby-Block buying office.

In the first year that The Dunlap Company operated the Lubbock store, the store made a profit of $170,363.  This amazing performance provided Mr. Stephens a bonus of $31,573.  Of course, it also provided Ruel Martin the same bonus, since it was by far the highest bonus paid to any store manager that year.  The Company had to apply to the federal government to get permission to pay bonuses that high, because of the war-time wage freeze.  Mr. Stephens had a pretty good year that year.  He got the money from selling the store to the Company, a regular salary, monthly rent from the Company for the building that he owned, and a huge bonus.

According to Mr. Turley, in the spring of 1944, Mr. Stephens went back to New York on a buying trip.  He met a man named Logan, who ran a large piece-goods distributorship in the southeast.  Because of the war, there were strict quotas for production on manufactured goods.  Logan had firm commitments from fabric mills all over the south for specific percentages of their production.  He had told the Kirby-Block buying office that he wanted to move all of this merchandise in a single sale to one buyer.  Mr. Stephens learned about Mr. Logan’s deal and said he was interested.  It is not known whether Mr. Stephens told Retha Martin about the deal or not; regardless, Mr. Stephens took the deal himself; after all, he had all of that money from the sale of the store and bonus, and regular income from the rent on the store.  He came home from New York, resigned from Dunlaps, and set up fabric stores all over West Texas.  He would bring a railroad boxcar load of fabric into a town, and advertise a special price for bolts only.  Women would line up, literally all the way around the block, waiting for the store to open, and would clean the store out in a day.  I.A. Stephens’ fabric stores were successful throughout West Texas for many years, and The Dunlap Company built on its own success for many years thereafter as well.

R.L. Turley retired from his position as Vice President and Secretary August of 1980, and remained as a consultant to the Company until his death in 1996.

Job Search Update

July 7, 2019

When I started this blog about ten  years ago, I was deep in the job search and was heavily involved with organizations which, I’m glad to say, are still helping people find jobs.  I landed a position in March 2011, and have been employed ever since.  Looking back at the Questions Every Job Seeker Needs to Answer, I see that some updates are in order, so I’ll be undertaking those over the next few weeks.  It continues to be my goal to be of help to those in the job search, and my hope that these thoughts will be of some help.

Synopsis of Dunlaps History

July 7, 2019

The Dunlap Company was founded in 1890 by H.G. Dunlap, in Wagoner, Indian Territory, during the Land Rush days.  Dunlap had actually begun offering merchandise for sale out of a covered wagon, which he drove regularly into Indian Territory from neighboring Arkansas, starting as early as 1880.  He painted a blue star on the side of the wagon canvas to identify himself.  When he and his business partner, Hervy Taylor, started their first store, in Wagoner, they painted a blue star on the front of the store as well, and the store was known for a time as “The Star Store”, then later as Dunlap & Taylor, then after Taylor left the partnership, simply as Dunlaps.  Dunlaps was a general merchandise store, selling on credit to Native Americans as well as to the farmers who leased land from them.  In the early 1900s, the federal government cancelled all such leases, and Dunlap was unable to collect on his accounts, so he closed his store and consolidated his operation with that of his three sons, Carl, Clyde and Ira, in nearby Coweta.

The Dunlap Brothers’ Red Hot Cash Store prospered, and soon they had twelve stores throughout Eastern Oklahoma.  In 1916, at the age of fifteen, Retha R. Martin went to work for the Dunlaps.  Ira Dunlap was his mentor, and Martin rose quickly to a position of authority in the organization, showing an aptitude for both sales and operations.  Martin’s brother, Ruel C. Martin, soon joined the business, and married one of the Dunlap sisters.  By 1921, there were twenty Dunlap Brothers stores.  Seeing what they perceived as declining prospects in Oklahoma and improving prospects in California, the Dunlap family decided to close the Oklahoma stores and move to California to open a new group of stores.  Deciding to stay behind, Martin purchased a 40% interest in the remaining store in Eufaula, borrowing the money from the Dunlap family.  The following year, there was a record high price for cotton and a record cotton crop in Eastern Oklahoma.  The resulting economic boom provided an amazing $10,000 profit on $40,000 in annual sales.  Martin’s share of the store’s profit allowed him to pay off his debt to the Dunlap family, and encouraged the Dunlap family to maintain their interest in the Oklahoma operation even as they started a separate retail business in California.  During the ensuing years, the Oklahoma operation prospered and the business expanded again into nearby communities.

In 1939, seeing the prosperity of the booming ranch and oil country of West Texas, Martin began acquiring stores in that area.  By 1943, there were fourteen stores located primarily in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico, and Martin moved the headquarters to Lubbock, Texas.  The Dunlap Company was incorporated in the State of Texas in 1947.  Martin’s philosophy was to provide quality merchandise at a reasonable price for the home and family.  As Dunlaps expanded throughout Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona, the Martin family acquired a majority interest in the Company.  Retha Martin’s philosophy guided The Dunlap Company as it acquired other fine stores under other names in Texas as well as in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Virginia.  The strategic focus was to acquire stores with good reputations in their markets, to control costs, and to continue providing a locally-focused merchandise selection.  The Company’s offices were moved to Fort Worth, Texas in 1977.

The Dunlap Company, primarily owned by members of the Martin family, who remained active in the management of the business, continued its commitment to providing quality, branded merchandise at competitive prices after Retha Martin’s death in 1981.  For The Dunlap Company, taking care of the customer was the most important mission.  By the early 2000s, the Company began to reorganize its operations, centralizing its purchasing and promotional activities, and focusing on locations in the South-Central and Southwest United States, but the market was changing rapidly.  Price-driven, mass-market retailers, the shift from regional malls and neighborhood shopping centers to lifestyle centers anchored by big-box retailers, the advent and growth of internet retailing, as well as shifting tastes and spending priorities all contributed to declining sales and reduced growth opportunities.  Unable to obtain financing for continuing operations, The Dunlap Company closed all its department store locations in September, 2007.