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WDAY: The News Leader

Published July 11, 2010, 06:36 PM

Grocery store celebrates 125 years as city staple

FORMAN, N.D. (AP) — Shoppers at Dyste's Food Pride don't need to carry out their groceries. They don't drive up to have them placed in their car, and they don't wheel them out in a cart.

By: EMILY HARTLEY, The Forum

FORMAN, N.D. (AP) — Shoppers at Dyste's Food Pride don't need to carry out their groceries. They don't drive up to have them placed in their car, and they don't wheel them out in a cart.

Dyste's employees do it for them, just like they have for the past 125 years.

"We service our customers," said John "Jiggs" Dyste, the fourth Dyste to own the Forman grocery store. The service is "why we're the last one in town," he said.

Dyste's, a community staple, sits on the corner of Main Street and Antelope Avenue in this town of 530 about 100 miles southwest of Fargo. The normally calm street in front of the store was recently crowded with people celebrating the 125th anniversary of Dyste's.

"I never thought we'd do another one," Jiggs said, referring to the celebration of the store's centennial two and a half decades ago.

But then again, the Concordia College graduate never thought he'd take over the family business, either. When he left for college, Jiggs said, he "was never coming back," until the thought of being his own boss was too appealing when his father retired in 1979. He's owned the store since.

While other rural grocery stores and businesses have fallen victim to the economy and larger retailers, Dyste's counts itself among the oldest businesses in North Dakota.

And despite an upsurge in co-ops and community-owned stores, it has stayed in the hands of the same family since 1885.

When Dyste Brothers first opened, North Dakota was still four years from statehood.

Norwegian immigrants Nels and John Dyste founded two stores, one in Rutland and one in Forman, but combined them when the railroad made Forman a more promising choice.

Teams of 10 oxen and drivers helped them move the Rutland store the seven miles to Forman.

Since then, the store has been handed down from Dyste to Dyste for four generations, from John to his son Harold to Jiggs' father John Howard to Jiggs. It's seen five different names, two large renovations and several product changes.

An addition doubled the store's size in 1964 before the building was torn down in 1982 to make room for a new one on the same spot. That renovation brought a switch from clothing and dry goods to a focus solely on groceries.

Through all of the changes, Dyste's has the same friendly feel, residents say.

Don Zirnhelt, an 86-year-old who has shopped at Dyste's for 65 years, recalls a time when Dyste's gave groceries out on credit until the crops came in. Harold, Jiggs' grandfather, threw in a free pail of ice cream when one farmer came in to pay off his tab.

"Back in those years, they carried their customers a lot," Jiggs said. "Sometimes you'd take payment in cream or you'd take it in eggs."

Though Zirnhelt never used the credit system, the "good service" offered by Dyste's made it his choice out of the three grocery stores in Forman at the time.

"We would go to Lisbon (N.D.) for the big stores, but we'd come back and stop at Dyste's to buy our groceries," he said.

The number of "big stores" Zirnhelt mentioned is increasing, making the family-owned Dyste's store an anomaly that Tom Woodmansee calls "very uncommon."

Woodmansee, president of the North Dakota Grocer's Association, said the number of full-service grocery stores in the state is half of what it was 20 years ago, mainly due to the advent of large groceries and supercenters.

There was a sharp increase in number of rural stores that closed in 2007 and 2008, but he believes things have stabilized since then.

"I think most people in rural communities have come to realize that if they don't support their businesses, they'll be gone," Woodmansee said. "Living in the climate we live in, driving 40 miles to get groceries just isn't always plausible."

He said the trend now leans toward community-owned stores. When a store can no longer make it on its own, residents pool their resources to run the store.

Why the Dyste family has avoided this fate appears to have less to do with competition and more with community.

"Dyste's is a good example of a community-involved retailer," Woodmansee said. "I think without question it's the involvement of both John (Jiggs) and his wife and all their employees in the community. And I think that's returned to them in the business."

Jiggs, too, credits his family's success to community, though in reverse.

"The communities are solid," he said. "Our customers have been loyal to us."

Jiggs has expanded since the Forman store's centennial to own stores in Milnor, Hankinson and Lidgerwood.

No matter where they go, said Sue Kleingarn of Forman, the Dystes are "very proactive in the community."

Kleingarn, a year behind Jiggs in high school, has shopped at Dyste's for 60 years. She said the store has always been "willing to help out," from giving food to benefits and Sargent Central's sports teams to hunting down any item a customer might request.

"For those of us who like to shop locally, it meets all of our needs," Kleingarn said.

One of those needs in a rural area is delivery service, which has been offered by Dyste's for "as long as I can remember," Jiggs said.

He delivered for his dad as a kid, and he estimates the store does 10 to 15 deliveries every Friday, especially in the winter.

Throughout the ups and downs of the business, Jiggs said, it's always been the community members, be it his employees or customers, who have led to Dyste's success.

"The farm community, I think, is really strong," he said. "That's always been our basis out here."

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