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End of a legacy: Dale’s closing after 43 years

Smolnikar emotionally exit Main Street in Bowman with storewide liquidation sale.

Dave and Tana Smolnikar, who celebrated their five-year anniversary of owning Dale’s Clothing & Custom Embroidery on Main Street in Bowman June 2, share an emotional embrace as they reflect on their time running the business. (Pioneer Photo by Bryce Martin)
Dave and Tana Smolnikar, who celebrated their five-year anniversary of owning Dale’s Clothing & Custom Embroidery on Main Street in Bowman June 2, share an emotional embrace as they reflect on their time running the business. (Pioneer Photo by Bryce Martin)

By BRYCE MARTIN
Pioneer Editor | bmartin@countrymedia.net

It is difficult to picture Main Street without one of its largest anchor businesses, but that will be the reality when Dale’s Clothing in Bowman will close its doors next month.

“If we didn’t go now, we’d be here for another 12 years,” said Tana Smolnikar, who has owned Dale’s Clothing & Custom Embroidery together with her husband, Dave Smolnikar, for the last five years. The Smolnikars will close the business and begin the transition back to Tana’s hometown of Bozeman, Mont., in July.

Dale’s Clothing has grown to become one of the largest retail businesses on Main Street in Bowman since 1973 when former owner Dale Hochhalter first opened its doors. Over the decades the clothing and accessories retailer expanded to include a successful embroidery and screen-printing business.

Beyond their operation of the business, the Smolnikars have become loyal community advocates. They’ve supported a wealth of entities and organizations by offering their valuable time and funds.

“I didn’t feel a sense of community until I moved here; understanding how people work together,” Tana, 41, said. “(We’ve) got some great friends here now.”

A rush of emotions overwhelmed Tana while she helped customers on the sales floor Monday morning. The walls of Dale’s have quickly become bare from the store’s going-out-of-business liquidation sale and that has led Tana to think about the day she’ll close up one last time.

“I’ll be sad,” she said through tears, “but relieved, too.”

It has been an emotional roller coaster for the Smolnikar family as they sell off their Bowman business and relocate to Bozeman, Mont., to be closer to family. A large liquidation sale aims to sell all merchandise and fixtures. (Pioneer Photo by Bryce Martin)
It has been an emotional roller coaster for the Smolnikar family as they sell off their Bowman business and relocate to Bozeman, Mont., to be closer to family. A large liquidation sale aims to sell all merchandise and fixtures. (Pioneer Photo by Bryce Martin)

Meeting the Smolnikars

The family moved to Bowman years ago when Montana’s economy took a dive. They chose Bowman to be closer to Dave’s son, who lived here with his mother, and to make a better living.

They integrated well into the community and became a big name around town through their business and association with community events. Helping with different events around the area and interacting with the people are what both said they would miss most.

“We have a great customer base,” Dave said. “A lot of loyal customers.” That was true both on a local level and from around the state.

The two are staunch proponents for shopping local, a crucial component to small-town businesses. When ordering merchandise for the store she has the community in mind, sometimes even specific people, which Tana said is true for many other local businesses.

“What benefits can we add to the community? When (the people) are clicking or asking for sponsorships, I would hope that they take that into consideration,” she said. “They’re important to us.”

The Bowman couple, who celebrated their fifth year of ownership June 2, have never forgotten their Bozeman roots over the years.

Tana’s grandmother passed away in October after a battle with ALS. Until that tragedy, Tana and the family would travel back home every six to eight weeks. Most recently she’s been there nearly every three weeks.

Her apparent longing to be back home in Bozeman became harder to avoid.

Dave, 41, had wanted to relocate to Bozeman for some time, but Tana said she was resistant. That changed last Christmas when she and Dave discussed moving back, where four generations of Tana’s family, on both sides, still reside.

The announcement that they would sell Dale’s Clothing came a few weeks later.

“We were really nervous about telling our employees. But they seemed like they were very understanding,” Tana said. “They understood, so that was refreshing.”

But everyone else was surprised.

Quick decisions were made so that their daughters would be able to begin the 2016-17 school year in Montana.

When the Smolnikars had no luck in selling all three businesses together, in an effort not to leave a gap on Main Street, they made plans to sell them individually.

While the fate of the store’s other businesses remains a bit foggy, the biggest relief, according to Tana, was when Justin and Sarah Wolbaum of Bowman decided to purchase the screen-printing business. That enabled all the designs and printing that Dale’s has done in the past to remain local.

“Justin and I are very excited to be serving the Bowman community and surrounding areas,” Sarah Wolbaum said Wednesday.

Though there are still details to hammer out, Tana said the Wolbaums would be able to carry on what Dale’s had started and would do well.

The embroidery business likely won’t be staying in Bowman and the retail side will cease.

The front windows of Dale’s Clothing & Custom Embroidery on Main Street in Bowman are covered in brightly colored paper, catching the eye of passersby for the large liquidation sale. (Pioneer Photo by Bryce Martin)
The front windows of Dale’s Clothing & Custom Embroidery on Main Street in Bowman are covered in brightly colored paper, catching the eye of passersby for the large liquidation sale. (Pioneer Photo by Bryce Martin)

The big sale

The large front windows of Dale’s were covered in florescent colored paper prior to the going-out-of-business sale that began the second week of this month. Over 400 people attended the first day of the sale and the store has been busy ever since, making big markdowns and trying to sell literally everything including the fixtures.

Tana said the sale would run through July 16 or until everything is gone. The family will begin the transition back to Montana the following week.

The marketing company helping Dale’s with the sale projected the entire inventory to be sold in six weeks. The company has taken much of the anxiety and stress off of the Smolnikars’ shoulders. Past and current employees and friends stepped up to help throughout the store until the sale ends.

At that point the buildings would be the final things left to sell.

Though the hard decisions have mostly been made, it’s still been an emotional roller coaster for the family, according to Tana.

Dave said he was most worried to see Hochhalter’s face when they informed him of their decision to close the business, but they understood, he said.

“When we started the sale, somebody did come in and say, ‘If you hadn’t bought (Dale’s) five years ago, we would have gone through this five years ago,’” Dave said, which brought at least some comfort that the community understood their decision.

Dale’s was a successful business, but the Smolnikar family is looking towards the future back home. Not being tied down by owning and running a business will benefit the couple and their three daughters; it means more quality time.

Tana and Dave both indicated they wouldn’t become strangers to the city that they grew to love and appreciate. They’re expecting to visit Bowman regularly.

“We have so many wonderful people that we’ve met here that it wouldn’t be an option not to come back,” Tana said.

But, at least for now, the Bowman chapter of their lives will come to a close.

GAMES