It all started with a few letters.

In the summer of 1896, a number of South Dakota business owners began corresponding with each other. They wrote letters to each other, as well as to editorial columns in newspapers. They felt, as one wrote, that there was "a profound and just discontent with existing conditions, coupled with the desire to change and better the same."

As a result of those letters, when the spring of 1897 rolled around, an Alpena business owner decided it was time for the retail business people of South Dakota to begin doing some serious thinking about establishing a permanent organization to represent their interests. C.C. Issenhuth called together a handful of his colleagues from across the northeastern part of the state to take the preliminary steps toward forming an association. They met in Redfield on May 18, 1897.

General Convention
That group of nine businessmen decided to call a general convention. A month-and-a-half later, 85 business owners gathered at the Spink County Courthouse in Redfield to draft a constitution and bylaws for the fledgling organization. G.A. Wood of Wood Brothers Hardware, Implement and Lumber Dealers in Milbank was unanimously elected the first president of what was then called the South Dakota Retail Merchants Association. D.D. Gross of Yankton was named vice president. An Executive Committee was also elected: L.G. Ochsenreiter of Webster, H.R. Bartlett of Groton, S.N. Brown of Clark, R.S. Vessey of Wessington Springs, and C.C. Peterson of Newark. Peterson was named Secretary.

First Association Goals
The 85 charter members who gathered in Redfield on July 7, 1897 agreed that their aim was to "improve and increase the business now being done by the merchants of South Dakota; this to be accomplished by adopting such new and improved methods as will accomplish this result... By adopting these methods, we feel confident that we can make it of advantage to the purchasing public of the state not to give its patronage to concerns in distant states, but to bestow it upon local dealers, whose interests are identical with their own."

The group was also in agreement that there was a need to lobby the Legislature on behalf of business interests.

Secretary C.C. Peterson was authorized to provide himself with suitable stationery and books for the use of the Association. He was directed to make a personal canvas of the State in the interest of the Association, for which he was to be paid a salary of $50 plus expenses.

Membership in 1897
When the organization was formed, dues were set at $3 a year. Membership was not allowed to catalog houses or anyone doing business with catalog houses. The founding members were confident that an organization of retailers would force the majority of catalog houses out of the business world for good.

The First Office
In May of 1899, the Executive Board authorized Secretary W.J. Healey to pay $5 per month for room in the First National Block in Mitchell, to be used as headquarters for the Association.

The First Legislative Session
In 1899, the Retail Merchants Association lobbied the Legislature for the first time.

That year, the organization sought a more effective law relating to druggists and doctors, an effective garnishment law, a  decrease in the matter of exemptions, a pure food law , changes in the law affecting chattel mortgages, a law against fraudulent advertising, and a decrease in the interest rates to 10 percent .

W.J. Healey, a hardware dealer from Mitchell, had been hired as the Association's secretary in 1898, at a salary of $30 per month. He served as the first lobbyist.

The first year's legislative efforts saw only one success: passage of the Pure Food Law.

Board President Harvey J. Rice of Huron called it a good beginning. In June of 1899, at the second Annual Meeting, he stated, "Our Association is still in its infancy and we should not be discouraged if great ends are not attained at once. It is by slow earnest labor, overcoming disappointments, still pushing ahead, clinging to what we gain, that all goals are finally reached."

And It Continues...
The nine founders of this Association had incredible vision - but they probably could not have imagined that, more than 100 years later, their fredgling organization would be the largest South Dakota business organization, still strong, still fighting for retailers.

The organization that was started by a small, hopeful group of business people in 1897 has fulfilled all of their expectations and more.

The Nine Founders:

  • G.A. Wood of Wood Brothers Hardware, Implement & Lumber Dealers, Milbank
  • August Mittelstaedt, Dealer in General Merchandise, Milbank
  • Emil Johnson of Erlandson & Johnson, Dealers in General Merchandise, Milbank
  • R.S. Vessey of Albert & Vessey, Dealers in General Merchandise, Wessington Springs
  • Michael Gorman of Cross & Gorman, Dealers in General Merchandise, Wilmot
  • August Nottmeyer of Nottmeyer & Miller, Dealers in General Merchandise, Redfield
  • C.C. Issenhuth, Dealers in General Merchandise, Alpena
  • C.C. Peterson, with Jonathan Peterson, Dealers in General Merchandise, Newark
  • T.E. Doyon, Grocer, Redfield
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Phone: (605) 224-5050 / Toll-free 1-800-658-5545

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