Department store in 150th year

ROARING SPRING – Sometimes Doug Mingle wonders how his business survived.

“I am not sure if I am lucky or smart,” said Mingle, who with his wife, Jo Ellen, are owners and operators of the Roaring Spring Department Store, which is marking 150 years in business this year. “We aren’t going to get rich here. We love the town we live in. It is wonderful to stay here and work at a job we enjoy and can work together at.”

The store’s beginnings go back to 1863 when Daniel M. Bare opened a retail store on Main Street. Known as the “company store” for many years, it has had several operators.

In 1915, A.D. Mingle, Doug’s grandfather, was hired to manage the store. In 1921, he became a partner with Ivan Garver, grandson of Daniel M. Bare. They were partners until 1941 when Mingle became sole owner.

The name was changed to Roaring Spring Department Store around 1921.

In the early days, the store sold mostly household goods and tools. Items like buckets, large farming tools and carpenter tools were a big thing. Rugs and fabrics also were sold.

“They branched into clothing as people quit making their own clothing; that became an important part of my grandfather’s business. When he remodeled the store in 1931, there were suits, hats, dresses and sewing notions, and he expanded the housewares department,” Doug Mingle said. “In the 1930s, it transitioned from household supplies to a department store as we think about it.”

Donald Mingle, Doug’s father, joined the business as store manager in 1952 and over time strengthened the store’s product line, Doug Mingle said.

In the 1970s, the store carried appliances and shoes on the top floor; crafts, domestics and groceries on the second floor and household items, toys, paint and furniture on the bottom floor.

Donald Mingle also bought a furniture store across the street and called it Furniture Galleries. He ran the furniture store for about a dozen years before the store moved to its present location on Route 36.

“My dad never wanted to disappoint a customer. He made sure the store was stocked with right-priced merchandise. He didn’t sell top-of-the-line stuff or the cheap stuff. He never wanted someone to come in and have to say, ‘I don’t have that.’ People would say ‘they know I can find this here.’ His legacy is the attitude people had that they knew they could find it here,” Doug Mingle said.

Although he’s 83 now, Donald Mingle still helps at the store today.

The store moved from Main Street to Route 36 just south of the intersection with Route 164 in 1986 to take advantage of the heavy traffic flow.

“We saw traffic flow down there; there wasn’t much of it. Here it is ridiculous. It is bumper to bumper most days between 3 and 4 p.m. Parking was a problem at the old place. We had to do something about it,” Doug Mingle said.

Doug Mingle said his father was reluctant to make the move.

“He was squeamish about trying it. I said we had 10 more years at the old location, [but] he didn’t want to risk moving and the reputation of the family. When he saw how important it was to me, he was willing to move it,” Doug Mingle said. “The move has enabled us to continue. We would not have survived for long where we were.”

The store stopped selling clothing in 2009 and became affiliated with True Value.

“That strengthened the hardware business. True Value is a national brand, and that gives us identity in the marketplace. People know what a True Value store is,” Doug Mingle said.

The affiliation benefits the store in other ways.

“They offer store consulting to help us keep up with trends and practices in running the store. The product selection involved in the co-op is worth tens of thousands of dollars,” Doug Mingle said. “They own their own paint facility and make a high quality of paint. They develop programs we could not afford to do on our own.”

Joe Hurd, president and CEO of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce, said the Roaring Spring Department Store is a survivor.

“The Roaring Spring Department Store is a throwback to a time when retailers in small communities spent as much time assessing and anticipating the needs of the local citizens as they did in overseeing the actual sale of products and services. So many similar businesses are gone,” Hurd said. “The Mingles have stayed true to their mission of providing quality products, excellent service and fair prices but have also had the courage to look for those niche markets that bring new customers through the door. That’s how you stay viable for 150 years.”

Doug Mingle said the community and his employees are responsible for the store’s success.

“We attribute our success to the community, to the customers and the other businesses that keep it vibrant and progressive,” Doug Mingle said. “We have been blessed with a wonderful staff over the years. Some employees have been here over 25 years. Our customers come in and ask for employees by name. The relationships our staff have been able to build with customers over the years has also been a key.”

The Roaring Spring Department Store also plays a role in the community.

“We are a center of information for a lot of community activities. We help people to promote their events. We contribute to a lot of fundraisers. We have sponsored Little League teams for 50 years or more,” Doug Mingle said.

Doug Mingle admits reaching 150 years in business is special.

“I admit the last five years I felt pressure to make it survive for 150 years,” Doug Mingle said. “It is hard to explain how important it was to keep this going. It is about 150 years of people working together to have something great in the community they live in.

“It is a milestone we had to get to,” Jo Ellen Mingle said.

Doug Mingle remains optimistic about the future.

“We don’t see any reason to change dramatically anytime soon. We are busy every day. We are by nature optimistic and enthusiastic people. We see nothing but possibilities and hard work,” Doug Mingle said.

The official 150th anniversary sale will be held Nov. 7-9.