Des Moines, Iowa, Sunday Morning, August 24, 1969
The whimsical address listed for a unique clothing store, The Three Sons is 007 E. Broadway, Early American Building, Milford, and with tongue firmly in cheek, proprietors Herman and Emil Richter claim branches in Aspen, Sun Valley and St. Moritz. The whimsy ends there. The steel supports for the shelving are worth more than the ramshackle building. Overhead consists of light, heat and the wages of a teenage summer clerk, Rod Simonson. Because of an ironclad cash policy, the store is owed not one cent - and is cleanly debt-free, too. The merchandise, primarily for high school and college boys, is as "in" as the structure is old, creaky and patched. The Richter brothers Emil is 28; Herman, 25 won't disclose the value of their inventory but I'll bet it is close to $100,000 and they work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, plus a few hours on summer Sundays, to keep it moving. The fact they've never had a sale is evidence of their success. There's nothing chintzy about the way they do business. One line of brand name sweaters comes in 30 colors. By phone recently, they bought 5,000 novelty Snoopy nightshirts which they're selling at three for $10 (singles, $5) and expect to be "a hot Christmas item." The Richters' business skill is based on experience and intuition. Both are graduates of Milford High. Emil's formal education stopped there. Herman attended Estherville Junior College two years. Both are lanky (six-foot-four) bachelors, far too busy to gad about much. They are lectors at St. Joseph's Catholic Church and serve at the 9:30 a.m. Sunday masses in the summer. Until last May a third Richter brother was part of the business (hence, the Three Sons name) but Jim, a diabetic for 13 years, died then after a lingering illness. The boys' parents, Mr. and Mrs. Matt J. Richter, have been known for more than 40 years in northwest Iowa entertainment circles as Jim Luchtel's Music. (They play dinner music.) In 1960 the senior Richter grabbed a chance to buy what now is The Three Sons property for "a couple of thousand dollars." The building - 20 feet wide and 142 feet deep is at least 70 years old. The business evolved willy-nilly. In the winter, shortly after Richter senior bought the property; he noticed a used davenport and chair, covered with snow, outside a friend's furniture store. There wasn't room inside for the items. Richter and his sons moved them into their building and sold them for $35 - after they were thawed out. More used furniture was moved in to be sold and later the main part of the building was used to store new mattresses for the furniture store. Then Herman Richter became intrigued by nylon parkas called blast jackets. He and a group of friends bought some to wear to basketball games. Soon the jackets caught on - and Herman and EmiI gradually acquired stocks of them. They even sold them out of their car at Arnolds Park and within a few months sold 5,000. And, presto, there was the capital that proved to be the firm foundation for The Three Sons. In high school, Herman constantly browsed through magazines for brand name ads and then wrote for catalogues. Some firms sent catalogues; others dispatched salesmen to Milford. Particularly in the last few years, the business has grown lustily. Hundreds of high school and college boys, including many summer lakes visitors, are outfitted there for the school year. And almost every inch of space is used for stock. That, to the Richters' regret, has put an end to the use of the store as a youth center during the school year. Boys and girls used to flock there to visit, play games and study. Emil checked his records and found that in one average year the young visitors used 54 decks of cards, drank 14,000 bottles of pop and ate 44,000 candy bars.
Gordon Gammack's column appears daily in The Des Moines Tribune.