OREGON – Longtime Oregon entrepreneur Dean Dye never intended to get into the retail business when he first came to town more than 5 decades ago.
He was talking with department store owner Guy Bradbury in 1961 about redesigning the store. He came away with a signed sales contract for what soon became D. Dean Dye Co. at 305 Washington St.
That began more than 50 years of owning and operating more than a dozen businesses in the community.
Dye, 82, plans to retire from retail in the next few weeks, close his furniture store at Pines Plaza, and lease out the building. He will continue to manage the property, which he owns.
Dye remembers his meeting with Bradbury very well.
He already owned his own store design business and went to the large department store with that in mind. Bradbury, 76 at the time, apparently had other plans.
After they discussed the remodeling project, Bradbury invited Dye, then 27, to his third-floor office, where Bradbury began to write on a piece of paper. After about a half hour, Dye was handed a contract, effective that day, for him to buy the store.
“I was shocked,” Dye said. “I said, ‘I’ll need to think about this for a couple of days.’ He said, ‘This isn’t a thinker, it’s a doer; today or not.’ It was a good deal, so I took it, and we worked out the details later.”
As soon as both had signed the paper, Bradbury gave him the key to the store and said to his assistant, “I’m tired, Margaret, and I’m going home.”
Within 2 weeks, Dye was running the store. He and his wife, Dorris, and their family were living in Ashton at the time, but soon moved to Oregon.
He enjoyed running the department store. “Those were the happiest years of my life,” he said.
He later sold it to J.L. Allum, who ran it for several years.
Dye was born and raised in southern Missouri. His father worked for the Frisco Railroad, and the son followed in his footsteps, first going to railroad school and then working as a manager for 2 years.
“I really loved the railroad,” he said.
Dye also loved drawing and drafting, and his uncle had owned a general store in the small town where he grew up.
Those two things led him into store design and retail.
“I put a clothing store in that town when my wife and I were just kids,” he said with a chuckle.
Dye designed stores throughout his career, at least 180 nationwide, but mainly in the Midwest, he said.
One of his projects was the National Clothing House building at Washington and Fourth streets in Oregon. He designed the aluminum shake awning still on the building.
His design work led him to start factories where he could manufacture his own metal and wood showcases, cabinets, racks, and store fixtures.
His first factory was next to the Rock River on Washington Street in the former Napa building. He later bought a brick building on Pines Road for a factory and eventually added Pines Plaza to his holdings.
When the Schiller Piano Factory came up for sale in the late 1970s, Dye saw possibilities. He bought the building and converted it into Conover Square, an enclosed shopping mall that boasted more the 30 retail shops and two restaurants.
“We had busloads of ladies coming out from Chicago,” he said. “It was a great success.”
He also bought the former Pleasant Hill School at state Route 64 and Daysville Road and developed it into Countryside East Apartments. He also developed Hickory Heights Subdivision east of Oregon.
Over the years, Dye also manufactured and sold modular homes, and at one time sold travel trailers.
Dye wasn’t all business. He and Dorris raised three children, all of whom graduated from Oregon High School and went on to earn college degrees.
Active in civic affairs, Dye was Oregon’s Citizen of the Year in 1987, and he was president of the Oregon Chamber of Commerce and the Oregon Lions Club in the 1970s. He was also involved in founding the Autumn on Parade festival.
Dye said he liked Oregon when he first moved here, and still likes it after 53 years.
“I’ve enjoyed living here all these years,” he said. “I’m pleased with my career here. I would probably do it all over again.”
Dye's business ventures
Retiring Oregon businessman Dean Dye leaves a big footprint in the community and beyond. His complete list of businesses:
D. Dean Dye Co. — The Fashion Store, Dyeco Allstates Trailer Sales, Dyeco Modular Homes, Countryside East Apartments, Hickory Heights Subdivision, Dye Store Fixtures and Display Co., Pines Plaza, Conover Square, Conover Square Furniture, Wellington Jewelry, Schiller House Restaurant, Furniture Plus, and Oregon Self-Storage.