Business Spotlight: After fighting through multiple crises, Dane Decor celebrating 47 years

Dane Decor

DOWNINGTOWN – Dane Décor is celebrating its 47th anniversary this month as a thriving business built upon being an authority on unique contemporary and Scandinavian furniture. Through its impressive history, Dane Décor has contributed to the community by supporting numerous civic and charitable organizations.

Through the years, the company survived a fire, lightning strike, recessions and now COVID.

“October sales were the best in the past five Octobers,” said Hank Hamilton, one of the four Hamilton family members managing the store. “People are not traveling or dining out because of COVID and are fixing up their homes. We’re providing furnishings they are seeking to enhance their living spaces.”

Carl Hamilton added, “Once we were allowed to reopen, June, July and August were strong retail months. And our anniversary month of November has started off strong.”

Dane Décor opened for business in the former Central Presbyterian Church building, 216 East Lancaster Avenue, on November 3, 1973. The idea for the business came from Gloria Hamilton, mother of eight children.

In 1972, Gloria, who was of Scandinavian descent, traveled to Denmark with her sister, an architect. During the trip Gloria was introduced to the owner of a Scandinavian furniture store chain operating in the Southwestern United States. Gloria, whose educational background was in zoology as she spent two years at Gettysburg University and two more years at the University of Pennsylvania, became fascinated with the Scandinavian furniture business.

The church building, constructed in 1863, was available for sale. The Hamilton family outbid the competition for the property. To ready for the opening, family members spent months working on the building. The family was in the construction business. Carl, whose educational background is in marketing, remembers painting the building in the summer of 1973.

The official grand opening of Dane Décor was on Sunday, November 3, 1973. Because of Pennsylvania’s Blue Laws, no sales could take place on opening day. The store began attracting high-profile customers, including Norman Mailer, David Eisenhower, brother of the President, television news personality Jessica Savitch and a relative of Shakespeare. Recently Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell, who worked at the store, held his wedding reception at the store. Maxwell married Blair Thornburgh, granddaughter of a former Pennsylvania governor.

“Customers visited us from many different states,” Carl said. “We expanded once we figured out our business model and our first satellite store was in Harrisburg. We started looking for sites about 55 miles from Downingtown. At one time we had stores operating simultaneously in Downingtown, Philadelphia, Oxford Valley and Mount Laurel, New Jersey.”

The four brothers managing the business were Hank, Carl, Jesse and Drew Hamilton.

The Hamilton family made four additions to the building. Also, Dane Décor operated a fabric and dining store in a building on Mechanics Alley, Downingtown, now occupied by the Lord’s Pantry. A warehouse was purchased across the street from the Downingtown store and a loading dock was constructed. Previously, furniture had been stored in rented barns and the basements of family members.

At one point, Dane Décor was importing 15 or more 40-foot containers a year from the European countries of Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, France, Italy and Germany.

Dane Décor had competition from a number of Scandinavian stores in the Philadelphia area but the Downingtown location of Dane Décor is the only one in operation today.

Earlier this year COVID restrictions caused the layoffs of all Dane Décor employees as the company did no business for three months. All employees have been rehired. They include two employees, John Cooney and Jill Leslie, with more than 40 years of experience. Cari Zirkel has more than 30 years of experience at Dane Décor.

COVID was just one of several severe hurdles that Dane Décor overcame to remain a thriving business. The recession of 2008 caused financial issues as landlords of Dane Décor stores increased rents. That year Jesse Hamilton, Ronda’s husband and a member of store management, died.

The church building had been struck by lightning and been the object of arson before becoming Dane Décor. Early in the morning of Sunday, June 3, 2006, the second lightning strike caused a devastating fire that closed the Downingtown location for nine months.

At the time, Jesse was quoted as saying, “Everything in the store was lost. The showroom, intellectual properties, photo’s collected over the years, every idea, concept, and sample we ever came up with are all lost.”

“The Assistant Downingtown fire chief heard the thunder over the building,” Hank said. “It was a five alarm fire that involved 206 firefighters.  The town, our employees, our insurance company and customers all helped us rebuild our business.”

David Lynch of Lancaster, a customer and a close friend of the Hamilton family, was an architect and greatly contributed to the rebuilding. The warehouse wasn’t touched by the fire and company was able to supply its satellite stores.

Some of the salvaged wood from the building was used for reconstruction of the existing Dane Décor building. Gloria had an interest in history and collected antiques. She passed along that appreciation of history to her children.

One of the hallmarks of the Hamilton family is its ongoing contributions to the community. Dane Décor has hosted meetings of the Chamber of Commerce and Main Street organizations with both at times having offices in the former church building. Money has been raised for the Downingtown Community Education Foundation, American Heart Association, Habitat for Humanity, the YMCA, The Chester County Food Bank and Lord’s Pantry. Recently Dane Décor collected $1,200 for the Lord’s Pantry.

Dane Décor has also been the setting for a number of art shows and a venue for local artists to showcase work. The artistic component has been spearheaded by art professor emerita and artist Donna Usher, Hank’s wife. Art shows for local students, through the Downingtown Community Education Foundation, raised proceeds for schools and the young artists. The current sale of art work benefits the Chester County Arts Association.

Coinciding with Dane Décor’s anniversary festivities, the store is showing works by Usher, Jeff Schaller, Marc Zakroff, Jill Beech, Chris Fowler, Mitch Lyons and Brett Walker. The paintings will be hung through 2021.

The Hamilton family has retained its connection with the history of the building when it was the Central Presbyterian Church. The church’s original lectern, pulpit and some of the stained glass windows survived the fire and are still in the building. The building’s corner stone was transferred from Dane Décor to the current Central Presbyterian Church building on Pennsylvania Avenue by horse and carriage for a church anniversary celebration. “Since the building was constructed during the Civil War, they were hoping for a President Lincoln signature. They didn’t find one but the box did have a log book and some old coins,” Carl said. “We found some coins dating to the 1920’s and 30’s where the church held services. It was God’s money and we returned the coins to the church.”

“This has been a journey for 47 years,” said Ronda. “Every day is a new adventure.”

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