You have to get pretty close to the big framed poster hung from the wall near the register at Dintelmann’s Nursery in Belleville to see what it says.
According to the text on the yellowing paper, it’s an award: Bronze, for cherries Dintelmann’s brought to a fair in 1904.
The World’s Fair in St. Louis.
And by the time the nursery won that honor, they’d already celebrated their 15th year in business.
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It started on a farm that lays just south of the Lake Forest subdivision. It started out mainly as fruit trees. We also raised flowers for the market in St. Louis.
Dale Dintelmann, co-owner, Dintelmann’s Nursery
Another anniversary has passed, this one much bigger. The nursery earlier this season celebrated its founding by L.F Dintelmann in 1891, 125 years ago. The business is run now by twin brothers Dale and Dean and their dad, Richard.
“It started on a farm that lays just south of the Lake Forest subdivision,” Dale said. “It started out mainly as fruit trees. We also raised flowers for the market in St. Louis.”
“And Chicago, we shipped all the way up to Chicago,” Richard chipped in. At 79, he’s put a lot of years into the business.
“Full time since 1954, when I got out of high school,” he said. “But I guess I started well before then.”
Richard attributed the success of the business to his family and employees.
“I guess it means either we’ve been doing a good job or people don’t realize,” he laughed.
We couldn’t have been in business this long without good customer loyalty.
Dean Dintelmann, co-owner, Dintelmann’s Nursury
“We couldn’t have been in business this long without good customer loyalty,” Dean said. “A couple weeks ago we had a customer appreciation weekend and had a really good turnout. We had lots of familiar faces, people who have been coming in a long time. We do see a lot of the same people year to year.”
“We’ve seen a lot of people whose kids are coming in now,” Dale said. “I remember their parents being here. It makes you feel good when you see that.”
Dintelmann’s has been in its current location at 1710 Centreville Ave. for more than 40 years. The need for a better location for retail prompted the move into town.
“It was just a little harder to get to, we didn’t have highway frontage,” Dean said. “This just made it more convenient for people to find.”
We’ve seen a lot of people whose kids are coming in now. I remember their parents being here. It makes you feel good when you see that.
Quite a bit has changed in the nursery business since Dintelmann’s opened its doors on Centreville Avenue in the 1970s, not to mention since 1891. For one thing, there are a lot more plants.
“You just try to keep up with the trends. Sometimes you get new and interesting plant material,” Dean said. “It is kind of shocking how many new varieties they come up with. I don’t know how many sizes and varieties of things we had, but it’s more than tripled in the last few decades.”
Then there’s the Internet.
“I don’t know if the Internet has taken over as much of this business as it has other businesses,” Dean said. “You can’t put plants in a box and ship them. It’s not like a computer or a cell phone. They’re alive.”
1891 Dintelmann’s Nursery is founded on a farm south of Belleville
1904 Nursery wins awards for its fruit at the St. Louis World’s Fair
1973 Dintelmann’s relocates to its current address at 1710 Centreville Ave.
But folks in the market for plants can use the Internet to easily research their options, something that previously required a book, magazine or an experienced friend or neighbor.
“They do a lot of research on the Internet,” Dean said. “So some people come in now knowing what they want.”
Dean said sometimes that makes working with customers easier, but sometimes also harder. “If they’re really set on one particular thing it’s hard to change their mind.”
Perhaps the most constant threat to the success of the nursery is the weather and the economy.
“The economy is starting to pick up. It’s better than what it was four or five years ago,” Dean said. “The economy is a big part of what drives our business. The other part is good weather. Good weather means probably as much to our business as what the economy does.”
In bad times —whether due to weather or an economic slump — Richard said a lot of plants get left in the ground.
“When the housing market crashes, for example, say you’re growing trees. All of a sudden everybody’s got shade trees available,” Dale said. “So the price will just come way down. It’s a commodity, just like anything else.”
Another struggle is the fact that plants take time to produce. Nurseries can’t respond instantly to spikes in demand because, as Richard said, “(plants) don’t come out of a mill.”
I’m a big believer in shopping at smaller places, like local hardware stores or local lumber stores. Whenever I have the chance, that’s where I go. I see a lot of those people do the same thing with us.
The Dintelmanns say what separates their operation from others is the locally-focused customer service they offer.
If they keep that service up, maybe the nursery will be around another 125 years.
“Who knows,” Dean said. “I’m not sure they thought it was going to last 125 years originally.”
“I’m a big believer in shopping at smaller places, like local hardware stores or local lumber stores. Whenever I have the chance, that’s where I go,” Dale said. “I see a lot of those people do the same thing with us.”