By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
For one local business-owner, this summer marks a half century of providing essential services to Moapa Valley customers. Overton Ace Hardware owner, Dan Hopkins has been doing business in the downtown business district for 50 years now…and counting. And virtually all of that time has been spent workiung in the exact same central spot on Overton’s main street where his business is today.
In an interview last week, Dan said that his local business longevity had taken him a bit by surprise. He said that he had been working in the store one day last month when the thought suddenly occurred to him. “I suddenly realized: ‘I’ve been doing the same thing in this spot for 50 years now!’” he said. “I couldn’t believe that it had actually been that long.”
Dan started working in, what was then, the Overton Market on June 1, 1967. He was only 14 years old at the time.
His father, Chet Hopkins had leased the building and decided to make a go of a grocery store in downtown Overton. Chet moved his wife, Cora Whitmore Hopkins, and their young family from Las Vegas to start the venture. He had previously been working at the Tropicana Hotel as a slot machine mechanic. But it had always been his dream to own his own store.
This dream was actually a long-held family tradition, Dan said. Chet’s family had a small business heritage in Moapa Valley going back generations. His ancestors, the Gentrys, had owned a well known mercantile store in St. Thomas. The store was a main supplier to the mining camps at the Grand Gulch Mine to the east of St. Thomas in what is now the Gold Butte National Recreation Area. They had been involved in hauling freight out through the rugged desert to supply the workers in the mine.
“My family has been in this area forever doing business here,” Dan said. “With the Gentrys and the Whitmores as ancestors it goes way back.”
In 1967, the Overton Market building was nearly new. It had been built just a couple of years earlier and was owned by Harlan Lyon. It had originally been leased by Deloy Anderson who had run a store there for a few years. But Deloy had decided not to renew the lease.
Guy Whitmore, an Overton resident at the time and Dan’s uncle on his mother’s side, found out that the building was going to be available. He encouraged Chet to come and try opening a grocery store in the location. He did just that.
Dan recalled that the downtown Overton business district was much different when Overton Market opened than it is today. The main street was much smaller, being just a two-lane paved highway through town. There were no sidewalks or gutters and very few streetlights back then. Full paving of the boulevard, along with all the other improvements, were not done until much later. So at that time there were just wide gravel shoulders on either side of the street.
“People used to perpendicular park right in front of the business they were going to,” Dan said. “I remember when they paved the whole thing, some people were a little upset that there wasn’t enough room to park that way anymore.”
At that time, there were only a few other stores in town carrying groceries and other general items. Perkins Market (which was located in the former Carly’s Pizza building) was, by then, a mainstay in Overton. But it was a much smaller space. Cooper’s market in Logandale (in the building that is currently Pirate’s Landing) had just closed its doors after many years of successful business.
That made Overton Market the biggest and newest grocery store in the Moapa Valley community at the time. Even so, the building was significantly smaller then than it is now. The store front, at that time, was only 60 feet wide and had just four parking spaces out front. The front entry was located on the southeast corner of the building, rather than in the center as it is now.
Dan remembered clearly how much work it took for his family to get the store open. As a small family start-up, they did it with a minimal staff. Chet handled all of the stock ordering. With the assistance of Dan, he priced everything and stocked the shelves. Guy Whitmore was hired on to cut meat and run the meat counter at the store. He continued doing that job for more than 20 years. Dan’s mom, Cora, and one other employee worked as cashiers.
Dan said that it took a lot of effort to stock the shelves for the first time. “When we started out, the store was completely empty,” he said. “It took a while to order everything and get fully stocked. For that first few days we literally went out and got canned goods out of our food storage to stock the shelves.”
The store did $550 in sales on its first day in business. While that doesn’t sound like much, it was probably pretty good for back then, Dan said.
“We didn’t really know what to expect opening up the store here,” Dan said. “We thought and hoped it would go well. But we didn’t have any idea what kind of numbers to expect.”
Business went well. Dan worked at the family business through high school and beyond. Many years later, he took over operation and ownership of the store from his dad. In addition, Dan’s own children have also grown up working in the store as well.
The fact that the store was so essential to the community, and that it was a family operation, kept the Hopkins family on a fairly tight leash to Overton. Though they were able to gradually increase the number of store employees over the years, Dan found that he still had to be close by to manage things.
For 33 years, Dan worked Monday through Saturday, taking only Sunday’s off. He usually was able to take one week per year for a family vacation. But even that didn’t happen sometimes, because of business at the store.
Dan’s sons Mark and Matt remember one time in 1981 when the family had planned a week-long trip to southern California. No sooner had they arrived at their destination when Dan began to hear reports on the news of a major flood in the small town of Overton, Nevada. It was the legendary flood of 1981.
“They were reporting that the entire community was under 10 feet of water,” Mark remembered. “Of course, even though it was a huge flood, that report turned out to be an exageration.”
Dan called home and spoke to Guy Whitmore to find out what was going on. Whitmore told him that there was indeed a major flood underway. But he reassured Dan that the store was thus far safe. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
But it was Whitmore’s next statement over the phone line that caused concern. He told Dan that there was word that a 15 foot wall of water was coming downstream toward Moapa Valley and might be there in the next few hours. At that point, the phone line suddenly went dead and Dan couldn’t get his uncle back on the line to discuss it any further.
“Of course, it turned out to not be true,” Mark said. “Just like nowadays, every time we have a flood, rumors go around that there is a dam broken somewhere and there is a wall of water coming and it is never true.”
But the uncertainty of it caused Dan to pack his family back in the car and return home early from the vacation. They got back in time to watch the flood waters slowly continue to rise, and then fall again.
“By the time it was done, the water had come up right to the back doors of the store, but it didn’t come in,” Mark said. “I remember that we were trying to get prepared for it by using flour sacks from the store as sandbags. But they never even got wet.”
Though Dan wasn’t able to get away very often, the world had a way of coming through his little store. In the 1970s and ‘80s, the Valley of Fire and the area now called Logandale Trails was frequently used as sets for major motion pictures and other productions. From old fashioned western films to Star Trek Generations, these projects brought frequent celebrity sightings into Overton Market.
Often the store was contracted to provide supplies, food and even catering to the sets. Mark and Matt remember making deliveries out to the sets of Star Trek films where they met many of the cast members.
“I remember making deliveries out there to the set,” Matt said. “I think in the process, I must have met just about everybody in the cast. The only one I didn’t meet was Captain Kirk. William Shatner was never out there when I was.”
One of Dan’s favorite celebrity stories was the day when movie star Slim Pickens came into the store. He was working on a western movie being filmed at Valley of Fire. “He came in looking for a big roast to cook up into a dutch oven for himself and people on the set,” Dan said. “He was tired of the catered food they were getting and he wanted to do something different. We got him all taken care of.”
In later years, the Overton Market business grew as the community grew. In 1987, it became necessary for an expansion of the building. Dan and his sons added a 30 foot expansion onto the north side of the building. This made the store a 90 ft x 120 ft space. It also allowed for a more robust product line. They installed a new deli case and hired and trained staff to offer those services. The staff of the store grew to as many as 19 employees by the mid 1990s.
But shopper demand at the store was still increasing. It soon became clear that what was needed was an entirely new store. So in 1995, Dan built a much larger building on a parcel further south on the boulevard. The next year, Dan’s Market was opened for business. With a full service deli, bakery, meat counter and produce section, the store quickly grew to a staff of 67 employees.
The old store was leased out and became a builder’s supply store.
With the wildfire growth in the region which went on during the late 1990s, came the possibility of large corporate competitors entering the local sector. This caused Dan to start thinking about getting out of the grocery business altogether.
Dan said that he always welcomed competition in town wherever it came from — whether it be another small business or just people opening a small produce stand. “Competition always made it better for everyone,” Dan said. “It keeps you from sitting back on your laurels and keeps you trying harder and harder to look better and do better.”
But the large corporate players that were eyeing the community in the late 1990s were different, he said. “Those big companies had the ability to spread their costs and losses over a much broader base,” he said. “The goal was really to put the mom and pops out of business.”
In 1999, the opportunity arose for Dan to sell Dan’s Market to the owners of Lin’s. He took that opportunity with the intention to retire at last and go see the world.
But Dan didn’t stay retired for long. That relentless routine of work had become too much a part of his life. And it was hard to be entirely without it.
“I got tired of retirement,” Dan said. “You know, going on vacation is just not the same thing if you are not getting away from anything. In fact, pretty soon it feels a lot like work.”
Pretty soon, Dan was longing for the routine of having a store to tend. He still owned the old Overton Market building. So when the builder’s supply business finally closed, he opened new Ace Hardware in that location.
Of course, Overton Ace Hardware is still a family business. Today, the store employs a total of about a dozen people. But there is always at least one Hopkins in the store during business hours to oversee things and make key decisions.
There is now enough family and other staff involved in operating the store that Dan can limit his work time and take plenty of free time. But he still feels the pull of the family business.
“I’ve learned over the years to enjoy the work,” Dan said. “So even now, I can’t seem to be gone away travelling for too long. After I’m gone for a few days I get this feeling like I need to be getting back. Then I come all the way home and wonder, ‘Why in the world did I come back home?’”