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Remembering Richard: How the Herbst family turned a downtown Fargo department store into a proud, model franchise

A crowd gathers for Herbst's first Dollar Day Sale on May 23, 1922. Forum News Service photo.

FARGO—The man whose name is synonymous with a former downtown Fargo department store has died.

Richard K. Herbst, 86, passed away June 28, 2018, surrounded by family in La Costa, Calif.

In response to his death, Forum News Service combed through Forum archives in order to offer a glimpse of the impact Herbst and his family had over the years on the Fargo-Moorhead business community.

A HISTORY

The Herbst family first made their mark in 1892 when Isaac Herbst started the Herbst's Department Store.

Isaac Herbst

The department store went through some turmoil in the beginning stages when the great Fargo fire of 1893 burning the Broadway store down. Isaac Herbst persisted and opened a store fall of 1893 which also burnt down. The final building remained intact until the store eventually closed.

Isaac Herbst maintained control of the company until he passed in 1910. His wife at the time, Emma Krohn, took over as president of the store.

She moved to the vice president position when her son J. Krohn Herbst became president of the business in 1918. Emma Krohn still had an impact on the business when trying to create a closer relationship between employees.

In 1920 she suggested an employee's club be started during a christmas party. Krohn donated $500 and a week later the Herbst Social and Benefit Club was started.

Krohn later died in 1925 and J. Krohn Herbst died in 1934 which left the youngest son Robert K. Herbst to take control of the business.

Robert K. Herbst is the man responsible for most of the expansion and the long-lasting impact the company made on the Fargo community.

In 1958, Herbst bought the Luger Furniture Company building, expanding the retail operation into the building on the south end of the department store. He soon purchased Nash Finch Warehouse in 1961 to make room for the parking lot in front of the store. Robert K. Herbst retired and allowed his son, Robert B. Herbst, to take control of the business.

Herbst remained open during expansion in 1924. Next door was Luger Furniture Co.

Robert B. Herbst then bought the Edwards building which opened up the storefronts north of the department store in 1968.

During this time, the family's focus wasn't only in retail. The family invested in the Old Broadway restaurant and operated a travel agency, beauty salon, and a games arcade.

Hairdressers at work inside Herbst Department Store in downtown Fargo.

Clothes are displayed on sale inside Herbst's Department Store in downtown Fargo.

When 1970 hit, retail in Fargo was beginning to be decentralized, so Robert E. Herbst opened stores in West Acres in Fargo, Bismarck, Devils Lake and Jamestown. He soon sold the West Acres, Bismarck and Devils Lake locations. Both the Broadway in Fargo and Jamestown locations stayed open until the closing in 1982.

There was a time of uncertainty in the business when a furnace fire left the downtown location in need of $250,000 worth of repairs in January 1974. The building was repaired and restocked by September in the same year.

Seven years later, Herbst made it official: the department store in both downtown Fargo and Jamestown would close. According to him, the retail operation hadn't been working and while, "we did good volume, but we didn't make any money."

Herbst Department Store at 16 Broadway in downtown Fargo in 1966. NDSU Institute for Regional Studies

Robert K. Herbst died at 78 years old in November 1981, just a month after it was announced the retail stores were closing.

The store closed in 1982, leaving his sons Richard K. Herbst, Michael Herbst and Robert B. Herbst with the investments and travel agency in Fargo.

THE ENTREPRENEURIAL AND COMMUNITY SPIRIT OF THE HERBST'S

While the Herbst family made a huge impact in the retail business in downtown Fargo, different generations have explored different areas of business.

Robert K. Herbst started Moorhead's radio station KVOX in 1937. They invested and operated a travel agency, beauty salon and a games arcade. The family also leased the Luger building as a bingo hall, operated by a non-profit organization, and a furniture store.

The family contributed to the community as well as their personal business endeavors.

Robert K. Herbst headed Fargo Community Chest and the Fargo Chamber of Commerce. In 1964, the Herbst family donated $25,000 to the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre project in Fargo's Island Park. The playhouse was named Emma K. Herbst Playhouse in honor of his mother.

The Herbst family also honored outstanding work from 4-Hers throughout Cass and Clay counties. They would recognize the award winners receiving 4-H jackets and host a breakfast for the recipients throughout the area.

His son, Michael Herbst, served as the chairman of District 21, president of United Way and, president of YMCA and the Lions.

Richard helped develop Fargo businesses such as The Grainery and Old Broadway restaurants, KVOX radio station, and Courts Plus (Southgate Racquet Club). He started 32nd and Bagel.

Dick Herbst served as a member of Rotary Club and President of the Red River Valley Fair.

CI Apparel now resides in the old Herbst department store on Broadway in downtown Fargo.

THEIR LASTING IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY

Over the years, members of the community have written memories of the business and fond words of the families members who ran the business.

In a letter sent to the editor by Ann McLean, "What sad news. Herbst's is going out of business. Generations of out-of-town shoppers owe that fine store a debt of gratitude for providing a meeting place, comfort station, and oasis of rest for the past nine decades."

Others remembered days growing up going to the Herbst department store and finished with grateful words.

"Many downtown stores closed their doors; some forever, others to reopen in outlying shopping centers and malls. But you chose to concentrate your business in downtown fargo where you had been so long. We regret your closing; we thank you for the many years of faithful service. Good-by, Herbst."

-Eva L. Nelson.

The Herbst businesses and family have made a lasting impact on the community of Fargo and the many different stories that have been shared are proof of that. The building that was once a bustling Herbst's department store has now been home to multiple businesses since the 80s.

-Forum News Service reporter Ross Torgerson contributed to this story

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