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Shops cooperate to create antique circuit

Shops cooperate to create antique circuit

Randy Bullis stands next to his prized procession: a 1930s-era manual gas pump. Photo by Jason Uphoff

Randy Bullis stands next to his prized procession: a 1930s-era manual gas pump. Photo by Jason Uphoff

“Am I foolish for trying to open an antique shop in Arlington, S.D.?”

That was the question that led Randy Bullis on the path to starting Bits of Yesterday seven years ago.

“No, by all means, it will work,” was the reply from Randy’s mentor Patty Kratochvill, an Arlington native and owner of Threads of Memories in Brookings.

Bits of Yesterday was born of Bullis’ 30-plus years of experience restoring furniture and 20-some years of antique sales as a consignee.

But what keeps Bits of Yesterday alive after seven years? It’s not location: Bits is off the highway, 20 minutes from Brookings and 78 from Sioux Falls. It’s not marketing: Bullis has one billboard that he shares, and three print ads per year—no digital marketing of any kind.

Bullis provides his customers with a niche service centered on a unique customer experience, “co-opetition” (i.e., cooperation between people who might otherwise be competitors) and a close-knit value “net” (a value chain with more connections) that encompasses much of eastern South Dakota. Those three aspects combine to create a word-of-mouth juggernaut.

Antique enthusiasts are day-trippers who revel in the scavenger-hunt-like adventure of ambling down memory lane as they make their way from Sioux Falls, over to Mitchell, up to Madison, stopping in Arlington and Watertown before checking downtown Brookings on their way back home. Randy isn’t in the antiques business; he sells nostalgia. He sells little bits of yesterday.

All those shops that form a figure-eight around little Arlington also form an integral part of Bullis’ supply chain. Each shop has its own niche within a niche, something special it is known for. Bullis’ niche is “guy stuff.” He takes advantage of the more than 20 lakes around Arlington and the increased male traffic to offer plenty of items for the “man cave.”

Bullis makes the circuit too. Every month he tries to travel to each of the surrounding shops, pick up on antiques gossip and trending sales, and buy some stuff for his own store. Enterprises technically competing for market share are actually made stronger by competitive partners and geographic dispersion.

“If I had my way, I would have 10 antique stores in Arlington, and then it would be a destination,” Bullis said.

It doesn’t end there. Shoppers don’t stop for only one shop. What completes the niche trifecta are the complementary experiences available in Arlington. When the customer is done with Bullis he sends them on to Betsy Lingbeck.

“Betsy is actually how I got into Arlington,” Bullis said. “I had put some consignment furniture in her shop. I asked her if she knew of any buildings for sale on Main Street.”

Flowers by Betsy is a boutique, half a block west of Bits. Lingbeck does flowers, yes, but most of her business these days is from trendy jewelry, clothes and gifts that she advertises on Facebook and Instagram. “It works great,” Lingbeck said. “Randy acts as a linchpin, sending folks to me and to Gaylene up the street.”

Gaylene Christensen started The Prairie Porch boutique a few years ago in a house she renovated one block off Main, and she specializes in consignment, vintage home décor and repurposed furniture. She is also the largest advertiser of the three; she has a website, does billboards, radio spots and more. “Together the three of us are stronger, making Arlington a fun, spontaneous daytrip,” she said.

“I love that I am able to bring back happy memories for people,” Bullis said. “My favorite story is of a gentleman who had lost his brother in the war (World War II), coming in here and finding an old high-school annual with a bunch of pictures of his brother in it—it was very touching, emotional and I am glad I was able to provide that to him.”

Visit Bits of Yesterday on Main Street Arlington or call Bullis at 605-695-6967. Flowers by Betsy can be liked on Facebook, and The Prairie Porch website is

Jason Uphoff is executive director of the Arlington Community Development Corporation.

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