Growing up in Missouri, a lot of my Christmas gifts when I was young came from a catalog showroom called Dolgin’s. One of my earliest memories is going to Dolgin’s with my mom and aunt, who showed me some Tonka trucks and asked me which ones I liked best.
I know a lot of people remember going through Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs, but I remember Dolgin’s catalogs the best.
But they sold a whole lot more than toys: They also sold jewelry, small appliances, and consumer electronics. The latter is what I remember them for the most. They carried a lot of software for home computers and game machines, and had a lot of really old inventory that they sold at deep discounts. I remember buying Dig Dug and Defender on cartridge for the Commodore 64 there and paying around $10 for them in the 1986-87 timeframe.
They sold the computers themselves too, carrying not just Commodore but also the Coleco Adam.
In the early 1980s, another catalog showroom conglomerate, Best Products, bought Dolgins’ parent company, and within a few years all of the Dolgin’s stores were re-branded Best. Best stayed in business until the late 1990s.
Selected old Dolgin’s locations
According to the Linkedin profiles of several former employees, Dolgin’s had 11 locations in St. Louis and Kansas City at its peak. I think one of the Kansas City locations may have been on Armour Road. I know one of the St. Louis locations was at the intersection of Lemay Ferry and Reavis Barracks roads. I think it occupied the half of the plaza that’s now a bingo hall. The half that is now a grocery store was a different chain back then. Dolgin’s also had a store at Hanley and Forsyth roads in Clayton, on the site of what is now Centene corporate headquarters.
Competition from national retailers
Best’s competition heated up in the late 1980s. Service Merchandise, another catalog showroom-type retailer, expanded into the St. Louis market, but by the late 1980s, it seemed that store format was running out of steam. In the late 1980s, three “superstore” chains also expanded into St. Louis and Kansas City, selling consumer electronics and appliances at deep discounts: Best Buy, Circuit City, and Tipton (later Silo). I didn’t like those stores as much because none of them carried Commodore 64/128 software and accessories, but if you wanted any other consumer electronics, or anything IBM-compatible, they undercut Best’s prices. Best Buy and Circuit City drove Silo out of business first, but Best and Service Merchandise weren’t too far behind.