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Neighbors: A cup of Scheels memories

Bob Alin was the longtime manager of Scheels Hardware, and the cafe at the 13th Avenue location is named, in part, after him. David Samson / The Forum

Let’s pull up a chair at the Café de Robert in Scheels Home and Hardware store on 13th Avenue South in Fargo and have coffee with the man for whom the café, in part, was named.

He’s Robert “Bob” Alin. The other Robert for whom the café was named is Bob Scheel, grandson of Fred A. Scheel, a founder of the company in 1903.

“The employees suggested this (naming the café for the two Roberts),” Bob Alin says. “We had no idea of doing it.”

But it’s fitting that Bob Alin is connected this way with Scheels, because he was with the company since 1956, working up to become a longtime Scheels store manager.

Bob, a native of LaMoure, N.D., where his father worked in a bank, began working in a LaMoure hardware store in 1949. Then, in 1956, he saw a Scheel’s ad in The Forum seeking someone to train to be a manager.

“I answered,” Bob says, “and Fred (B. Scheel), must have seen some potential, hired me, and here we are.”

So he and his wife, Doris, and their two daughters (a son arrived later) moved to Fargo, where Bob began training in the store then located at 212 Broadway.

“Downtown was the crossroads of the community at that time,” Bob says.

When the Merchants National Bank down the street moved out in 1962, Scheels took over that building. “We moved the whole store on the July 4th weekend,” Bob says. He became the store’s manager and a Scheels partner, because all those who became qualified to manage became partners in the company.

Bob’s next big challenge was opening Scheel’s store in the new West Acres in 1972. “We started with a dirt floor and three cement block walls,” he says.

“Downtown business folks were unsure West Acres would make it,” he says. But it did.

Not quite retired Bob retired in 1990. Or at least, he was supposed to. But Scheels called on him and Bob Scheel to co-manage its sports and hardware store on South University Drive in Fargo and convert it into an all-hardware store, as Scheels was establishing an all-sports store.

When that was accomplished, Bob Alin finally hung it up for good, giving him more time to enjoy his and Doris’ children and four grandsons.

The children are Cindy Jacobs, Fargo; Julie Alin, Fargo; and John, Moorhead. Julie is keeping the Alin name connected with Scheels, as she is an interior design specialist with the store on 13th Avenue South in Fargo.

Bob looks back on a life filled with what he terms “great” times.

One of them was serving as an officer in North Dakota’s 164th Infantry Regiment and the National Guard. Even better is being married to Doris for 64 years as of next October.

And then, there were those many years with Scheels, for which he says he’s worked “for and with all the family’s store leaders except the founders, Fred A. and Fred M.”

He learned, he says, that “management must pay attention to both the customers and employees to make it work. The most important job for me was to make and help every employee become successful.

“The customers come first, but good employees help them be good customers. If you smile at someone, they’ll smile back.

“Over the years,” he says, “Scheels has developed a retail business culture like none other; they are completely devoted to their employees and customers alike.

“After a while, the routine could become boring, but it doesn’t,” he says, “because every customer who comes in the door is different as to needs and personality, so you have to be a master of empathy.”

This, he says, “is like being a Christian. If you profess to be a Christian, you need to read, believe and obey the Bible. Same in the business world; you must believe in it.”

Bob has seen major changes in the retail hardware business, including the introduction of computerization and modern check-out procedures.

“But the big difference between today’s hardware store and the early ones,” he says, “can be summed in one word: stuff – what the store sells has changed.”

Helping students In another area, Bob has been active in the Dollars for Scholars program. He helped launch a chapter in LaMoure and eventually became volunteer director of the entire North Dakota Dollars for Scholars development’s 50 chapters.

He’s not one to sit around staring at the TV set all day. But he did enjoy watching this year’s winter Olympics and pulling for the Americans. “I appreciate this country: our freedom of choice and especially freedom of religion,” he says.

With all of his energy and enthusiasm, how old do you suppose Bob is?

“I’m zooming along at 84,” he says, “in the right lane of the interstate of old age.”

But he occasionally pulls over long enough for a cup of coffee at the Café de Robert.