BELLE FOURCHE | Lee and Sheila Hodge say they have some tall western boots to fill, taking over Pete’s Clothing and Western Wear from longtime owners and founders Pete and Alberta Krush.

One of the first lessons, they say, is not to mess with a good thing.

“I have a feeling we’ll be beat up in a back alley if we try to change anything,” said Sheila. “The community doesn’t really want to see anything changed.”

Pete’s Clothing and an earlier store Pete managed called the Hitchin’ Post, have been institutions for 54 years in the historic Flat Iron Building at the corner of State Street and Highway 85 in downtown Belle Fourche.

Recently Pete and Alberta Krush announced their retirement with the sale of the business to the Hodges.

Sheila said she had originally planned to close the store for a time, perhaps to do sprucing up inside.

Now she is thinking the doors will be reopening yet this week.

“I was originally going to be closed for a couple of weeks, thinking I was going to paint everything in here, you know, the old go-getter,” Sheila said.

“But I’ve had people knocking on the doors for the last few days,” she said. “The old cowboys want to come in and get their boots and jeans.”

The Hodges have a Belle Fourche business pedigree of their own.

Lee’s grandparents, Leonard and Ruth Hodge, moved from their homestead in the Slim Buttes of Harding County to Belle Fourche in 1946 to open Hodge Bootery.

Dan and Susan Hodge eventually took over Hodge Bootery, which expanded over the years.

Their son Brad opened a cobbler shop inside the store and Lee worked there after school and during the summer.

With the coming of the Interstate 10 miles to the south and opening of other stores in Spearfish and Rapid City, bootery customers began to dwindle, and Hodge Bootery closed in the early 1980s.

Meanwhile Pete Krush (pronounced Kroosh), had returned from the Navy in 1965 and managed the Hitchin’ Post in the Flat Iron Building.

The Hitchin’ Post eventually moved to Hodge Bootery, and Krush opened his own store, called The Outlet. He opened Pete’s Clothing in 1985.

Pete’s Clothing offered western wear, including custom hats, boots, clothing for all members of the family, formal wear rentals and custom printed t-shirts.

“It wasn’t all western wear. Just about anything you would want in the way of clothing, we would get for you,” Alberta said.

The Interstate built to the south has taken business traffic away from Belle Fourche over the years, but the town’s retail community has become a hub of its own, serving customers from Montana, northeast Wyoming and North Dakota, as well as northwest South Dakota.

“The sale barn brings in a lot of customers. They sell their cattle here, and if they go to St. Onge, they stop here,” Alberta said.

Pete ran the store and Alberta taught fourth-grade, first in Upton, Wyo., then in Belle Fourche for a total of 29 years.

Pete built the business on customer service.

“They couldn’t believe the way I treated people,” Pete said, with a wry smile.

That treatment ranged from country-gentleman courtesy to a healthy outpouring of good-natured ribbing with his long-time customers.

“They’d come in here for abuse and they’d still buy a pair of jeans,” Alberta said.

Alberta related the story of a Montana man who was fighting cancer. He would stop by the store on his way to see doctors at the Fort Meade VA hospital.

“He would come in and take a dose of Pete, he said, and then it wouldn’t matter what they did to him at Fort Meade. He already would have had the most abuse,” she said, with a laugh.

“It’s a good tradition that I hope my husband and I can fulfill,” Sheila Hodge said. "As much as these guys did.”

The sale of the business closed last week. Pete and Alberta still plan to stop by often, when they’re not traveling. The first trips planned are to visit their grandchildren.

They’re pleased with the sale, which had taken more than six years with any number of prospective buyers coming and going.

“We wanted some new young people to take it over,” Pete said.

“You’re going to be all right,” he told Sheila.

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