Owner: Downtown Sioux Falls variety store living art project

Zandbroz Variety is celebrating 30 years of operation in Sioux Falls. (Erin Bormett/The Argus Leader via AP)

SIOUX FALLS (AP) – Jeff Danz sees his Zandbroz Variety store in downtown Sioux Falls as a living art project.

Now 30 years in the making, its inventory reflects the latest version of Danz and his staff's efforts to spark a moment of inspiration in shoppers.

The doors open to a visual explosion of colors and textures, with shelves featuring anything and everything, just as long as it isn't practical. They don't sell pantyhose and batteries – never did, never will, Danz says with a hint of condescension in his voice.

You'll find toys, get-well cards, decorative candles, a selection of curated literature and humor books and novelty socks.

You'll find a piece of the old Bob's Café sign, framed and mounted.

You might not find anything you need.

But that's the interesting part, insists Danz as he fiddles with his coffee mug at the family's kitchen table in the apartment above Zandbroz.

He sees it when he spends time watching the store.

"I see that the useless things, or the things we sell that you don't need, is maybe a gift they're giving to somebody," he tells the Argus Leader. "And that's something they need. They want that something to say, 'I care about you and I took the time to find something special for you.'"

Zandbroz is marking its 30th anniversary this year, but its steadfast presence masks constant shifting and tweaking, powered by 69-year-old Danz's work ethic – a gift from growing up in a family with its roots in the Midwest's dairy industry.

The downtown shop recently opened up a new gallery in the back of the store, with remodeled rooms that expand the floor space by an extra 600 square feet or so, with room to feature Danz's vintage collection and a space for book clubs.

Danz credited his structural engineer Doug Pederson for coming up with the idea for using more of the space.

Pederson was initially hired to help fix the foundation. He came up with some extra ideas for the back of the building, following a philosophy that sat well with the founder of downtown's iconic variety store.

"It's important to give the customer something they didn't know they were looking for," says Danz. "I like that approach and where it has brought us."

'You need a sense of humor'

When customers visit the newest Zandbroz addition, they'll get to peruse items that Danz himself has collected over the years. He only buys things he likes, so he doesn't care if something doesn't sell, though he loves finding new homes for his items.

"The vintage stuff is what I do for fun," he says.

Danz doesn't shy away from putting himself in his store, even at the cost of offending some. If Zandbroz is a living art project, then Danz is the artist – or, a key player in a collective of family members and trusted employees responsible for transforming a retail space into a bustling, eclectic variety store.

Part of that is allowing Zandbroz to have a voice.

Today, it's more political than some might like, Danz admits, making no apology for the store's criticism of President Donald Trump.

Then there was the time Zandbroz started stocking prayer candles with the faces of popular figures instead of saints, culminating in a Scott Hoy candle-signing at the store in 2017.

Danz recalls a woman coming to store staff crying, pleading with them to pull the products.

"Because we were insulting the saints and insulting her religion," says Danz, adding that the candles remained but the novelty soon faded.

Humor has also been popular with customers in recent years, according to Danz's wife, Jamie Scarbrough. She manages the store and helps with buying.

"With the world the way it is, you need a sense of humor," she notes.

That voice is also apparent in the store's newest addition, in the form of Danz's reverence for artwork, the circus and Sioux Falls. Impossible to miss is the face of Ima Lyons, holding her tray of food, a piece of the neon sign Bob Lyons bought when he opened his cafe.

Danz has a gift for seeing value in items others view as too damaged to be valuable, says Scarbrough.

"Jeff's willing to repair it," she says.

Customers will notice the gallery, but Danz is also excited about something they likely won't notice: The foundation under the store has needed work for years and having fixed it is a relief, he said.

"That meant a lot to me," Danz said. "It's been bugging me for a long time."

While he and his family are celebrating 30 years of serving shoppers downtown, Danz has no plans to stop anytime soon and sees a long future for his store, even beyond his involvement.

Expanding downtown appeal

Danz and his brothers bought the building in 1988 and spent a year remodeling the space and perfecting their business model, which included hunting down a soda fountain.

Zandbroz – a play on the brothers' surname – opened in May of 1989 amid a struggling downtown, where a few dedicated business owners had carved out a spot for themselves along Phillips Avenue, a pedestrian mall at the time.

City leaders at the time were demolishing historic properties such as the old trolley car barn with almost no resistance. The Danz brothers saw something in their old building others missed. They bought it from Sioux Falls attorney Louis Hurwitz to save it from destruction and because they also wanted to go into business together.

"Believe it or not, downtown Sioux Falls was pretty awful," says Greg Danz, who helped his brother open Zandbroz in Sioux Falls and now runs the Fargo location. "We bought what was considered a crappy old building and Jeff and I spent the better part of two years doing the work ourselves, working nights and weekends renovating it."

Running a business together was a Danz family tradition.

Jeff Danz and his siblings grew up in Mandan, North Dakota., where their father ran a dairy plant and would take his children on sales trips to drug stores and grocery stores.

One of the highlights of those trips was the soda fountain.

"As we grew older, the drug stores got rid of their soda fountains," says Danz, who knew what he wanted to do when he owned his own business.

Ready for inspiration

For years, before the Phillips Avenue Diner and other coffee shops and cafes came downtown, Zandbroz prided itself on offering customers a place to eat and drink. The brothers also added a coffee bar to bring back something they missed after moving to Sioux Falls from the Minneapolis area.

One of the hardest changes for Scarbrough to face was the loss of the soda fountain in 2006 due to the arrival of Phillips Avenue Diner downtown, along with other options for food and drink.

"It's tough giving something up that people really loved," she says.

But embracing change is part of the Zandbroz philosophy.

The store is different than when it first opened. The brothers tried furnishings, but those went away. They used to have more shelf space for books, which helped keep the doors open in the early years with no Barnes & Noble or Amazon offering impossible levels of competition.

Now with retail trends, the store's book selection has been pulled back.

Finding, selecting and buying the right inventory is a critical skill - something Jeff, Greg and their wives have done as a team for years, traveling to conferences and markets across the United States.

Like life, there is a rhythm to Zandbroz's inventory. One item might be popular for a few months before interest fades. Another might be unpopular one year, but spike in sales the next. Yet another might be a steady seller for years.

All of it is carefully curated.

"You kind of get a feel for what people respond to and what they don't respond to," says Danz.

He has five daughters, all of whom worked in the store at one point or another before going off to college

While other business came and went and city leaders overhauled and updated Phillips Avenue, Zandbroz has continued to open its doors each day to customers.

It has found its success from its namesake – variety – as well as Danz's time-honored approach to the store.

No batteries, but plenty of love – on sale and ready to spark inspiration.

Advertisement

More In State News