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Cloverdale icon signs off
The sign at Dann’s Electronics, one of Cloverdale’s most recognizable symbols, came down on Thursday, and later this month, Surrey’s longest-serving businessman will be calling it a day.
The glorious neon sign with swooping red letters – a fixture above the 5657 176 Street storefront since the 1950s – was a rental.
And at 88, owner and operator Allan Dann says it’s time to retire.
He put the heritage building up for sale in September. The new owner is an antiques dealer expanding out of Fort Langley. Any merchandise from the sales and service business that doesn’t get snapped up during Dann’s closing out sale will probably go to her, although where the remaining stock of rare and antique parts will end up is less certain.
The eclectic shop, graced with a high-ceilinged showroom, along with a bank vault that’s used as a storeroom, was filled with vintage and new flatscreen TVs, stereos, and, until recently, home appliances. There’s a section devoted to vacuum parts and sale, plus bike sales and repairs, too.
Entering Dann’s Electronics is like stepping back in time, making it a popular back drop for film and TV productions, most recently an episode of the Sci-fi cult series, Fringe. The director didn’t change a thing, and even persuaded Allan to appear in a scene.
His dad, Ernie, started a bicycle repair business in 1921, soon moving to Cloverdale, where he set up shop on the Pacific Highway in what was then the centre of Surrey.
The business – originally called Ernest H. Dann – branched out into wiring homes, businesses and farms for electricity.
“The old joke was that dad got into bicycles and then he got into wiring,” remembers Allan, explaining how Ernie needed a little extra help, so he asked his wife to look after the books and the front end.
“She said sure, ok. So I started here. I was in a cradle, so I started young,” Allan chuckles. “And no minimum wage.”
The business has been in the same location at 5657 176 Street since 1932. Originally a Royal Bank, and then a government liquor store, the two-storey, wood frame building had accommodations for the bank manager upstairs. The family – Ernie, mom, and young Allan, moved in.
He grew up in downtown Cloverdale, and went to school at what was then Surrey’s only high school, which was later named after Lord Tweedsmuir. He forged many fond memories along the way.
“Cloverdale was a great place to grow up – any small town is. You knew everybody.”
There was a blacksmith’s across the street to the south. “I was always over there, because it was interesting. I came back with new words.”
By the time Allan was in high school, he was working on weekends wiring barns and chicken houses. “Whatever had to be done.”
For fun, he and his pals would hop the Interurban to Langley to go to the movies. It was ten cents one way. They’d walk the three miles home.
There was a big hall at the corner of 57 Avenue and 176A Street that hosted dances. The boys nervously asked the girls to dance.
“The hall was really part of Cloverdale.”
If you took the same girl out twice, he says, the whole town knew about it.
He’s spent a lifetime in Cloverdale, and can recall the names of those long passed – and where former businesses used to operate.
“A good portion of the chaps I grew up with aren’t here now. Cause I’m 88.”
He remembers the Shannon boys starting up the Cloverdale Rodeo, which grew into a huge annual event. “Everybody got involved,” says Allan, who is also proud of his 35 years with the volunteer fire brigade.
There were sometimes three to four calls in a day, remembers Gail Hendrickson, a long time Dann’s employee who’ll be with him until the business closes on Jan. 24.
He was in Grade 12 when the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbour was bombed by the Japanese, bringing the Second World War close to home, particularly since he was close friends with the Osaka boys.
The family disappeared the next day and he never saw them again. They were interned along with thousands of other Canadians of Japanese descent and removed from the West Coast.
[Photo: Cloverdale liquor store line-up, c. 1926. Ernest Dann moved his repair shop to the corner of 56A Avenue and 176 Street in 1931. Image 180.1.53 courtesy Surrey Archives]
He joined the air force in 1942, serving as an instrument mechanic, serving in Tofino, Coal Harbour (outside of Port Hardy), Haida Gwaii, and finally in Vancouver.
After his stint in the air force, Allan returned to work at the shop, eventually taking the reins and incorporating as Dann’s Electronics.
Television was a big change. They hired technicians. His dad – practically stone deaf – stuck to radio repairs.
Another big change was when then they got into appliances.
They were surprised when automatic washing machines caught on.
The repair business, he says, isn’t what it used to be.
“The value of things today has changed so dramatically. I mean, you can replace a television set and you don’t have to spend 10 years paying for it,” he says.
“[Today] people tend to say, ‘to heck with this and go buy another one,’”he says. “It’s changed. when I was growing up in the business, you repaired everything – everything.”
Allan married his wife Brenda, a school teacher, in 1950.
They have four kids and six grandchildren. None of their children – two boys, two girls – followed him into the business.
At 88, he’s nearly a quarter of a century past the point when most people retire. And he’s still going strong, putting in six days a week in a people-oriented business.
But a few months ago, he figured it was time to sell. It was as good a time as any.
On his last day, he says he won’t have any regrets. As far as he’s aware, Dann’s Electronics is the longest continually operating business in Surrey, and he's the oldest businessman. Although, he knows of a Surrey farmer who has worked longer.
Allan's not worried about what retirement will bring, and is taking each day as it comes.
Meantime, there’s still some merchandise to move.
“I’m not going to be able to sell everything to the bare walls,” he admits.
– Friends are invited to an open house at Dann’s Electronics this Saturday, Jan. 12 from 1-5 p.m.
See also: "Ready for Prime Time". Cloverdale Reporter, Sept. 2011.
Video: courtesy Surrey Archives July 4, 1964 – CCM Tandem Bicycle Test Allan Dann and Kay Heppell ride the new CCM Tandem Bicycle through Cloverdale
Video: Cloverdale, 1926 Businesses along the newly cemented (1923) Pacific Highway