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Rapid City's Longtime Businesses
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The Brass Rail business

Images Courtesy of the Journey Museum and Learning Center

Rapid City is a place where history thrives.

Originally called “Hay Camp,” Rapid City was founded by settlers who failed at mining and wanted a better life. They created Rapid City and it’s been thriving ever since. As of 2019, over 100 businesses have been operating in Rapid City for 50 years or more.

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"Business of Business," an exhibit at the Journey Museum and Learning Center celebrates 10 Rapid City businesses that have been operating for a half-century or more. The exhibit is a collaboration between the Journey Museum and Learning Center and Minnilusa Historical Association.

Reptile Gardens, Haggerty’s Music, Montana-Dakota Utilities, Grimm’s Pump and Industrial Supply, Royal Wheel Alignment, Simpsons Printing, The Brass Rail, Black Hills Corp., Whisler Bearing, and Servall Linens are all included in the exhibit, their stories told through artifacts, photos and anecdotes.

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The Brass Rail is the oldest bar in Rapid City, having opened in 1934. The actual year is up for debate between 1933 and 1934, but the general consensus is that the bar opened soon after prohibition ended. Being that old leads to some rumors and some ghost stories, of course. Bartenders swear that they have had experiences with ghosts laughing at jokes or bar stools moving on their own. The Brass Rail loaned memorabilia for the exhibit, including some bright red chairs from the 1980s and an old wooden sign from the early days of the bar.

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Reptile Gardens is a well-known entity in the Black Hills, with over 80 years of continuous operation. Started by Earl Brockelsby in 1937, Reptile Gardens has taught millions of visitors about all kinds of reptiles. With multiple Guinness World Records to their name, Reptile Gardens is the largest collection of reptiles in the entire world.

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Reptile Gardens Founder Earl Brockelsby. Courtesy:

One Reptile Gardens’ story was told to the museum by Johnny Brockelsby, who said that Johnny Cash had visited. During the visit, Johnny Brockelsby had given Johnny Cash a belt buckle with rattlesnake fangs and rattles on it. Johnny Brockelsby said that he didn’t give it any more thought until a cowboy movie came out that starred Johnny Cash. Apparently, the belt buckle is visible in multiple scenes of the movie!

Simpsons Printing started in 1965 with the “Left Handed Pressman” Franklin Simpson. They expanded to Gillette, WY in 1991, allowing the company to serve more of the Midwest communities that they call home. This business serves their community through printing, which also helps other local businesses thrive.

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These businesses tell of successes and challenges. Each business within the exhibit was asked questions about turning points in Rapid City history, especially the 1972 flood and how it affected their business. Haggerty’s tells of their post-flood sale, with billboards reading "Haggerty's Flood Sale: Earth Tones and Pre-Shrunk Goods," but some of the businesses weren’t affected as much as personal lives were.

World War II conversations were also had with the businesses. How did World War II and the draft affect the businesses? In the case of Reptile Gardens, all of the employees were picked up during the draft and served during the war. When they came back, it was almost as though the business had to start over from scratch.

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Views of the "Business of Business" exhibit. Journey Museum and Learning Center, 222 New York St, Rapid City, SD.

The Journey Museum and Learning Center has more stories like these on display in “Business of Business,” a temporary exhibit that will be open until mid-May, 2019.