Remembering Hinky Dinky11/1/2023
November is a weird a month. We move from “spooky season” to “second mortgage season.” It’s that time of year for us to be with our families, overspend at the grocery stores and cook a minimum of two large meals where only a fourth of the food is eaten. It’s all good, though. We pay our family tax in hopes that it gets us out of a sticky in-law situation down the road. Fortunately for me, I have figured out ways to avoid grocery stores during the holiday season. Growing up, we would usually hit up an Eagles (RIP) or one of the old-school Hy-Vees in the Quad Cities. There was a Jewel-Osco, but if you lived in the Quad Cities, all you heard was “they are making us pay Chicago prices!” This is because, if you lived anywhere in the state of Illinois that was not Chicago or considered “Chicagoland,” you would have discontent for anything that came from that metropolis.
There has been some recent talk about life before the Hy-Vee and Fareway grocery stores became so dominant. The United States loves a giant grocery store. If you are in Colorado, you have King Sooper and Safeway. In Los Angeles, you got Ralphs or Vons. When I visit our northern cousin of Canada, it’s the opposite. There are lots of smaller markets and bodegas that people use for their grocery shopping. The majority are all privately owned. When I was working on my first film project in Carlisle, there was a small mom and pop grocery store that we filmed in because, to get permission, all I had to do was walk in and ask instead of dealing with a drawn-out process from a corporate entity with an army of communication specialists deciding if this was a good idea or not.
I went down a deep rabbit hole with some of the history of Hinky Dinky on the Lost Des Moines Facebook group. The two locations that I have been hearing about were 19th and Carpenter across from Miller’s Hardware Store (also Uncle Sam’s Disco?) and the one on Beaver and Douglas. I know there were more in the area. “The Hink,” as the locals called it, was a chain started in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925. The name came from the World War I song, “Hinky Dinky Parlez-vous,” trying to capitalize on the public’s affection for a cute name. The Piggly Wiggly grocery chain had noted that a lot of their success was due to their very cute name. The first Hinky Dinky opened in Des Moines in 1959, and they gave away a washer and dryer set at their grand opening celebration.
They were known to be one of the first grocery stores to partner with a bank to have in-store banking offices. In April 1974, Hinky Dinky partnered with First Federal Savings & Loan to have banking services in their stores. I found several notes from people mentioning they sold the best store-brand potato chips and had a mobile library that would park in the Hinky Dinky parking lots. Many of our parents probably dealt with toddler temper tantrums in their aisles, much like my fellow millennial friends with kids deal with in the aisles of Hy-Vee and Fareway.
In 1985, the chain was purchased, and the store on Beaver and Douglas closed. The Jack and Jill chain took over the location for a short time until 1989 when Easter Foods moved in. In 2000, the last of the stores were purchased by Nash Finch, which dropped the Hinky Dinky name altogether. A mention was made once during Season 2 of “Better Call Saul” when Kim Wexler said that, if she didn’t leave her hometown, she would probably be married to the guy who ran the town gas station and maybe working as a cashier at Hinky Dinky.
There is a great website that some madman created during the pandemic that is loaded with Hinky Dinky memorabilia. I am especially fond of the various issues of the Hinky Dinky company newsletter that have been scanned cover to cover. Give it all a look at https://hdt.stylesdeluxe.com. ♦
Kristian Day is a filmmaker and writer based in Des Moines. He also hosts the syndicated Iowa Basement Tapes radio program on 98.9 FM KFMG. Instagram: @kristianday Twitter: @kristianmday