Memories … a Steve Katz Gallery | Former B. H. Dyer & Company paint house.
B. H. Dyer & Company — hardware, housewares, and paints — was one of the last surviving old-line businesses in town as the 20th century neared an end. And this building was where it all began in 1866, when Benjamin Huldah Dyer (1833-1907) moved his paint business down from Truro. After he got into the hardware trade, Dyer purchased the property next door, 171-173 Commercial Street, for his retail business. Then he turned this structure into the paint house, where paints were stored and mixed. Though Dyer’s didn’t quite make it into the 21st century, the fifth-generation heirs to the business still own this property and run the five-room Dyer’s Beach House next door, behind what used to be the hardware store.
B. H. Dyer’s little store can be seen in the 1880 Atlas of Barnstable County, outlined in red. You can also make out Dyer’s name below the building. Courtesy of Ken Janson and Robert Vetrick.
“Paints & Oils,” is the label in this 1889 map. Dyer’s “Hardw” store is to the right. The church across the street is where the former First National Bank Building stands. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Map From Provincetown, Barnstable County, Massachusetts comes from the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division. Digital ID.
The line to the Henrique family, the current owners of the property, runs from Benjamin Dyer and his wife Sophronia L. (Baker) Dyer (1832-1914) through their daughter, Ada Higgins (Dyer) Miller (1860-1939). In 1887, Ada married George Fillmore Miller (1861-1946), who was working for Dyer. He succeeded his father-in-law as head of the business, and was succeeded in turn by their son, George Fillmore Miller Jr. (1900-1978), who was married to Janette May McMurray Miller (1899–1942). After Miller Junior died, his daughter, Mary (Miller) Henrique (1932-2011) took over the business — and ultimately closed it, in 1997.
The paint house was both a necessity and a potentially terrifying liability, as the Millers learned in March 1932 when a fire broke out in the abutting hardware store. “It was greatly feared that the fire would spread to neighboring roofs,” The Advocate reported. “Another source of danger was the building at the right of the store [the paint house]. Here paint, turpentine, and other inflammable fluids, owned by Dyer & Company, are stored. A steady stream of water was played on the roof and sides of this building to prevent sparks from igniting it.”
“In the winter, unemployed fishermen were hired to scrape shutters upstairs in the paint house,” said Steven Katz, the proprietor of Memories gallery. “I was told by the owner that sometimes the paint chips on the floor would be five inches deep.”
A photograph taken in 1942 — and reproduced here — shows the building half-hidden by a quite imposing old street tree. The sign over the door reads, “B. H. Dyer & Co.” Mary Henrique herself lived upstairs, with her husband, Philip J. Henrique, at least through 1990.
This September 1942 photo shows the B. H. Dyer hardware store, to the left, and the paint house, to the right. You can also see a corner of what is now the Anchor Inn Beach House at the far left. The photo comes from Book 2, Page 95 of the Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell in the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 808.
169 Commercial Street in 2009, by David W. Dunlap.
From the 1989 Long Pointer, Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 5608.
A 2004 photo of 169 Commercial from the files of the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
In recent years, No. 169 has had a variety of commercial tenants. Robin Weiss Realty did business here in the early 1980s. By 1989, this was Zeus Ltd., which specialized in decorative accessories and music boxes. Roger F. Kaminsky and Thomas J. Peramba were the proprietors. They had briefly been in business at 176 Commercial Street.
Since ±1998, 169 Commercial Street has housed Memories … a Steve Katz Gallery (originally the Memories From Provincetown Gallery), run by Katz and his partner, Herb O’Brien. It deals in photographs, Polaroid transfer prints, and greeting cards, priding itself on being reasonably priced. Robert Kahn of Newsday in New York called it a “must-visit shop for affordable, original framed prints” in 2002.
Katz is a long-time figure in Provincetown retailing, having founded or owned (or both) several of the town’s best-known shops. He was educated at Queensborough Community College in New York City and the State University of New York at New Paltz, where he earned a B.A. in art education. While teaching art and ceramics at schools in Manhattan and Poughkeepsie, he made trips to Provincetown. In October 1972, he spotted the Union Square shopping center under development at 234 Commercial Street,
“I said, ‘Hmmm, I’d like to own a store,” Katz told me in 2020. “Five minutes before that, I had no idea I wanted to own a shop, but I marched in and signed a lease. Impulsive? I think so. … Over the winter I decided on my product. My family owned a hat factory from 1919 to 1949, so I had connections in the business. And Mad Hatter was born.”
Herb O’Brien, left, and Steven Katz. By their courtesy.
Mad Hatter opened in 1973. Late that season, the Union Square space was flooded by a rising water table. Katz approached Nils W. Berg, the developer of the dining and shopping enclave at Pepe’s Wharf, 371-373 Commercial Street, about a space there. He was rewarded with the front shop (where the Bowersock Gallery is now). The year was momentous for Katz in other ways. That was when he met and fell in love with Steve Denis, who became his partner in life as well as business.
Katz’s parents, Sol and Natalie Katz, moved to Provincetown and opened Essentials in 1978 at 360 Commercial Street. The name was derived from their first initials: S-N-tials. It was a convenience store and sandal shop. (Of course. Provincetown.) Around the same time, Steve Katz and Steve Denis opened a second shop at Pepe’s Wharf, just behind Mad Hatter. Called Beachy Attitudes, it sold swimwear, suntan lotion, and beach towels. About four years later, they moved the shop to 357 Commercial Street. Beachy Attitudes was where you could find fish neckties in 1986 — a funny, fast-selling novelty made by Ralph Marlin & Company in Milwaukee. “We’ve heard every joke imaginable,” Katz told The Associated Press that summer. “Do they go with sharkskin suits? How about herringbone tweeds?”
Also around 1986, the partners moved Mad Hatter across the street to the dilapidated old Tarver’s Package Store at 362 Commercial Street, which they fixed up. Natalie Katz retired in 1989. Steve and Steve found themselves with three stores to tend. When the dust had settled from Napi Van Dereck’s purchase and demolition of No. 362 in the early 1990s, Mad Hatter had moved to No. 360 (where it remains) while Essentials had moved next door, to a new storefront at 364 Commercial Street (where it remains).
At first, Memories served as a kind of overflow space for the very successful business in Polaroid transfer prints done at Norma Glamp’s. Both ads are from the Provincetown Pocket Book of 2000-2001.
After Steve Denis died in 1992, Katz said, it became obvious that he could not run three shops alone. He sold Essentials outright and brought Peter Edmonds in as a business partner at Mad Hatter. Edmonds bought out Katz a couple of years later and slightly renamed the store: Mad as a Hatter.
On a trip to Palm Springs, Katz’s muse spoke again. He discovered his first rubber-stamp store. “Eureka! Being an art teacher, I knew this was what I wanted to do. As the swimwear and shirts sold, I replaced them with rubber stamps. Quite a schizophrenic shop.”
And one where the name Beachy Attitudes no longer fit. Not for rubber stamps. Open to inspiration wherever he found it, Katz was taken by the name of the restaurant Mexico Next to Texaco on Seventh Avenue South in Manhattan. “I realized my name had to rhyme! We tried all the ‘amps’ and decided Glamps was the prettiest and silliest name. The name Norma came from our very good friend Norma Naninni. Hence … Norma Glamp’s.”
Memories ads from the 2005 and 2006 Provincetown Pocket Books. The store’s current web address is http://www.ptownmemories.com.
The renamed store moved to 212 Commercial Street in 1993, where it remains. At one time, Norma Glamp’s offered a variety of more than 7,000 different rubber stamps, as well as inks, papers, stickers, and markers. When the rubber stamp fad began fading, Katz changed the business into gallery — still called Norma Glamp’s — that sold greeting cards and artwork, including Katz’s Polaroid transfer images. Another highlight of 1993 for Katz was meeting Herb O’Brien, who became his life partner and — later — the manager of Memories.
“At its height, the Polaroid transfer images really took off,” Katz recalled in 2020. “We had greeting cards, posters, and fine art pieces done with this technique, showing exclusively pictures of Provincetown. I opened Memories Gallery to handle the overflow. It soon became apparent that my work alone could not sustain the rent, so we took in other artists. This format remains the same today.”
Katz said Photoshop all but killed off the Polaroid transfer process, which involved peeling the emulsion layer off an exposed Polaroid print, transferring it to another medium, and manipulating it. “The images that took me days to complete could now be reproduced in seconds by Photoshop,” he said. “At that point, I switched to straight photography.” He sold Norma Glamp’s in 2016.
Memories was warmly described by Gabriel’s hotel, on its “Gallery Hopping” page: “One of the gallery owners and ‘keepers,’ Herb, is a true heart and soul of Memories. He gladly shares the stories of the artwork and the featured artists, and turns your visit into an exciting photography adventure.”
The Moors, by Steven Katz.
¶ Last updated on 17 December 2020.
169 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Thumbnail image: Photo, 2009, by David W. Dunlap.
• Benjamin Huldah Dyer (1833-1907)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 154831770.
• Sophronia L. (Baker) Dyer (1832-1914)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 155128132.
• Mary (Miller) Henrique (1932-2011)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 74650557.
• Ada Higgins (Dyer) Miller (1860-1939)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 155301704.
• George Fillmore Miller (1861-1946)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 155301668.
• George Fillmore Miller Jr. (1900-1978)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 155301712.
• Janette May McMurray Miller (1899–1942)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 155301732.