That word — “DYER” — in the pediment of 173 Commercial Street is more than a tribute to the hardware and paint store that literally helped build Provincetown for 131 years. It is also a tribute to one of the oldest homesteads in the entire town. This parcel of property, also encompassing 169 Commercial Street, has been in the hands of a single family for a century and a half. In an era when properties are bought and sold as if they were lifestyle accessories, it’s an amazing stand. The owners here in recent years, Elizabeth Matheson Barilaro and her sister Janette Holt (Henrique) Anderson (1957-2019), are great-great-granddaughters of Benjamin Huldah Dyer (1833-1907), the founder of the store.
173 Commercial Street in the early 1980s, when B. H. Dyer & Company was still in business. From the 1981 Long Pointer in the School Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 5602.
In a 2008 photo by David W. Dunlap.
Dyer (1833-1907) moved his paint business down from Truro in 1866 and opened up shop at No. 169. After he entered the hardware trade, in 1871, Dyer purchased the property — including 171-173 Commercial Street — from Nehemiah and Jesse Nickerson. He turned No. 169 into the paint house, where paints were stored and mixed, and established his retail business in this building. Under the old street numbering system, it was denominated 172 Commercial.
In an 1878 advertisement, Dyer offered “paint, oils, Japans [lacquers], varnishes, paints and whitewash brushes, window glass, doors, sashes [for windows], glazed windows, blinds, mouldings, brackets, doors and window frames, marble, Marbleoid [a flooring product], walnut and pine mantel shelves, lime, cement, hair [horse hair, presumably, for strengthening plaster], stair rail and posts” — “at hard time prices.” (America was just then recovering from a prolonged depression set off by the Panic of 1873.)
Left: Advertisement in the Advocate, 2 May 1878. Advocate Online, Provincetown Public Library. Right: Ad in Chequocket, or Coatuit: The Aboriginal Name of Provincetown … Business Directory of the Merchants, Store Keepers, and Artisans, by Herman Jennings, 1885. In the MacMillan Collection, Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 364.
George F. Miller, Francis S. Miller, Bert Small, and “Mr. Serpa of Alden Street” in front of Dyer’s. Posted by Salvador R. Vasques III on his Facebook page, My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, on 26 July 2010.
At about this time, a Truro teenager named George Fillmore Miller (1861-1946) came to work. The young man could not have been immune to the charms of Dyer’s teenaged daughter Ada Higgins Dyer (1860-1939), but they waited to wed until 1887. (They lived together at 7 Winthrop Street for the rest of their lives.) By 1885, Dyer had added mechanics’ tools and agricultural implements to the store. “Artists’ materials constantly on hand,” he promised.
Management of the store gradually fell to Miller, who was a towering civic figure in town: chairman of the board of trustees of the Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church, across the street at 170 Commercial Street, where Ada Miller was also very active, as president of the Ladies’ Aid Society and treasurer of the Willing Workers Society; president of the Seamen’s Savings Bank; moderator of the Town Meeting; master of King Hiram’s Lodge; president of the Helping Hand Society; and member of the Anchor and Ark Club next door, at 175 Commercial Street.
George F. Miller, George “Fillmore” Miller Jr., and Roy O’Donnell in the store, whose ornate pressed-tin walls and ceilings can still be admired in the retail spaces. Posted by Velma O’Donnell on Facebook, 18 December 2013.
An undated photo posted by Salvador R. Vasques III on Facebook shows Miller and his brother Francis Small Miller (1858-1933), who also worked at B. H. Dyer & Company. The storefront is much different than today’s distinctive double-recess facade with central glazed display bay. I’m guessing that the change occurred after a nighttime fire in March 1932 that badly damaged the basement and first floor of the building, though not the second-floor apartment, which was untenanted at the time. Thanks to the firefighters’ efforts to keep the blaze confined to the hardware store — and away from the paint shop — a real conflagration was averted. They also kept the Dyer fire from reaching the Anchor and Ark Club. The organization repaid them with coffee, doughnuts, sandwiches, and cigars throughout the three-hour battle, which the Advocate called “one of the worst fights of the winter.” The distinctive pressed-tin walls and ceilings were added after the fire, Susan Harrison wrote in the Banner.
George Fillmore Miller Jr. (1900-1978), who was known as Fillmore to distinguish him from his father, involved himself in B. H. Dyer & Company after his graduation from Boston University. He was chairman of the Seamen’s Savings Bank, president of the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association (which runs the Pilgrim Monument), a founder and director of the West End Racing Club, and — like his father — a member of the Anchor and Ark Club. His first wife, Janette May (McMurray) Miller (1899-1942), died very young. After his marriage to Viola (Atkins) Hogan, Fillmore lived in the lovely Cape Cod house with expansive front yard at 82 Commercial Street.
Fillmore’s daughter, Mary (Miller) Henrique (1932-2011), had moved to Boston after college, where she ran a Brockway Motor Company truck dealership with her husband, Philip J. Henrique (1932-1997), whom she wed in 1953. They raised two daughters, Elizabeth and Janette. After her father’s death, Mary Henrique came home to Provincetown with Philip. For a year, they ran both the Boston dealership and the Dyer hardware store, before turning their full attention to this site. The Henriques remodeled the old paint house at No. 169 into a rentable retail space, and turned a waterfront storehouse into a motel. For years, they lived above the store in the old paint house.
“Mary used to manually compute and write the end-of-month statements for mailing,” Paul J. Asher-Best recalled in the Provincetown in the ’70s Facebook page on 16 December 2016. “Dyer’s was one of my stops in the days when we paid our monthly accounts in person.” In the same comment thread, Joaquin Wheeler remembered doing repairs and projects with Phil and Frankie. “Nobody ever saw Mary. It was always Phil who we dealt with. Mary stayed behind the scenes unless there was a crisis. … She was a tough lady but a super hard worker. And a great stair-climber, living at the top of that building. They always paid their bills and were always nice to me.”
Advertisement, 27 April 1961. Advocate Online, Provincetown Public Library.
“Frankie” was Philip’s brother, Frank Sydney Henrique (1925-2006), a Navy veteran of World War II who “always had at the ready a joke or two or three to entertain customers, making sure they left the store with a smile on their faces,” his obituary said. Other familiar faces were those of Richie Santos, who came aboard in the early 1980s, and Irving Horton, a selectman from Truro, who also worked here.
“It was the paint store in town — Benjamin Moore,” Leo E. Gracie said in Provincetown in the 70s on 16 December 2016. Tom Rand added, “That Ben Moore oil-base white paint was so thick you could add about 50 percent thinner and it was still a good coat.” Rand said that Dyer’s belonged to a different era. So, sometimes, did its prices. “About everything I needed there was in the steel cabinets along both sides of the store. One had to wait for one of the (always) friendly clerks to get the item. I once spotted a sweet Stanley folding rule/caliper in a box of several in one of those cabinets and quickly bought one. It had a price tag on it for about $6 or $7, probably what it sold for in 1950.”
“I loved Dyer’s,” David Maxfield said in the same comment thread. “They taught me so much about home repairs, and sold me exactly what I needed to get the job done.”
Provincetown Banner, 9 October 1997.
Phil’s health began to deteriorate in the mid-1990s, and the Henriques faced the need to cut down on their work load. After his death on 21 September 1997, Mary Henrique decided the moment had arrived. “There is always a time to end things,” she told Sue Harrison of the Banner. “We’re not closing the business, we’re changing it.”
By that, she meant that the Dyer’s Beach House motel out back would still be operating, and that the family would play the role of landlord to retail tenants in the paint house and the main store. But Harrison understood that something fundamental had changed at 173 Commercial Street:
“Gone are the pond boats incongruously sailing across a window display area one would have expected to see reserved for rakes and tools. Gone are the long, cool aisles where a little of this and a box of that provided almost anything you might need in the way of hardware.”¹
Dyer’s held a 75-percent-off going-out-of-business sale in the fall of 1997, and then moved what was left of its inventory — including the paint for which it was so well known — to Lands End Marine Supply.
The Dyer name remained on the building facade after the hardware and paint store closed. Dunlap, 2008.
And, thankfully, the double-recess front was also retained. Dunlap, 2019.
The artist TJ Walton was one of the first arrivals in the newly vacant retail spaces. She moved to Provincetown in 1989 to paint, and was described by Margaret Bergman on the Provincetown Artist Registry as being “at the forefront of a new movement of self-taught artists who prefer to learn by trial and error — listening to her inner artist’s voice rather than be heavily influenced by a mentor or a ‘school of art.'”
Walton opened her first gallery in 1993 because “nobody would show my work,” she recalled for a profile in The 2012-13 Provincetown Gallery Guide. The TJ Walton Gallery was here, in the western half of the space, from about 1998 to 2001. Since then, it has been at 148 Commercial Street, 153 Commercial Street, and 346 Commercial Street. Some of the artists who showed here — beside Walton herself — were Paul Bowen, Marty Epp-Carter, Chet Jones, M. P. Landis, Jim Manning, and Sacha Richter.
Ptown Spin’s storefront sign. Dunlap, 2008.
A 180-degree view of Ptown Spin in 2013. Dunlap.
Left: Will Moppert, the proprietor, with France Joli. Posted to Facebook on 17 August 2012. Right: Window display in 2010. Dunlap.
Will Moppert opened Ptown Spin around 2000 in the west space. It was a staggering wonderland; wall displays and browser racks overflowing with CDs and LPs as a disco ball twirled overhead and loudspeakers sent the thumpa-thumpa bass rhythms out to shake Commercial Street. France Joli (“Come to Me”) was a special guest in the summer of 2012, for a signing of her “Hallelujah” single. The store’s vibe — and its cramped layout — transported me happily back to my days as a college student (even though those days predated the disco era, I’ll confess). It closed after the 2014 season.
A clothing store called Market did business here briefly in the mid-2000s.
A 2013 advertisement for Forbidden Fruit.
Forbidden Fruit in 2014 (left) and 2011. Dunlap.
Forbidden Fruit in 2011. Dunlap.
Todd Dever opened Forbidden Fruit in 2005 in the east space, “focusing on items which are handmade, with attention to detail and quality, by small companies, artists, and craftspeople,” he said in the proprietor’s section of Yelp. “We only offer the special treasures which beg the question, ‘Where did you find this?'” His customers seemed to agree, citing the variety of mermaids and Día de los Muertos articles. “Pricey, but they had something called a Solar Corgi, so that deserves four stars,” John L. of Winston-Salem wrote on Yelp. “I did not buy one, though, as the Solar Corgi was $18. Also a bear on a tricycle, a giant bust of Julius Caesar, and other fun stuff.” Alex R. of Arlington, Mass., called Forbidden Fruit “your No. 1 stop for naked-ass sculptures and creepy monkeys.” And gave it four stars. Forbidden Fruit closed in 2015.
Mitchell Yates, who had earlier started MAP with Pauline Fisher (Mitch And Pauline), at 141 Commercial Street, brought Yates & Kennedy here in 2016 from 386 Commercial Street, where it had begun in 2009. (John Kennedy, Yates’s best friend, lives in Louisiana and prints T-shirts for the store.)
Left: TJ Walton was an early tenant. Right: Yates & Kennedy arrived in 2016.
B. H. Dyer’s pressed-tin walls and ceilings are brought out in relief by afternoon light. Posted on the Yates & Kennedy Instagram account, 7 August 2016.
“Our kind of trophy wall. Vintage seagrass wallpaper, rhino tin heads, gazelle, sable and oryx tin head, vintage oil on canvas portrait, and our collection of printed plates.” Posted on Instagram, 4 August 2016.
“Reflections.” Posted on the Yates & Kennedy Instagram account, 18 June 2017.
In its East End location, Yates & Kennedy was named the best home accessories store on Cape Cod in 2011 by Boston magazine. Despite its distance from the Hub, the magazine called it a “true destination for the antler-hunting, owl-coveting, woodblock-pillow-desiring crowd.” Put another way, the store was perfect for those seeking to create rooms with character, Cheryl and Jeffrey Katz said in the New England Home of September-October 2013 — “spaces that hold pieces that don’t ‘match,’ that come from different periods or reflect more than one style.” At Yates & Kennedy, they wrote, “Antelope horns lean against agate bookends, watermark pillows rest next to small oil paintings, and claw-foot candlesticks, magnifying glasses, and a jewel-encrusted crown share table space.” Yates has put Dyer’s pressed-tin walls and ceilings to good use as part of this eclectic tableau.
“Beautiful things do matter. They are not the end-all, but they do enrich our lives and that is not to be discounted,” he told Amanda Wastrom of Cape Cod Life in 2014. “I am attracted to things that are a little bit off, but interesting, like the Cape is — a little eccentric, but ultimately a practical place.”
Coffey Men, a clothing and accessories store founded and run by Scott Coffey, shares the Dyer building with Yates & Kennedy. It occupies the west space given up by Ptown Spin. Like other tenants, Coffey has maintained the ornate interior tinwork of the Dyer hardware store. And like many other residents of Provincetown, his is a sand-in-the-shoes story. Coffey’s link to Cape Cod was the well-respected, imaginatively understated designer Daniel Cleary, for whom Coffey worked, following stints at Christian Dior and Polo, and an education at New York University. For a short while around 2000, Cleary had stores both in Manhattan (West 14th Street) and Provincetown (74 Shank Painter Road). Dispatched down to the Cape, Coffey found himself enjoying a noon-to-five work schedule that ended at the Porch Bar and didn’t begin again the next day until he’d had the chance to float leisurely on a raft.
Coffey Men’s spokesailor is Scott Coffey’s father, who served in the Navy. Left: Posting on Coffey Men’s Instagram account, 21 May 2016. Right: Business card.
Avery Johnson in a Rain Blazer at Flyer’s boat yard. Posted on Coffey Men’s Instagram account, 26 October 2020.
“Summer arrives in Provincetown.” Posted on Instagram, 3 July 2019.
“Getting ready for Provincetown Fashion Weekend May 11-13.” Posted on Coffey Men’s Instagram account, 25 April 2018.
“While you were sleeping.” Posted on Instagram, 24 July 2020.
Coffey had no idea of planting his flag in Provincetown, however, until he spotted a “for rent” sign on Commercial Street in 2005. “It never occurred to me to have a store,” he told Ptownie, for its 2020 Provincetown Fashion Issue, which included a 10-page spread featuring clothing of his design, photographed by Ric Ide.
At first, Coffey Men sold T-shirts and drawstring pants that Coffey made, along with limited lines of clothes made by other designers. “But I had a few things of my own that people liked,” he said to Christopher Muther of The Boston Globe in 2007, “and it grew from there. I’d start looking for a jacket, and I’d end up making it myself. I was even embarrassed about putting my label on the inside. I’m not a designer.”
True or not, Coffey had an expressed aesthetic. “Taking the classics and making them sexier,” is how he expressed it to The Globe. “I love what our parents and grandparents wore in old pictures: seersucker pants, car coats, ribbon belts, 1950s-style swimsuits,” he told Instinct magazine. That sultry sailor whose handsome face adorns so many T-shirts and accessories at Coffey Men is Scott’s father. Talk about a deep bow to the past. Not that Dad would necessarily have worn a “Wholesome Harness,” which is one of the specialties of the shop. Rather than leather, they’re made of colorful gingham or madras or nylon.
“The glamorous world of making clothing … #dontlookinthebasement.” Posted on Coffey Men’s Instagram account, 15 March 2017.
Coffey also had a philosophy about the provenance of the clothing: Make it yourself, or get it from sources that are as local as possible — at the very least, domestic. “Everything is made in the U.S.,” he told Ptownie. “Just small companies, seamstresses working in their homes. I’m always looking for local sew-ers. Every shirt, I cut out by hand. I’m not getting stuff made in China — I pay adults to do the work. I could have a hundred pieces made for the price of one or two, but that’s not the point.”
A logical extension of this local focus was the Provincetown Fashion Weekend — cofounded with Jonathan Joseph Peters and Daniel Evangelista — which was held at the Pilgrim House in May 2018. It featured work by Coffey, Peters, and three other New England designers. To coincide with the show, Coffey completed the design of a vinyl coat he’d long had in mind, named the Rain Blazer. Coffey said the lemon yellow version, which cost $350 at this writing, was “the most Cape Cod.”
“Provincetown is not the Hamptons,” he told Stephen Desroches of Provincetown Magazine. “Here fashion is self-expression. Is there a Provincetown look? Probably not. And there shouldn’t be. You decide for yourself.”
¶ Last updated on 30 October 2020.
171-173 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Also at 171-173 Commercial Street:
Thumbnail image: Photo, 2008, by David W. Dunlap.
• Janette Holt (Henrique) Anderson (1957-2019)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 202691824.
• Benjamin Huldah Dyer (1833-1907)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 154831770.
• Sophronia L. (Baker) Dyer (1832-1914)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 155128132.
• Frank Sydney Henrique (1925-2006)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 52417571, South Harwich.
• Mary (Miller) Henrique (1932-2011)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 74650557.
• Philip J. Henrique (1932-1997)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 52875687.
• Ada Higgins (Dyer) Miller (1860-1939)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 155301704.
• Francis Small Miller (1858-1933)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 154278248.
• 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.
¹ “UpFront; B. H. Dyer’s Closes After 131 Years in the Hardware Business,” by Sue Harrison, the Provincetown Banner, 9 October 1997.