Rural Missouri - August 2019 - 20

Ozarks Basket King is ready to retire
by Heather Berry | hberry@ruralmissouri.coop

D

ecades ago, families would pile into their wood-paneled station wagon
and take off down the road on vacation. If you happened to head south
on old Highway 54 through the hills and hollows on the two-lane highway, you were sure to see the billboards for Davis Baskets. If you were
lucky, Dad would stop so everyone could discover intriguing odds and ends.
"There aren't a lot of places making a living like this anymore," says owner
Delmar Davis. "And there aren't a lot of the old hand crafters around the area
still making the baskets like we did back then."
Time-worn, the billboards display a bearded man with a golden crown smoking a corncob pipe, with a tagline reading "The Basket King."
At 93, Delmar has been known as "The Basket King" since
the souvenir store opened in 1947. But the owner is quick to
explain the moniker was more advertising ploy than fact.
"The 'Basket King' line was really all about marketing. I did make
baskets, but I paid dozens of local folks to make them, too," says
Delmar. "At one time, the shop helped support about 50 people in the
area who made baskets. They'd bring them in and I'd buy them right
Macks
then. I didn't want them waiting for it to sell before they got paid."
Delmar says he's sold all of the original baskets he made years ago.
No longer is he agile enough to work with the oak splices to weave.
He still sells baskets, but sources them for his Camden County store from
other weavers. But if you happen to see a golden tag with the Basket King logo,
you know it was made by a local weaver years ago. Many of these originals are
signed, dated and sought after by those who collect Ozark-made products.
As a teen, Delmar didn't have plans to grow up and open a souvenir store.
His father worked for Standard Oil, so as a youngster, Delmar spent a lot of
WLPHKHOSLQJDWÀOOLQJVWDWLRQVEHIRUHDQGDIWHUVFKRRO8SRQJUDGXDWLQJKLJK
school, Delmar tried enlisting in the Army and Navy to serve in World War II,
but his poor vision held him back. "But the Merchant Marine needed men, so I
went," says the Southwest Electric Cooperative member.
While newbies were often
assigned to the mess hall,
Delmar's military superiors
were looking for someone with
an aptitude for International
Morse Code. Delmar gave it a
try and nabbed the position,
in charge of dot-dashing all
messages from ship to shore.
"I really enjoyed the job,"
says Delmar, who owns a replica of the Morse Code Key he
used while in the service. He
still can quickly tap a message upon request. "To me,
the code sounds like music,
with quarter and eighth
notes. It just comes easy to
me for some reason."
After four years of service, Delmar decided to buy
land back home in Missouri.
In 1947, he invested $2,000
and bought nearly 500 acres
including the land where the
shop now sits.
Once back in Missouri,
Delmar needed a job which

20

RURAL MISSOURI | AUGUST 2019

would provide for his young family as well as his aging parents. That's when he
began promoting Davis Baskets in earnest. The original store sat along the old
highway behind the current location on Highway 54.
Stepping into the store these days is much like stepping into a 1970s verVLRQRIWKHVKRS'LVSOD\VDUHÀOOHGZLWKHYHU\FRORUDQGVKDSHRIHQDPHOZDUH
known to man - and Delmar can point out the changes he's seen over the
years in production, color and pattern of the tin ware. High-quality leather
moccasins for babies and adults line shelves. Music boxes, teapots, metal
signs, dollhouse miniatures and pocket knives are only a smattering of what
ÀOOVWKHORQJEXLOGLQJ7KHUHDUHWHGG\EHDUVGROOV$PLVKPDGHZRRGHQWUXFNV
and toy tractors to appease the kiddos. Honey, jams, jellies and old-fashioned
bags of hard candy are also options. If you're not looking for something when
\RXHQWHU'DYLV%DVNHWV\RX·UHVXUHWRÀQGVRPHWKLQJWRVWLUXSDFKLOG
KRRGPHPRU\RUWZRLQQRWLPHÁDW
About one-third of the building is home to baskets, some large
enough to hide inside, some small enough to hold an apple. Some
DUH ÁDW WUD\V ZLWK ORZ VLGHV VRPH DUH PDGH WR ÀW RQ VWHSV VRPH
have handles and some don't. And some have a big yellow Davis
Basket tag, making them an original Delmar purchased from basCreek
ket makers in years gone by.
Visitors also can view Delmar's World War II memorabilia,
VXFK DV ÁDJV FORWKLQJ SKRWRJUDSKV SRVWHUV DQG PRUH ´, FDQ
VWLOOÀWLQWRP\XQLIRUPWRRµ'HOPDUVD\VQRWLQJKHZRUHLWDV
part of an Honor Flight trip he took to Washington, D.C. several years ago.
One of the best treasures to be found in the shop is the owner himself.
Delmar's mind is quick, recalling history and memories with great detail. His
sense of humor is wry, his small smile a bit impish in nature.
"I tell stories because I enjoy visiting with people," says Delmar. "But everything I share is true because I lived it."
Visitors from nearly every state and Canada have stopped by to check out
Davis Baskets, but those days are numbered. Now, after more than seven
decades, Delmar is ready to close shop. The property, the store and its entire
contents are up for sale.
A letter from a visitor is stapled to
a shelf in the basket area and sums
things up perfectly: "My husband
and I stopped at your store on our
cross-country trip ... after 10 weeks
DQG  PLOHV ZH UHÁHFWHG WKDW
meeting you and appreciating your
workmanship was one of the high
points of our trip."
"Not just anyone can buy a store
with all the contents," Delmar says,
noting it's the location people will
likely want. "I'll sell for the right
SULFH 8QWLO WKHQ ,·OO MXVW VWD\ KHUH
and visit with everyone."
Davis Baskets is located at 13174
Highway 54 in Macks Creek. Current hours are Monday, Friday and
Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but
Delmar says it's best to call 573-3462102 and check before you drive to
the store.
Delmar Davis opened Davis Baskets in 1947.
After 72 years, the 93-year-old is ready to sell
the Macks Creek business and retire.



Rural Missouri - August 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - August 2019

Contents
Rural Missouri - August 2019 - Intro
Rural Missouri - August 2019 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - August 2019 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - August 2019 - Contents
Rural Missouri - August 2019 - 4
Rural Missouri - August 2019 - 5
Rural Missouri - August 2019 - 6
Rural Missouri - August 2019 - 7
Rural Missouri - August 2019 - 8
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Rural Missouri - August 2019 - 38
Rural Missouri - August 2019 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - August 2019 - Cover4
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