David Rosen
Vida Maxine Rayfield, known as Dutchie to her friends and coworkers, retired from McClendon Hardware in White Center on April 17 after working there for seventeen years. She has been working as a cashier in White Center and West Seattle for nearly 40 years. Dutchie is seen displaying her trademark silver jewelry.

Dutchie, West Seattle and White Center's Duchess of Retail, says goodbye

You might know her by any number of nicknames: Dutchie, Duchess, Dutch, Darling, Ms. Sterling, Silver Lady or Ms. Hollywood.

She’s been a fixture of White Center and West Seattle for nearly four decades now, and anyone with deep roots in the area at least has a relative who knows her. She’s the cashier who’s been taking our money with a smile all that time, forming bonds with coworkers and customers alike, to the point where many have declared her their de facto aunt or grandmother. Her trademark look has always been enough sterling silver bracelets and necklaces to open up an ad-hoc jewelry shop if she ever so desired.

All good things must come to an end, they say, and such is the case with Dutchie, who retired on April 17 after nearly 17 years at McClendon Hardware. Before that she spent 10 years as a cashier for Ernst Hardware where Staples stands now in Westwood Village and prior to that, 10 years at Olson’s Value-rite Drug, where Starbucks is now at the Morgan Junction.

Who is Dutchie?
A lot of people knew Dutchie in her cashier capacity, where she gained local celebrity status. She said customers who ran into her outside of the jobsite were often surprised, asking, “Why aren’t you at work?”

“I think ‘Cashier’ is blinking up there,” Dutchie said while pointing to her forehead in an interview with the West Seattle Herald/White Center News on her last day, surrounded by gifts and cakes from coworkers in the McClendon break room.

Born Vida Maxine Rayfield in the modest peninsula town of Chimacum in the 1934, Dutchie, now 79, was raised alongside eight siblings. She wasn’t a huge fan of the name Vida, and decided to stick with the nickname given to her by her brothers at an early age: Dutch.

“I was obnoxious in wooden shoes and I was very, very toe-headed,” she said. “Now, it’s in a bottle.”

After graduating from high school at 16 and meeting her husband-to-be (they would later divorce), Dutchie moved to Seattle and began working at Sears. While there, she fell in love with a $5,000 diamond ring on display and committed to saving the money to buy it. She saved the cash (no easy feat in that day), but at the last minute decided she didn’t need the ring. Instead, she became interested in silver … and interest she proudly displays today.

After taking a hiatus to become a mother (she had three children, two of whom are alive today), it was back to work for Dutchie at Olson’s, beginning her famed cashier career that ends in 2013.

Our cashier
Dutchie has seen generations of families come into her stores; she’s seen young couples grow old together; young children become adults; brown hairs turn gray.

“I can be caring and loving and compassionate, but I’m also (she clears her throat) an outspoken broad,” Dutchie said of her demeanor in that time. As many can attest, she also has a laser-sharp wit and superior sense of humor.

“I don’t take returns, I don’t listen to complaints, I don’t do adjustments, I only get the nice people, I get to take their money, and move on.”

Dutchie believes in proper etiquette at work, evidenced by her strict McClendon policy: If you swear, you give Dutchie a quarter. From there, she donates the proceeds to cancer research. As Dutchie explained her policy on her last day, a coworker with a saintly-tongue quipped, “I feel guilty for never contributing now.”

In her 37 years at the job, Dutchie has seen sweeping changes, from now-antique crank registers to today’s tech.

“Everything right now has to be on a SKU, everything becomes immediately part of record,” she said. “Before, technology wasn’t heard of. I didn’t know what a SKU was, you had to price each and every item as they came in; you had to deal with taxation (by hand).”

She’s also seen the inevitable and dramatic rise in prices. “Greeting cards weren’t five dollars each, and now they are,” she laughed.

Beyond the workplace, Dutchie has seen our neighborhoods evolve as well: the explosion in population, the loss of green spaces, the increase in noise (she lives near SeaTac’s third runway). On the positive, she’s loved seeing Seattle’s downtown skyline evolved. “It’s just brilliant,” she said.

Tips from a retail guru
While prices and technology have changed parts of her job, Dutchie has always held to the same tenants of customer service, and shared her philosophy:

“I’ve seen a lot of changes in retailing, but I think the best way to approach the job is with a smile on your face and a huge amount of perseverance,” she said, explaining that perseverance is keeping that smile alive in the face of the toughest customer interactions. “I have been treated very kindly by 95 percent of the people, but sometimes you really have to take abuse, and I always say I’d rather be abused than overlooked.”

Another important tip:

“I am certainly not hesitant to say ‘I do not know, I will find you someone who does,’” she said. “I think that you really have to be true to yourself and if you can say ‘I don’t know,’ people aren’t going to be offended.”

A shared love
Asking Dutchie what she’ll miss most in retirement, her eyes immediately welled up with tears.

“I’m just numb, I feel humbled and I feel … I don’t know, I’m just astounded, I truly am, that they (her coworkers and customers) would make me feel so special.”

It’s the people she’ll miss most, and her people gave Dutchie a proper sending off with a surprise party at the White Center Eagles after her last shift and a glass Scott Chambers sculpture of the naked female form with ribbons of silver and pink running throughout (combining three of her favorite things: pink, silver, and “full-figured women”).

Dutchie’s coworker Dinah at McClendon’s said working with her was “great fun and educational. She taught me how to be respectful. She always says, ‘Rise above it, rise above it.’”

And that was one of the intangible benefits of having Dutchie around. Her coworkers said, no matter how chaotic a retail day was going, as soon as she showed up there was an instant calming effect. “Where were you?” wild-eyed associates would ask as she clocked in and brought the ship back on course.

As testament to their appreciation, Dutchie’s coworkers have been giving her rides to and from work for all of her 16 years there.

Gale McClendon, owner of McClendon stores, said, “16 years should say it all. We are going to miss her, and I think customers will really miss her. She’s my silver lady.”

As for her customers, Dutchie said “It was a joy to have met them on my path through life.”

She told the story of a young couple she met decades ago:

“I’ll tell you definitely that I believe in God because this couple … the gentleman was a policeman … the woman is just beautiful, tiny and petite with big black eyes. I waited on them at Olson’s, and then I waited on them at Ernst. And I have waited on them here (at McClendon’s).”

Last year on her birthday the couple, now seniors alongside Dutchie, brought her a card that said, “Duchess, we followed you from Ken’s(Olson’s) to Ernst to here and you are still number one in our book.”

It had been a long time, maybe since her birthday last June, and Dutchie hadn’t seen them. On April 17, her last day, they just happened to pop into the store.

Dutchie asked, ‘Who told you?’” and the couple replied, “Who told us what?”

She shared the news of her retirement and the three shared a hug and a few tears.

Moving on
On the morning of her last day, Dutchie’s daughter called to say, “I hope that you don’t kiss everybody.”

She replied, “My dear, I kiss everybody because it improves my immunity.”

“Mother, I rather doubt that,” her daughter shot back. “Stick with hugging.”

With the hugs and kisses complete, it’s time for Dutchie to move on. While she’ll miss the customer and coworker interactions greatly, she knows a new chapter awaits.

First order of business? “I’m going to sleep in.”

Beyond that, it’s time to relax after 36 years of full-time customer service.

“I am a reader, and so I expect to read several books a week and if the sun comes out, you’ll find me in my garden,” she said. “I particularly like rhododendrons and lilies.”

“God puts people in your path for various reasons, and I have been blessed in many areas,” our Duchess of Retail said.

“And I do think in any endeavor, whether it be a cashier or a woodsman, if you do your very best that people in society will recognize it.”

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