Doug Lichty is known as the Duke of Main Street
Everywhere Doug Lichty goes downtown, he’s treated like royalty.
It’s fitting, considering he has a T-shirt proclaiming him “The Duke of Main Street.”
Since retiring to Ratekin Tower, Lichty has made the shops and restaurants along Main Street his second home — and the shopkeepers his second family — stopping by daily to run errands or just to say hi.
But for Lichty, these visitations are not a casual hobby. He’s always attired in shirt and tie — button-down and neatly pressed — his flat-top clipped to right angles, his attitude unfailingly helpful.
“The Duke of Main Street” is his favorite nickname, but there are others.
Walk into Main Street Cafe, 504 Main St., and he’s “Dougie” to the servers. Lichty warms a booth a couple times a week for biscuits and gravy or the Tuesday two-egg special.
At Page-Parsons Jewelers, 444 Main St., he’s “Doug-Doug” to everyone behind the counter.
“I think everybody downtown likes Doug-Doug,” said saleswoman Ro Haase (“Ro-Ro” to Lichty). Page-Parsons staff gave Lichty the “Duke of Main Street” shirt for Christmas. Other years they gave him a watch and a money clip.
“Doug is kind of like one of the members of our family,” explained owner Peggy Page.
At the jewelry store, Lichty will take a seat, sip a cup of hot chocolate and keep a kind of low-key surveillance on the goings-on. He is protective of his friends and their businesses.
Across the street at Gelato Junction, 449 Main St., Lichty is an “angel” to owner Paula Hawkins, who often is the only one working and unable to leave during the day. Lichty will run to the bank for quarters, help her deep-clean on Mondays, even hand out the restroom key when Hawkins is scooping behind the counter.
He has taken it upon himself to show up every Thursday at 3 p.m. during the farmers market season and help with the gelato booth outside.
When Hawkins added fresh-made soups to the menu to augment winter sales, Lichty made a new habit of stopping by to ask the soup of the day, then spread the word along Main Street if it was a chicken noodle, beef barley or spicy corn chowder day. He takes orders at other shops then comes back to place the orders and then deliver them.
“I just feel like he’s an angel,” Hawkins said. “He’s phenomenal. And, seriously, I do think he was put in our path. Who knows what the reason is, but he’s just sincerely a very good person.”
Lichty is, until he gets to know you, a man of few words. “He’s not a chitter-chatterer,” Hawkins said. He also is a bit of a mystery, even to his friends.
Here are five things you can learn about Doug Lichty over clam chowder, and fish and chips:
1. He gives his friends offbeat nicknames. And once Lichty warms up to you enough to give you a nickname, you have a friend for life. Where does he get the names? “Out of the clear blue,” he said matter-of-factly.
2. He has an unnatural love of cottage cheese — so much that the Hart family at Hart Music gave him a gallon for Christmas.
3. Although he doesn’t drive, he has traveled the world. He’s toured Europe, cruised the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and explored the coast of New England.
4. As of July 1 he will have lived in Grand Junction for five years, after retiring as a custodian for the city of Denver. He lived in Denver 22 years. Why Grand Junction? A sister lives here, true, but he mostly wanted a smaller community and a slower pace, he said. From his apartment at Ratekin Tower, 875 Main St., he can walk nearly everywhere he needs to go, and catch a Grand Valley Transit bus to the rest.
5. He is very good with numbers and dates. He will remember friends’ appointments months out and remind them.
Lichty was born in Lincoln, Neb., and attended a special school in Beatrice. He lived there, going home to visit in the summers and during the holidays. He will not criticize the school, only say that it wasn’t challenging enough for him. “It was hard to advance,” Lichty said. “I was always wanting to learn more and more.” He knew, and finally convinced school staff when he was 16, that he didn’t belong there.
This is not an easy subject for him to talk about. As to why he was enrolled in a special school, Lichty said, “I think it was a misdiagnosis.”
“They thought I was slow, but I don’t think I am.”
This was decades before mainstreaming.
“I don’t think anybody had the right answers back then, in the ’40s,” he said. “Nowadays they’re allowing kids to stay in the community and stay in the public school system, which is a better bet.”
Once he was released from the school he earned his GED while living in Denver. It was important to him. “I just wanted to say I’ve been through high school and I’ve graduated,” Lichty said.
Work, travel, the Elks Lodge, church and friends have filled his life since then.
Lichty was working at the defunct Canyon Convenience store on Main when Aaron Hart first met him some three years ago. Now Lichty’s a regular at Hart Music, 417 Main St., where he exchanges some good-natured ribbing with Aaron (“Waterhead”), his brother, Brent (“Brent Corn”), and their dad, Jan (“Vim”).
At Hart Music, a frequent lunch stopover, he’s “Dine and Dash Doug” or “Lunch and Leave Lichty.”
“He’s become one of my best friends,” Aaron Hart said. “We sort of adopted him in our family, too.”
That means Lichty joins the Harts for birthday celebrations and church functions. The Harts even took him to the National Music Show one January for Lichty’s birthday, and to Disneyland.
Hart Music customers “love Doug,” Aaron Hart said, and regulars earn their own nicknames along with staff members. There’s “The Big Man,” “The Guitar Mender” and “Wolfhound.”
Brent Hart said Lichty even has named the grand pianos in the store. “He’s a character. He’s just a good guy. He’s fun to hang out with.”
Lichty makes the Main Street rounds Monday through Friday. Weekends, he doesn’t bother with a tie.
Lichty plays down his dedication. “It gets me out of the apartment so I won’t be bored to death,” he said.
As for his retired life in Grand Junction, “I gained freedom, let’s put it that way,” Lichty said. “I like the freedom of retirement.”
And then he’s walking down Main Street again, maybe to Alida’s Fruit next, or to Heirlooms for Hospice.
“You know, in this day and age, it’s so hard to find people who don’t want something,” Hawkins said of her devoted friend.
“They just think ‘What’s in it for me?’ and Doug’s not that way.”