FFor many of us Boerne-ites, the Dienger Building is simply a part of our heritage. For a quick history tour, this old building has had more reincarnations than you can imagine. This gorgeous building was built circa 1884. The building served as a general store / residence for Joseph and Ida Dienger and their seven children. An extension was added in 1900 to house a dry-goods store, run by Joseph’s sisters Lina and Louise, and ultimately bought by Joseph’s brother Charles in 1912.
The Dienger Family retained ownership for years, until in 1967 it was purchased by a consortium of local businessmen, and The Antlers Restaurant opened along with a private supper club upstairs called The Trophy Room. (Apparently the Dienger Family collected thousands of antlers and had stored them in the basement, which led to the name!)
Subsequently it was a bank and an office building, then acquired by the City in 1989 for $550,000 to be used as the public library and was remodeled again at the cost of $165,000. The Library opened in 1991and stayed put until 2011 when the new Patrick Heath Library opened its doors.
In 2014, Raymond Lunsford acquired this Historic treasure, and the rest is more fantastic history…and may be the result of a single person with a singular plan.
Enter Michelle Ernst.
“I landed here, in this building, doing this job, through a series of happen-stances that should be called miracles. I was the Director of marketing and business development at an architectural design firm in Houston when my husband Paul and I decided to move to Boerne, where Paul’s family lives.” I love the ‘backstory’ of the “how did you meet” question, and Michelle’s story didn’t disappoint. “Paul and I met through a blind date set up by friends. The moment I shook his hand, I knew he was the one I would marry. Six weeks later we were engaged, and Paul proposed by buying me a french bulldog puppy and it was wearing a jeweled collar with a tag asking ‘Will you marry me?’ Six months after that we were married. I’m blessed.”
“I was, and am, very involved in a local charitable organization – Child Legacy International (CL). They focus on children of Malawi and Zimbabwe. They’ve built vocational schools, a hospital, and renewable energy sources. I spent a month in Africa putting hands-on-work into that part of the world, and at the time I met Raymond Lunsford, I was helping CL with their rebranding and finding some office space here in Boerne. I wandered into one of Raymond’s shops and met him because I had heard he owned several buildings that might be appropriate for CL’s purposes.”
“When he told me he had just acquired the old building, I realized it was the same building I drove by almost every day and had always daydreamed about ‘What I could do with that building!’ Those dreams always led me to think through some great, and some not so great, ideas! Never, ever, thinking I may be able to take it on like I’ve been able to do!”
During that meeting, Lunsford told her of his ‘sort of’ idea of consolidating all of his existing Boerne businesses into the building. “My first response was the realization I had some ideas I thought might work, and underlying them all was the fact that this building needs a story of its own.”
Michelle was taken aback when she heard “Maybe I could use somebody like you”. “I sent him my resume, not even knowing what he really wanted. His thoughts were very vague, some kind of interior design,” Ernst recalled, laughing. The first day on the job, he told me, ‘I want you to turn this into your dream. No budget. Just do what you want. In the end, I insisted that we draw up a budget and I explained that he needed to consolidate his businesses under one name (Dienger Trading Co.).
“Now that I knew my parameters, I headed straight to the library and pulled every file I could find on the building itself. I realized that every stone in this building was placed with great deliberation and intent. I knew I had to do the same.” Michelle’s dream was to open a place with was filled with lightness and community.
“I love the fellowship I see happening in the Bistro and in the shops every day. I love seeing people being there for one another — I’ve seen joy and I’ve seen pain at those little tables — but the love and support of one another is what means the most to me.
I created little cozy nooks so people could spend time together with fewer distractions, eating fantastic food, and shopping for beautiful items. I upgraded the clothing lines and applied a lot of both my design skills and my marketing background to everything that you see in this building now.”
As these things go, the day before The Dienger Trading Company opened, “I found out I was pregnant! My husband, Paul, and I have had three lovely kids now – Elodie, our eldest passed away shortly after her birth, Eleanor will be four in March, and Ford, our son, is almost 18 months old.
I asked about her future plans — both personal and for The Dienger Trading Company. “Well, after 9 months with just me and a million contractors, I knew this was where I wanted to be for a long, long time and I’m now in a partnership with Raymond in this business. And now that some time has passed, we continue to evolve. I recently added gorgeous home furnishings and accessories, and now interior design services are becoming even more of a focus. I’m thinking of what our next steps may be with the upstairs area, too.”
Michelle’s closing thoughts were heartfelt when she told me how Raymond Lunsford told her “Thank you for doing this!” Her response? “Thank you for letting me do this. For letting me do what was in my heart. I’m forever grateful.”