By Cecelia Wattles McKeig (from The Depot Express newsletter, Summer 2014)
One of the memories that many of us share is that of the neighborhood grocery – the kind of place that just did not change much. A kid could ride his bike there to pick up a quart of milk for supper, or approach the owner with a note and a quarter from his mother when he was sent to pick up a pack of Lucky Strikes or Camels. Most of the time the owners were patient with us when we counted our pennies or stammered when we could not remember just exactly what it was we were supposed to buy to bring home to mom or grandma. Occasionally, there would be a grumpy day. I remember once when the proprietor finally got tired of a customer who consistently came in to buy three eggs and four slices of bacon. In a loud voice so everyone in the small store could hear, he announced, “I sell eggs by the dozen and bacon by the pound. If you want breakfast, try the café down the street!”
There were an amazing number of grocery stores throughout the Bemidji area that served the neighborhoods before the arrival of the Handy Andy, Hartz, Red Owl, or National Tea. Some of these continued for several decades. There are about 250 entries for this kind of family business in Bemidji between 1904 and 1994. Many are in the same building but under new ownership or new names. Before you read further, you might try to recall five or even ten that existed during your years in Bemidji.
Hulett/ Dicaire Grocery, 1101 Irvine
One of the most enduring locations was the grocery at 1101 Irvine Avenue, best known as Dicaire Grocery, Berg’s Grocery, and as Sunflower Foods although it had other owners and other names. It was first owned by Charles Hulett in 1904. Pierre “Peter” Dicaire had the store by 1910. He was born in 1851 at Ottawa, Canada, and married in Wisconsin in 1885. He and his wife Alice moved to Bemidji in 1902. While Peter ran the store, Alice spent her life caring for her family, and most of all for her daughter Christine who was paralyzed. Pierre died in 1934 but during the years he lived in Bemidji, he took an active interest in the affairs of the city, and was well known as a tinsmith as well as the proprietor of the grocery store. After his death, the store was owned by Mrs. Blanche Vincent from approximately 1937-1940. It next belonged to Peter and Carrie Larkin from about 1946 to 1950. John and Nine Berg purchased the neighborhood grocery in 1950. After that it was known as Berg’s Grocery for fifteen years. Mr. Berg died in 1951, but Mrs. Berg operated the grocery until 1965 when she moved to Northern Township. It was listed for one year as Minnie’s Corner Grocery, run by Minnie Stone in 1966. Alice Lokken ran it as Lokken’s Grocery from 1967 to about 1970. It was Bruce’s Grocery, Conrad Bruce (1970); Evans Grocery, Harold Evans (1972); Frank Trombatta ran it under the name Good Earth Foods. At one point the building housed a pawn shop as well. The business was known as Sunflower Foods from 1976 through 1980. Penny Smith owned it in the early 1980s and she had a ceramic shop in the back. In 1990, it was Cameron’s Food Store, run by Earlean Cameron. It is not listed in 1993. The building is still there.
Case’s Store, 800 Irvine Avenue
Newell and Mary Case owned the store in 1920. Newell was a farmer, and Mary ran the store. When Mrs. Case died in 1938, their son James took over the store from 1938-1940. Their second son Ralph owned a grocery store at 520 Fifth Street from about 1934-1940. The Case Store was operated by Heathman’s in 1942 and renamed Heathman’s Grocery during World War II. It was managed by Edwin Skoglund in 1946. Ralph Case then took over the store again and owned it through 1960. The store was renamed Bemidji Cash and Carry and was managed by Helen Hanson in 1963. It was run by Donald Glass in 1964. The building is now gone.
Daylight Store, 1214 Beltrami Avenue
The Daylight Store was one of the longest running grocery stores in Bemidji. The last time I looked, the grocery sign was still hanging there. It was a popular hangout for high school kids and also a popular warm up spot for those who walked to the high school on 15th St. The first owner listed in Arthur Knutson who owned two Daylights stores in 1927, one in Nymore and this one on Beltrami Ave. Maxwell “Max” LaCore operated the Daylight Grocery from 1930 to 1944. He later owned the Campus Food Mart at 1026 Birchmont in the 1960s. The Daylight store was owned by Eugene Keable after WW II, and in 1951 it was owned by Harold Hellekson. At one point it was also owned by Frank and Hilda Rom. John and Josephine Gordon moved to Bemidji in 1952. They owned and operated Gordon’s Daylight Grocery for over 35 years. John Gordon died in 1972. Mrs. Gordon then ran the store until 1989 when she retired and moved to Northfield. Neil and Connie (Wilson) Grimsley owned the store in the 1990s. They changed the name back to the Daylight Store.
Holeen/ Allen’s Fairway Store, 812 Beltrami Avenue
The complex at 812-814 Beltrami Avenue originally was the residence of Cliff and Mary Montague. In 1911, Mr. Montague won a prize for the beautiful garden at this location. For years, the grocery was housed at 814 Beltrami. Henry Miller had a grocery there in 1913, and in 1920, it was called the Midway Grocery. Henry Brakke ran a grocery store at 1024 Birchmont from 1918 until about 1924. He then purchased the Midway Grocery and changed the name to Brakke’s Variety Store. By 1934 Brakke had moved the grocery business next door to 812 Beltrami, and the 814 address became the site of the Cottage Studio owned by “Rich” Richardson, one of Bemidji’s first photographers. It then became the home of the Scherling Photo Studio. Brakke’s grocery at 812 was next known as the Holeen Grocery. Verland Allen, who had previously managed the local Woolworth store, purchased the Holleen grocery and took possession in 1945 when Carl Holeen moved out west. Verland and Onolee Allen operated Allen’s Fairway Grocery from 1945 – 1969. By 1984, it housed a business called the Craftsmen’s Touch. The building is still there across from Central School.
St. John’s/Nutzman’s Grocery, 325 Minnesota Ave.
Schroeder first operated a general merchandise store at this corner and called it Schroeder’s Groceries. It became the site of the People’s Coop and then the Ganter Bakery in 1924-25. Felix St. John owned the store during the 1930s and 1940s. Mom and I walked to the store in all seasons. On a Sunday afternoon in 1941, we were shopping for a few groceries when the bombing of Pearl Harbor was announced on the store radio. Mom put me on a sled and hauled me to our home in the night watchman’s shack at Grinol’s pulp yard. St. John’s had a soda fountain and they made their own ice cream. They had a drive-up window that served frosted malts. The store next belonged to Earl Utter. They received an “off-sale” beer license in 1950. Elmer Lyons owned the grocery in the 1950s. Edith and Elmer ran the grocery store. Then it belonged to William and Hansel Nutzman. Wm. Nutzman (1963). It was still a grocery on the tax list in 1969.
Schmunk’s Grocery, 200 Lake Avenue
Probably the longest running grocery store is Schmunk’s on Lake Avenue in Nymore. Phrases such as “turn left at Schmunk’s Store” or “continue straight east from Schmunk’s store” were common. People often used it as a reference point in giving directions for a drive around the lake, or included it in directions for a neighborhood rummage sale.
Otto and Lillian Schmunk operated a gas station for Western Oil and Fuel at that site starting about 1937. The firm was known as Otto C. Schmunk & Son, selling gas and groceries. The “son” was Harry Otto “Sonny” Schmunk, who was born in 1924 in Bemidji. Harry attended college at the University of Minnesota. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He owned Schmunk’s Corner Grocery from 1949 until 1992. The Otto Schmunk Bicentennial park across the street was dedicated in June 1976.
Vincent’s Grocery, 2201 Irvine Ave.
This store was located across the street from Greenwood cemetery. It was owned by H. J. Conat from 1924 into the 1930s. It was owned by Maude Olson in 1946. By 1951, it was owned by Foster and Dorothy Vincent. Ron Rongstad recalled on Facebook that the Vincent Grocery had loads of candy and popsicles that they would split in two. It also had some gambling for the kids. Rongstad recalled that it had a penny gumball machine that had striped gumballs scattered throughout that you could redeem for candy or get seven pennies. Vincents closed the store in the 1970s but continued to live there and converted it to a residence. The building is still there.
Park Avenue Food Mart, 1216 Park Avenue
Herman and Cora Prochnow moved to Bemidji in 1939. The family owned this neighborhood grocery for decades. It was on Park Avenue, but there was no cross-street. They were known for giving out special treats to the kids. Cora died in 1966 and Herman died in 1972. Their daughter Orlette continued to run the store into the 1980s. She was a lifelong teacher and had served as a missionary in Columbia, South America where she had helped start a girls’ school.
Bunker’s Grocery Store, 520 5th St.
Ruth Troxel owned this neighborhood grocery in 1931-1932 and then was owned by Ralph and Belle Case in 1938. The store belonged to Hugh and Cora Bunker from the 1940s to 1952, when they purchased a motel near Portland, Oregon. William Tufford had the same grocery in 1953.
Murphy’s Grocery, 1305 Bemidji Avenue
This store had a series of owners starting with Joseph Gaudette (1934), Lulu Fox (1937-38) Robert Bingham (1939-40) Gertrude Ruud (1942) (1946) Elmer Ellickson (1951). Ellickson announced his retirement as proprietor of Murphy’s Grocery on April 1, 1953. He wrote, “During the three and one half year Mrs. Ellickson and I operated the store, we have come to know hundreds of fine folks whom we will always consider our good friends.” He sold the store to Earl F. Anderson. Earl and Ione Anderson had Murphy’s Grocery from 1953 to at least 1960. This was the site of Kittleson Agency in 1963.
Log Cabin Grocery, 423 W. 23rd
The Log Cabin was across from the A & W. Delbert and Elvera (Back) Hall were married on June 20, 1925. They owned and operated the Log Cabin Grocery for 20 years. They sold the business to George and Marion Daniel in 1945. In 1950, the store had a license for a grocery and two gas pumps. The Daniels worked at the Log Cabin Grocery until 1955. It belonged to Harold Olson in 1956-1967. It closed in 1967, and the building was used by Harold and his brother Dick Olson as the location of their new business House of Kitchens.
Taber’s Grocery, 1022 Birchmont Ave.
Ludim and Sophie Taber had a grocery store at this address as early as 1922. Earl and Doris Taber were students at that time. Earl Taber sold fishing bait from his father’s grocery store until entering the Army in 1942. Tabers sold the grocery about 1946 and it became Mooney’s Grocery Store. Herb Lillegaard purchased the Mooney Grocery Store in March 1948 and was operated by his brother Jim. Lillegaard’s Superette was sold to John McQuade in October 1948. This building was a residence for BSC students in the 1960s, and the Campus Food Market was next door.
Heathman’s Grocery, 422 W. 15th St.
Gould and Mary Heathman had Heathman Grocery at the 15th Street location in 1931-1932. Their son Henry Heathman also owned and operated a grocery store for several years in the early 1940s. It was Heathman’s Red & White Store in 1956, a Jack & Jill in 1958, a Piggly Wiggly in 1960 (with Dave’s Pizza Carry Out).
Hillert’s Grocery, 102 Gould Ave.
Ed Hillert moved to Bemidji about 1913 and operated Hillert’s Grocery in East Bemidji for 34 years. He sold the grocery to his son-in-aw, R.D. Peterson about 1951. Ed Hillert died in 1953. It was a private residence by 1964.
Conat’s Grocery/Toombs Grocery/Stevens IGA, 609 South 4th Street, Nymore
Walker & Earle Grocery. Clarence and Elsie Conat owned this Nymore Grocery in 1946. Earl & Don Toombs purchased the Conat Grocery in October 1947 and operated it until 1955. In 1955, George and Clara Stevens bought the grocery store and operated it as Stevens IGA until 1972 when their son Dave bought the store and they retired. Hazel Lortie and Marvel Rabe both worked for more than 20 years at this store.
Opsahl’s Grocery, 1323 Beltrami Avenue
This store was operated by Olaf and Bertha Opsahl in the 1920s and 1930s. Bertha died in 1930 after an illness of several years. Mr. Opsahl ran the store by himself for several more years and then it became Mr. Opsahl’s residence.
Even Nelson Grocery, 916 Miss Ave.
Even and Edith (Berglund) Nelson had a grocery at this location from about 1922 to 1942. He died in 1942, but his wife continued to live at this address until the 1970s. She died in 1981.
Batchelder’s Grocery, 208 Irvine Ave. S., 1921 Irvine Ave.
John Batchelder had two grocery stores. One was across the tracks at 208 Irvine Ave. So., and the other was near Greenwood Cemetery. “Jack” Batchelder ran the store in Carson’s Addition south of the viaduct and his wife ran the store near the cemetery. The grocery near Lake Irving had been owned previously by Walter Bailey in 1939-40 and then Martin Riley in 1941-42. John Batchelder owned it after World War II.
DeRosier Grocery, 108 Irvine Av. S.
The store at 108 Irvine Ave. S. is first listed in the 1922 city directory when it is owned by P. R. Peterson. After that it is listed from 1924-1940 as owned by H. F. DeRosier. The building probably disappeared when the WPA redid the viaduct over Irvine Avenue.
Campus Food Market, 1026 Birchmont
Max M. Wolfe ran this store in the 1960s. He was listed as sheet metal worker in 1970; no listing for this grocery store. The building appears to be a rental for college students in 1970.
Carl Akre’s Grocery., Central at 4th Street So., Nymore.
Edwin Akre’s Grocery operated in Nymore in the 1920s. Carl Akre’s Grocery was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Manecke in October 1947. Manecke owned it until 1957 when he moved to Iowa. Carl and Elsie Akre later owned the Econ-O-Wash at 401 Central Ave. in 1964. 400 Central Ave. So was vacant in 1964.
C. E. Aldrich, 1215 Irvine Ave.
Charles and Matilda Aldrich were grocers at this address from 1920 until at least 1935. After they closed the store, they continued to live at the same address and were still there for their 60th wedding anniversary in 1965.
Skime Grocery, 319 Central Ave.
Arthur Knutson started a grocery at 323 Central in the 1920s. He moved his grocery to 319 Central Avenue and renamed it the Knutson Daylight Store about 1927. In 1939, Elmer and Marlyce Skime moved to Nymore, where they bought and ran the grocery store and later changed the store to a locker plant. In 1960, they sold the locker plant to their sons, Glenn and David. Glenn Skime entered the U.S. Navy in 1951. He was discharged in 1955 and returned to Bemidji to work with his father at the Nymore Locker Plant. He continued operating the locker plant and in 1970 started a second career as a fire fighter for the city. He closed the locker plant in 1971.
Mill Park Grocery, 159 Mill Park
Joseph A. Anderson had a grocery store at this address in Mill Park in 1914. It was owned by W. K. Wagner in 1918-1919. The grocery is still listed in the 1920-1921 and 1922-23 directories. It was owned by Hugh F. Bunker in 1924-1925. A Mill Park Grocery is next listed in 1927 as owned by A. J. Ritchey at 174 Gemmell Avenue. The street name had been changed from Mill Park to Gemmell Avenue.