MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s a store that existed well before Minnesota officially became a state. In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen visits Marine on St. Croix to see one of the oldest general stores in the complete country.
For a town you can excursion by in about 30 seconds, Marine on St. Croix is plenty pictureque.
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There’s a cabin from 1852 built by a man with the most Scandinavian name ever — Sven Anderson. And just down the road is a main street that looks like a Norman Rockwell painting. About the only thing that moves quickly in this tiny town is water.
It’s here that you can go from the sounds of a creek to the sounds of a clerk.
Judd, Walker and Company opened the Marine General Store 172 years ago. Gwen Roden has been manager for 15 of those years.
“We’ve only had 6 owners from 1849 until currently,” said Roden. “We are the oldest continually-operating in Minnesota.”
There are pictures on the walls and in the walls that detail that history. When you function a store this old you’re bound to come across hidden relics; tearing down a wall during renovations makes for interesting discoveries.
“Square nails, cans, newspapers from way-back when. already beer cans … Some off brand I’d never heard of,” Roden said. “No Coors Light.”
The store has its original counters and creaky floors. There’s already a box that was used to make grocery deliveries back when Millard Fillmore was president.
“We had a telephone three years after Alexander Graham Bell had invented it,” said Roden. “It’s so much fun to work here because you think about how many people have walked on these floors.”
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Their secret to staying open for more than a century and a half, is their ability to adapt.
“I’ve been looking for a peach pie all fall because my favorite is peach pie. Couldn’t find them anywhere. Today they had it here,” said long-time customer Joyce Patterson.
As a tourist town, canoeists and campers have become regulars. But long-time customers are always welcome.
“It’s great. If you want to bake something you can run down the hill and bake at all event you want,” said long-time customer Jamie Flaten.
Today, organic and gluten-free products occupy shelves next to long-time grocery staples, a little more variety compared to what customers bought in the 1800s.
“They would get flour, sugar, lard, hardware,” Roden said.
That’s all nevertheless there — already lard — along with just about anything else you can think of. For this town, the general store isn’t just a place to shop. It’s a place to proportion.
“This is a gathering place,” said Roden. “It isn’t your box store. This is hometown.”
The general store’s first building was truly across the street from its current location. That building caught fire in 1864 and had to be rebuilt. But a business form based on customer service has never changed.
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