One thing in life that is constant, that we can all count on, is change. And change, has been brewing. Come August 15, Willies Korner Store, a community fixture for the past thirty-eight years, will be closing its door for the last time. Paul and Penny Krogstad have been the owners of Willies for the past seventeen years, and was previously owned and operated by Penny’s parents, Willie and Carol Upton.
Change was set in motion nearly three years ago when the decision was made to put Willies Korner Store, one of the last “ma and pa” shops around, up for sale. While a few inquiries trickled in, it seems none were interested in putting in the time, or taking the risk necessary to run the business. “This was very disappointing to think that no one wants to continue what you have been doing for years to keep Willies alive,” said Penny. It was around the time Paul and Penny put Willies up for sale that another local, independent business owner Brett Almich, of Almich’s Market said something to Penny in passing, “When this place sells, you’re going to come work for me right?”
As time went on Brett continued to keep his inquiry at the forefront of Penny’s mind. “Got any bites yet, he’d continue to ask,” said Penny. To which she’d frustratingly respond with a “no.” “It just wasn’t going anywhere, I know retail and I know what she’s going through,” said Almich. That’s when, about three months ago, opportunity came fast, “I guess Brett got impatient after nearly three years of waiting,” said Penny. With that, she goes on to say that Brett made an offer that she couldn’t refuse.
Brett mentioned that he and his wife, Danielle, have had their hands full and with the addition of the Clara City grocery store, they soon realized they were in need of more managerial help and they wanted to make something work for Almich’s Market, for Willies Korner Store and for the community. So, Brett approached Penny with an offer that seemed as close to a win-win as it could get. With all parties wanting to “keep Willies alive” in some way, Brett made the offer to bring both Penny and her store inventory over to Almich’s Market.
While the Willie’s location will close, the building will remain for sale. And both Penny and Brett were quick to mention that many of the specialty items that Willie’s is known for will now be made available at Almich’s market. “This is a big plus,” said Penny. And for those that frequent Willie’s Korner Store for the outstanding selection of seafood, deli meats and other seasonal items, some solace can be found. Another addition to Almich’s Market will be a “Service Counter,” or “Express Lane,” expansion which will include other convenience items found at Willie’s Korner Store such as tobacco products and lottery.
One thing that will not available any longer, noted Penny, will be the DNR hunting and fishing licenses. But, something else of a “Willie’s Tradition,” that will be carried over to Almich’s Market is an earlier opening hour and they will be open until noon on holidays. It’s true that independent, local retailers need to stick together, after all, who better than a fellow business owner to understand and appreciate the commitment and dedication to community that it takes to keep the doors that people rely on open day after day. For the eight part time employees that people have come to know and love at Willies Korner Store Penny said, “The news came as a bit of a shock, especially since it was happening so fast,” but she went on to say, “They understand, they know the time I’ve put in.”
Penny was quick to add, “I’ve been so lucky to have such awesome employees to try and hold me together and it’s hard when they have become like family.” As for Penny’s family, “Closing kind of hit them,” she said. She had a family gathering and they all had a chance to talk about it. The consensus, “It’s too good of an opportunity and you need to go for it.”
And with the understanding and support of her family, Penny who is a self-proclaimed, “people pleaser,” had the reassurance she needed to move forward. “Penny will be coming in to help manage, she’ll be doing ordering, merchandising, managing staff and dealing a lot with something we all know she’s good at, customer relations,” said Brett. And as for Penny, “I’ll get something for all the years of work at the store, customers who love Willie’s will still be able to get the items they enjoyed and relied upon, and both Brett and I will have a little more freedom and time with our own families.”
“Everyone at Almich’s was excited to have Penny join us,” but, said Brett, “there were some tears because people are going to miss Willie’s.” Transition will take some time, as it always does, but Brett says he has, “a great staff right now – the right people are in place and it’s really a cohesive unit, everyone is just really excited.” It’s a change that both Brett and Penny are ready for.
“When we merged with Dave’s family foods that was a change,” said Almich. “But after about a month, it really was going smooth – people just naturally adjust to changes.” Penny went on to say that she and her family are, “thankful to the community for the years of support.” She said it hasn’t always been easy with, “multiple convenience stores a block away,” but because of their unique specialty items, “we were able to hold on to our extraordinary customers.”
For two people and local business owners who both grew up in and love Granite Falls and what they do, they will now assist each other in helping to lighten their collective load as well as that of their respective families – both are looking forward to having more freedom and more family time.