Popsicles or Fudgsicles and some baseball cards or maybe just some bubble gum. Getting those was our goal and that required a four block walk. Our Tenth Avenue troop of kids made the trek south along the east side of Seventh Street for two blocks and turn east two more blocks and walk across Granite Street to our destination: Akre’s Store. Even in our young lives, a walk to Akre’s was frequent enough that it was becoming a tradition. The store was painted white with red trim back then and had a couple of old gas pumps that each had a small amber window that showed a spinning gizmo when the pump was running.
Inside there were plenty of choices of candy and there was a chest-type cooler with shiny silver curved sliding doors that resembled a roll-top desk. Those cooler doors were bent up from the regulars who hung around and sat on them when drinking a bottle of 7 Up, Orange Crush or Dad’s Root Beer. When you pushed those curved doors up on that cooler, you’d find an array of pop in returnable bottles (there were no canned beverages back then, except for beer, which was likely not in Irvin Akre’s inventory). Also, there was usually a couple of two-foot long, six inch diameter summer sausages kept in that old cooler, waiting to be sliced up. The deli meat tradition was alive, even back then. Akre’s was one of several small stores scattered around Granite, many of which also sold gas. Now we call those places “convenience stores”, as if they sell convenience. Back then, those small stores were the work of entrepreneurial retailers, selling all sorts of necessities, in a folksy setting. At least two of those stores, Lange’s (later known as “Pac-A-Sac” and just a block to the south) and D and L Grocery (named for owners Dorothy and Leo Stern) on Highway 212, were attached to the front of the owner’s home with a doorway, usually open, from the store into the family’s living quarters. Akre’s store had a unique corner location where Prentice Street, after curving into 12th Avenue, met Granite St. and was an easy three block trot from the school. Not too far into my years, around 1959, the store’s name was changed to “Korner Grocery” when Elmo and Marian Volstad bought it. The tradition of stopping in for a quick purchase stayed on and it was soon referred to simply as “the Korner Store” and that name stuck through succeeding owners Gene and Sharon Buchholz in 1970 and Paul and Barb Benson in 1978.
Willie Upton made it “Willies Korner Store” when he and Carol bought the store 1979 and before long, most of us were calling it just “Willies”. That name stayed on when their daughter Penny and her husband Paul Krogstad bought the store in 2000 and the tradition continued. There had been other owners, too. Granite resident Marlys Swam, recalled Earl and Vi Eckert buying the place from her dad Irvin Akre and then, after a very short time, selling it to Elmo and Marian. She also mentioned that former Granite Falls city councilman, B.T. Nelson, had owned the store before her dad, back when he and his wife ran an antique shop in their house two blocks to the north, the same house that Gene and Sharon Buchholz now live in. She said there had been other previous owners, too, including one named Ole Olson. During a stop at the popcorn stand last week, former Granite Falls mayor Merlin Buchholz mentioned that he remembered the store being owned by a fellow named Johnny Thorsten. Merlin said he remembered that, as a youngster, during many stops there, seeing Thorsten and his pronounced limp when while walking in the store and out to those gas pumps. Through the years, changes were made. The store was re-painted and later covered with new siding.
The other door, on the west end, which was too handy for school traffic, was closed off. The store was expanded, rearranged, re-modeled and modernized over the years, too. New gas pumps were installed and then reduced to only one and finally removed altogether. That old roll-top cooler was replaced with a new upright display cooler. The store’s Christmas tree displays for many years formed a maze in the snow for us, and later our kids, to run in but that too went by the wayside. “Willies Korner Store” has been the place to buy seafood, sliced summer sausage (still!) pickled herring, lutefisk, locally packed bags of chocolate-covered peanuts and many other items. You could find a last minute can of sweet potatoes or some other necessity on Thanksgiving morning or another holiday. It was a stop after church or kid’s events and that usually resulted in some degree of happiness in the car. A quick stop at the store to pick up a card on the way to a funeral or to grab a bottle of pop or a newspaper has been a part of life here for decades. Come August 15, that will be no more. The news in the July 6 Advocate Tribune fell like a thud. After trying to sell the store for a few years, Penny decided to sell her remaining inventory to Brett Almich and close the store. She will be helping to manage Almich’s Market, and she will get a well-deserved break from those countless hours each week.
We couldn’t be happier for her and for Almich’s. It is a good move for both but still, it leaves a bit of a lump in our throats. Maybe the store closing was inevitable, although we’d like to think not. I suppose it’s a sign of our ever-changing times. That little store has seen plenty of those changes over the years and hopefully it will see some more in the years to come. Besides being a handy stop for plenty of necessities (and some not-so-necessary things), the Korner Store has been a place to hear the news, share some thoughts and catch up on things. You didn’t need a membership to go there. You just needed a little money and an interest in what’s going on around town. For quite a few years, there’s been nothing else around here quite like it and we’ll miss it. Let’s hope another creative use for that handy location can be found. After all, it’s a tradition. __________