There’s a good chance a few people are thinking of getting into the small-town general store business today. That seems to be how one gets into the small-town general store business, at least in Marine on St. Croix, where the “heart and soul” of the town is for sale.
Andy and Karen Kramer bought the 1870 store 10 years ago after reading about it in the Pioneer Press, which today carries the details of their decision to retire. The store is the inspiration for Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery on A Prairie Home Companion.
Interested? Be prepared to work hard — it’s only closed one day a year. And be prepared to spend $900,000.
“We’ve always felt that owning it just was a really big responsibility to the community — to make sure it stays here and that it provides all the products and services a community really needs,” Andy Kramer said. “The building is really historic and needs to be taken care of for the future. There’s not a building or an operation like this, or very few, still left around. We’re very sensitive to that.”
The Kramers purchased the business and property from the Prudens in 2005. For their first few years, they worked as “weekend grocers” and kept their jobs at Guidant Corp., the medical-device company.
The learning curve was steep. They had to find vendors with the products they wanted, figure out how much produce to order each week and learn how to decorate birthday cakes and operate the burglar alarm.
Karen Kramer said she “really screwed up” their first Thanksgiving and ordered five times too many turkeys.
“Well, I didn’t know! You go into Cub and they have 8 million of them,” she said. “But apparently our store doesn’t sell that many. The other problem was they were huge! They were all organic, free-range turkeys, and they were all 20 pounds. They were just the biggest birds.”
The couple might also sell The General Scoop, the ice cream shop that is located in what used to be the store’s chicken coop.
The couple tells the Country Messenger the store could end up being community owned.
“An interesting solution might be for it to become a community-owned store,” says Andy. “Marine is the kind of community that seems very well-suited to that. The library is a very good model of what the community can do when they get together.”
What it would take, he says, is a group of investors to buy the store. They would form a board and the board would hire a general manager.
They noted that because of the building’s historical value, the community seems an appropriate owner.
Knowing that the store and building were in locals’ hands for the long term would ease the couple’s mind.
“We have very mixed feelings about doing this,” says Andy. “We love the store. We love the business and the people. … But I’m 65, we’re going to be grandparents. We need to think about moving toward that.”