FERGUS FALLS -- Ask baby boomers who grew up in Otter Tail County, and other places, about their favorite recollections of the 1950s and 1960s and corner grocery stores are at or near the top of the list.
Neighborhood grocery stores, many of them owned by World War II veterans, did especially well on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings.
Many people stopped after Sunday church services to purchase meat, potatoes and vegetables for their noon meal. Many people didn’t have freezers in those days. Others wanting weekend snacks stopped late Friday and Saturday at neighborhood grocery stores.
Kids, from spring to fall, rode their bikes to neighborhood stores for candy bars, baseball cards, seven-ounce bottles of pop and other items.
Ed Haller ran Haller’s Home Grocery in the northwest section of Fergus Falls, near McKinley School.
Haller’s daughter, Susan, recalls her father buying pop bottles from children who would spend the money on candy.
“Kids knew they’d need to wash the bottles before my dad would make payments to them,” she said.
Topps, from 1952 to 1969, offered five-pack nickel baseball packs that included bubblegum sold in neighborhood grocery stores across the nation. Special excitement came about when cards of star players such as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays or Hank Aaron came into one’s possession.
Dick Richards recalls Schroeder’s Grocery not far from Adams School in Fergus Falls.
“Mrs. Schroeder always hummed when you were in there,” he recalled.
Those who worked at Schroeder’s on West Alcott during late summer always knew when Hillcrest Academy kids were back on campus.
When kids came into the corner store and ordered “soda,” they represented students from the east coast who were most likely from Hillcrest, a few blocks to the west. Midwesterners for the most part ordered “pop” while referring to a soft drink.
Otto Gerhardson was the grandfather of 1957 Fergus Falls High School graduate Jim Gerhardson. It was Otto who built and operated the West End Grocery at the southeast corner of West Cavour Avenue and Buse Street in Fergus Falls.
Running the grocery store with Otto was his wife, Hilma.
“There was a gas pump in front of the store,” said Jim, now a resident of the Twin Cities. “My parents, Helmer and Ruth Gerhardson, took over ownership late in 1949. I worked at the store for nine years, starting at age 9 until I enlisted in the Army.”
West End Grocery offered kerosene, which the Gerhardsons hand-pumped in the office part of the store, until people stopped buying it. More and more people started purchasing electric kitchen stoves.
“That was a time when people were converting to electric stoves and they could afford the conversion,” he said. “How my mother cooked for our family on a two-burner kerosene stove still amazes me.”
West End Grocery also provided free home delivery and were open seven days a week.