It once was 'charge it' at Otter Tail's corner grocery stores

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Charging for groceries was allowed at Neighborhood Grocery in Fergus Falls and other areas of Otter Tail County during the 1950s and 1960s. (Photo by Tom Hintgen, Otter Tail County Correspondent)

FERGUS FALLS -- “Charge it” was at one time a common statement at corner grocery stores throughout Otter Tail County.

Two of those places, in the 1950s and 1960s, were Neighborhood Grocery and Broadway Market in Fergus Falls.

Sherry Mjelde Landrud said her parents, who ran Neighborhood Grocery, knew that customers were on tight budgets.

“My dad, Sonny Mjelde, had a good heart and knew that people needed to wait for payday at their jobs in order to pay for groceries,” she said.

The same held true at Broadway Market.


“We helped people by allowing them to charge for their groceries,” said Diann Hennig whose parents, Vern and Hilda, owned Broadway Market.

“But sometimes they wouldn't pay,” Hennig recalled. “As a last resort, my grandma would do the collecting. When people paid their bills, my dad would toss in a pint of ice cream. “

It was sometimes Hennig's job to take money to the bank.

“I would just get on my bicycle with a big wad of cash and head for the bank,” she said.

Fergus Falls, following World War II from the late 1940s to the 1970s, had 23 neighborhood grocery stores. Broadway Market was on the 800 block of North Broadway.

“My first recollections of Broadway Market go back to when my parents, Vern and Hilda, bought the store about 1948,” Hennig said.

She was in the first grade at McKinley School and her older sister, Sidonna (now Sidonna Bradow), was in third grade.

“My parents moved back to Fergus after having spent several years in the 1930s and 1940s in Detroit, Mich., where my dad was a milkman,” Hennig said. “On his first route he used a horse-drawn cart.”


Vern and Hilda had both grown up in and near Fergus Falls, and they returned after the war to purchase the store on North Broadway.

“My grandma and grandpa, Bill and Gustie Hennig, had purchased a house on Broadway, and we lived there until my parents bought the store,” Hennig recalled.

“Dad and mom began expanding things soon after they bought the store,” she said. “For a number of years, Broadway Market was also our home. Dad and mom put an addition onto the store building and we lived there for several years.”

Work and home life were totally knitted together, and when Hennig and her sister were old enough, they worked in the store.

“When our parents did take a vacation, Sidonna and I would run the store with help from Hazel Evenson, a neighbor across the street,” Hennig said. “Living in the store had its advantages. Delicious aroma from our home-cooked meals probably helped stimulate sales.”

In 1955 Vern and Hilda built a house across the street from the store, and then expanded Broadway Market into the area in which they had been living. The exception was the bathroom and kitchen.

Vern, although having little education, was blessed with a real knack for sales. Hilda did all of the bookkeeping.

Hennig remembers her father as a funny and gregarious guy who loved to argue, often just for the sake of arguing.


“Some of our customers loved to come in just to talk and argue with him,” she recalled.

Diann and Sidonna were expected to work in the store. They put in lots of hours until they graduated from high school and began their own lives.

“The store was a way of life,” Hennig said. “We were open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week and were kind of a mini supermarket. We were closed from 1 to 3 p.m. on Christmas Day so we could have Christmas dinner. That was literally our only holiday.”

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