The general store that would later become known as Soderquist’s Market opened along a gravel road in 1926 before Ham Lake was a city and before Highway 65 existed.
After 87 years in business at what would later be the intersection of Highway 65 and Crosstown Boulevard, Soderquist’s Market will close sometime in early November, according to Cheryl Sauter, who along with her brother Mark Soderquist are the third generation of the Soderquist family to own the business.
“It’s like a death in the family, but it’s a sign of the times and you have to go with it,” said Lorraine Soderquist, who along with her husband Don Soderquist were the second generation owners from the early 1960s through the mid-1980s. Don passed away at the age of 88 in 2012.
Mark’s son Calvin has worked at the store for 10 years, so four generations have been involved in the family business.
Rather than mourn the loss of the store, Sauter said, “We want to remember the good the good things because there have been so many.” Former employees are invited to visit the store to have cake and share stories Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
While the Soderquist family, employees and customers said the grocery store has been an important part of the community and they are sad to see it close, the family could not match the prices of its competitors.
Although Rainbow Foods and Cub Foods took away some business, Sauter said “the first sign of trouble” was when the Walmart in Cambridge started selling groceries in the mid-2000s. Sauter said independent grocery stores used to thrive, but increasing competition has given consumers many other places to spend their food budget.
“We thought when the recession was over, buyers would come back, but it has steadily eroded with each Walmart, Costco and Walgreens that has opened up,” Sauter said.
Fleet Farm, Menards, Kwik Trip and SuperAmerica have also eaten into Soderquist Market’s bottom line, Sauter said, and she cited a National Restaurant Association 2013 study showing that about 47 percent of people’s food budgets are spent at restaurants compared to 25 percent in 1955.
Sales at Soderquist Market are 40 percent of what they were five years ago. The store went from about 100 employees to a little over 40 in that same time frame, according to Sauter.
Winnie Wright said she and her husband Dennis have fond memories of partnering with the grocery store when Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church was putting on events. Dennis is a former pastor and Wright used to work for the church, but they still live in the area.
“It’s a devastating loss for the community,” Wright said.
Wright has seen small businesses shutter their doors in Paynesville and Litchfield when big box stores came in. She thought Soderquist’s Market was far enough away from these stores, but Sauter said people are shopping for groceries on their way home from work or when they are out shopping for other items in the busier commercial hubs of Blaine and Coon Rapids.
A 2011 study published in Quantitative Marketing and Economics found that the effect of a Walmart opening could be worse in Soderquist’s Market’s situation, according to Linli Xu, a professor of marketing in the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
“If the store next to Walmart has something unique that Walmart doesn’t have, then having a Walmart nearby could actually drive people to shop both in Walmart and this independent store, so by having this Walmart nearby it may not be a bad thing for the local store that is nearby,” Xu said.
“But for the store that is a little farther away, because of the entry of Walmart, the consumers who like to shop for lower prices would of course go to Walmart instead. For those who want convenience, they will go to Walmart and the store close to Walmart, so the entry of Walmart could be worse for the store a little further away.”
The academic literature has focused on Walmart when evaluating the effect big discount stores have on communities, but Xu said the findings could apply to any discount stores that compete with independent businesses.
Many positive memories
Four couples who are still married met while working at Soderquist’s Market, Sauter said.
The Soderquists brag about their deli meat department that supplies a dozen local bars for meat raffle fundraisers and used to make sandwiches with leftover meat for the baseball and softball teams playing across the street at Soderville Field. It became well-known for its Great Aunt Minnie’s Swedish sausage.
Albert Soderquist, who along with his brother Iver were the first generation family owners of the grocery store, donated the land on which the baseball fields are still located.
The grocery store used to host Easter egg hunts and a watermelon seed spitting contest, but Mark said these community events went away as people stopped showing up.
As Jodi Hallberg was picking up three dozen cupcakes for her son’s 10th birthday party in the bakery that continues to make its own cookies, donuts and cakes, she pointed to a cow perched above the dairy products and said how her son loved to press the button to make “Clover” talk. The voice of “Clover” was actually Sauter raving about the specials. The cow’s mooing was done by Mark.
Doreen Pelkey has worked at Soderquist’s for 35 years and has heard many stories from loyal customers after they were notified of the store closing. One of her favorites was hearing how appreciative a first-time mother was to have an employee named Ollie volunteer to watch her baby while she did her shopping.
Pelkey has delivered food to the housebound at no charge, helped jump-start customers’ cars or called the police for them when they locked their keys in the car.
They’ve sent out hundreds of sympathy cards if someone is sick, had a death in the family or are going through a tough time, Pelkey said.
“When we had the old store across the street, we used to have a notebook by the register and people would come in and put in one or two dollars when someone died locally,” Lorraine Soderquist said. “And then they wouldn’t have to send a card. We’d have the list and the money would just go in this envelope and go to the family. It was so convenient for them.”
Maria Johnson has been coming to Soderquist’s since moving to Ham Lake about 20 years ago. As she stood near the bakery and deli, she recalled having a heart spasm eight to 10 years ago near the spot she was standing. Luckily for her, Pelkey was close by and caught her before she hit the ground. An ambulance was called and Johnson was OK.
“They’re all like family,” Johnson said.
From general store to grocery store
Locals will know the name Soderville. It was its own community that once had its own zip code, telephone exchange and post office, which was based in the general store and then the grocery store. Soderville was named after the four Soderquist brothers — William, Gunnard, Albert and Iver.
William and Gunnard built Central Garage in 1922. The garage was demolished in 2009 when the Highway 65 and Crosstown Boulevard intersection was reconstructed.
Iver planned to open a grocery store across Central Avenue from the garage after the road was graded and graveled in 1924, but the opening was delayed when a tornado ripped through the building one week before it was to open. With help from Albert, the two Soderquist brothers opened the new Soderquist General Store in 1926.
Shopping for groceries was a whole different experience back then. Customers called in orders to have items delivered to their homes or brought in a list and waited at the counter while the store clerk gathered the products, which went beyond the groceries. Everyone who came in got a bag of candy.
“People would call up and order like a sack of feed, a pair of Lee overalls and some groceries,” Don Soderquist was quoted as saying for an Aug. 18, 1989 article on the Soderville community.
The old general store was demolished in 1959 when Highway 65 was widened and a new building was constructed next to Central Garage. At that time, the family also had got into the appliance and hardware business and there was a discussion on how to divide up ownership.
“Donald asked me, ‘What do you think we should go with the hardware store or grocery store?’” Lorraine Soderquist said. “I said at that time, people always have to eat so we went with the grocery and feed store.”
Iver took on the appliance and hardware business while Albert briefly owned the new grocery store before his son Don and Don’s wife Lorraine bought it in the early 1960s, becoming the second generation family business owners. Their children Mark and Cheryl became the third generation business owners in 1985.
None of these Soderquists were just handed the keys to the store without having to work for it, however.
In his biography, Don reminisced about trips to Lake Netta in the dead of winter to harvest ice chunks with a band saw, powered by an old gasoline engine, and how some local farmers had to make return trips to buy more ice because they had stopped by the Wiggle Inn for a beer after their first trip.
Mark and Cheryl also worked in the store when they were growing up. Mark started when he was 12 years old. They helped out with various tasks from working in produce to being a cashier to weighing rabbit pellets to sorting the tall stack of glass pop bottles and loading 100-pound feed bags into the Quonset hut.
“I remember you had to rattle the door when you opened it so the rats would scatter,” Mark said of going into the Quonset hut.
To compete with the other large grocery chains, Don and Lorraine in 1979 built a new store on the northeast corner of the Highway 65-Crosstown Boulevard intersection and closed its other store. The business went from 10,000 square feet to 18,500 square feet in the process, and it got to its current 30,000 square feet in 1988.
The old building on the northwest corner is still there, but the former grocery store space is vacant and a barber shop is where the appliance and hardware store used to be. The family is marketing the current grocery store building, Sauter said.
“We would have loved for our store to be open a couple hundred years but we must be grateful for the past 87,” Sauter said.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]