HJ/EDJuly 3, 2006

Store closing; last week was 'full of emotion'

By Lynda Jensen

Eighteen years of ownership ended with the closing of Gerry’s SuperValu grocery store in Howard Lake Saturday.

The reason cited for the store closing was lack of local patronage, which began in 2002 when the Highway 12 construction came through, said owner Gerry Smith.

Leftover stock that is in good condition will be purchased by Marv Marohn of The Marketplace in Cokato, Smith said. “We are grateful for that,” he added.

Smith hopes to sell his business, which will include the equipment, he said.

The building itself, which contains 9,000 square feet, is owned by Mark Custer, and is for sale or lease, Custer said.

“I’m hoping we catn keep it a grocery store,” Custer said. “If it’s not a grocery store, then there won’t be one for many years in Howard Lake,” he added, saying that the kind of equipment and space needed would be too hard to line up in any other location.

As for the Smiths, Gerry will be looking for employment elsewhere while his wife Carol will remain at home. They will be making every effort to stay out of bankruptcy, hopefully by selling the business, he said.

He can’t retire because he sank too much money into the family business, Smith said.

“We’re going to miss everyone,” he said, noting the daily contact of a business. However, the Smiths will remain in their Howard Lake home, as always.

The last week of business was full of emotion. “We had so many hugs, kisses and tears,” Carol said.

Loyal patrons stopped by and visited, and their support was overwhelming, she said.

During this time, Gerry Smith felt that Jeremiah 29:11, which makes a reference to all things being under God’s control, as being especially pertinent scripture, he said.

“I really hope that people learn to support Marv (at the Marketplace) and Pete (Chmielewski from Pete’s Grocery in Waverly).

A long history of grocery

Following last week’s events, this will be the first time in 85 years that there hasn’t been a grocery store in Howard Lake.

Before the Smiths moved to Howard Lake in 1988 from Inver Grove Heights, the Custer family owned the grocery store business for 67 years.

There were three different sites that the grocery store was located at, where the telephone office is now along Eight Avenue, across the street from the telephone office, and its current location, Custer said.

The Custer legacy started when the late James Custer began selling eggs in Howard Lake in 1921, according to the May 23, 1988 issue of the Howard Lake Herald. His late wife Alice also helped with the business.

Their son, John Custer, took over the business from there in 1959, with help from his wife Rachel.

As a lad of 11 or 12, John could remember candling eggs and helping arrange produce, according to the Herald.

In 1976, the building was built which stands today.

Mark Custer managed the store in its later years.

A legacy of support

When the Smiths arrived in Howard Lake 18 years ago, they made it very clear in the Herald news article that being a supporter of the community was a top priority for them.

By many accounts this is true, as Gerry’s SuperValu has contributed toward countless school functions and local events.

Youth activities were never turned away, Gerry Smith said.

He chaired the Good Neighbor Days committee for 12 years, was the president of the business association for 11 years, served eight years on a HLWW school task force, and was a longtime supporter of numerous organizations such as After Prom, FFA, and many other worthy causes.

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