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Lester Prairie’s hardware store turns 100
June 9, 2014

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

LESTER PRAIRIE, MN – In the stately brick building on the corner of Central Avenue and Hickory Street in Lester Prairie, traces of the past aren’t hard to find.

A cash register from 1918 stands near the front entrance, and an Underwood typewriter rests by the window.

On the second floor, there’s an 85-year-old oil can, imprinted with the original “Our Own Hardware” logo.

“We kept a little bit of everything,” said Eric Angvall, who owns the hardware store with his wife, Judy.

As the store (now called Angvall Hardware & Mercantile) celebrates its 100th birthday, customers have been reflecting on their shopping memories.

“I used to buy swim trunks here,” Lester Prairie’s Dale Klaustermeier recalled. As a child, his favorite part of the store was the toys in the basement at Christmastime.

Another much-loved Christmas tradition is the 1940s Santa statue, which sits in the front window of the store.

“His eyes, mouth, and hands move,” Angvall said.

Years ago, the Angvalls used to hook up a microphone, and surprise children by calling out their name as they walked by. Youngsters’ names were also written on a long piece of paper that Santa holds in his hand.

“Most kids in town could find their name on Santa’s list,” Angvall said.

Although children were mostly drawn to the toys, the store had plenty for adults to look at, too.

“Back in the ‘20s, this was a huge outfit,” Angvall said, explaining that the hardware store later printed its own catalogs, and delivered to a five-state area.

Some of those catalogs are still at the front counter, complete with black-and-white pictures of the latest “mechanical household burden sharers.”

A catalog from shortly after World War II states, “As this is being written, manufacturers have promised that refrigerators, both electric and gas, freezers for home and farm, ironers, washing machines, dryers, vacuum cleaners, kitchen cabinets, dishwashers and a hundred other time-saving, labor-saving domestic devices will soon be in production . . . Our vast factories which turned out war materials are converting to a peacetime basis.”

Lester Prairie’s 76-foot-by-98-foot hardware store building was able to supply several of these modern conveniences, as well as items for the farming community.

“They made manure carriers,” Lester Prairie resident Larry Hoof said. “They were considered some of the better ones.”

The store also manufactured cow stanchions, sold furniture, and repaired Model As in the basement.

“It was a one-stop shop,” Angvall said.

He added that, years ago, shopping locally was a way to get to know neighbors and connect to the community.

“It wasn’t just to get an item – it was to get an experience,” he said.

The business originally started with Paul G. Weise (1876-1936), who asked for a job at a hardware store in Waconia at age 15.

Weise didn’t speak any English, but was hired when he told the owner (in German), “Listen, I’ll tell you what I’ll do . . . I’ll work here for a month or so for nothing and pay my own board; at the end of that time, if you don’t think I’ll make a hardware man, I’ll get out.” (Lester Prairie Community centennial book 1886-1986).

Weise must have performed well, because he ended up making the hardware business his lifelong career.

The present hardware store building was constructed in 1914, with state-of-the-art features such as a full basement, drainage system, sewer system, private electric light system, steam heating plant, and large freight elevator.

Weise’s sons later operated the business, and son-in-law Fred Baumann became the general manager in 1932.

When Fred passed away in 1980, Les Baumann, his wife, and Baumann’s sister, Carol, with her husband, Bruce Birkholz, inherited the store. Birkholz’s son, Don, operated the business until 1993, when he sold it to Eric and Judy Angvall.

“Five generations ran this store before we bought it,” Angvall said. “We’re only the second family to own it.”

In the past two decades, the Angvalls have made upgrades to the ceiling, furnace, lighting, doors, walls, and windows. Forty-eight solar panels were installed on the roof in 2010, and are expected to generate 95 to 105 percent of the store’s electricity for the next 30 to 40 years.

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