Institutions around Mille Lacs Lake are constantly changing.
The most recent change occurred Jan. 26 when Harry, 74, and Florence Lidstrom left the Malmo Mercantile, Malmo, for good. As owners, anyway.
People around Malmo and the rest of the lake have heard of the Malmo Merchantile and Harry Lindstrom because the store refused to change with the times.
That didn’t hurt the business, and it added a piece of the past for area residents and visitors. People enjoyed the store and the way it was. The new owners, Mary and Ken Huag, have vowed to keep the store as close to Harry’s link with the past as possible.
“People enjoyed the store the way it was. They would see it and tell us it was beautiful. ‘Keep it that way,’ they would say,” Harry said.
The store was old-fashioned. Old equipment, meat cutters and scales, were long forgotten elsewhere, but they could be found being used in Harry and Florence’s store. When people from the area returned for reunions or traveled home to see the folk, they knew that the store was not going to change, a stable institution in a world of superettes and speedy supermarkets. Folks say the atmosphere seemed strange, and they would chuckle about the way things once were, Florence said. “Yah,” Harry said, in his brogue tainted with obvious Swedish heritage, “people looking around would say strange things that may have seemed foolish, but I’ve been here so long it doesn’t seem strange to me.”
“Most would recollect how the store had gotten smaller. It hadn’t. The kids had just grown up, and things didn’t look so big anymore,” Florence said.
Harry and Florence started operating stores, two of them in their life times , in 1947 when Harry “wanted to give up farming” the homestead land in Whitehead Township in Kanabec County. It was then that he purchased the Opstead Store, ran it for 12 years, and then sold it “because someone wanted to buy the property.” Harry and Florence put pre-marriage sales clerk and stock boy experience to work after many years of neglect.
The Lindstroms bought the Malmo Mercantile in 1959 from Fred and Alice Burman. Until Jan. 26, 1980, the store was their domain except for one short trip to California to see their daughter. Some of the other kids rounded up enough money to send their mom and dad on a vacation. That was the only time the store was not open under their watchful eye.
At times the store was to be closed for personal reasons. It happened once a year on Christmas Day for about an hour while the family gathered for a Christmas time meal. Sometimes even that didn’t work, but neither Harry nor Florence regretted leaving a meal to help a neighbor who needed a few supplies. It was part of serving the public, something the Lindstroms never forgot they were there for.
The store was open seven days a week for 20 years, but the time had come. Harry reckoned that it was time to move on. He didn’t want to, but he has a philosophy: “If I was younger, I’d still be here. When you get old, you slow down, and you have to remember that you have to walk away from something before you are carried away.”
Florence and Harry never resented having the store or being open so many hours for so many days for so many years. “I’m not a traveling man. I didn’t want to travel when I had the store, and I don’t want to travel now,” Harry said as he sipped a cup of Florence’s coffee and spooned a dab of sugar between his lips and gum, a little ready sweetener to mix with the coffee.
When Harry and Florence first opened the store, they had seven cabins to rent for fishermen. Over the years, that number was reduced one to six. The roof of one of the cabins gave out. They offered the cabins for rent but had no boat landing. That didn’t seem to discourage any customers. Tackle could be purchased at the store, but live bait had to be found elsewhere.
In all the years of shopkeeping, the Lindstroms had one rather memorable experience about a year ago when two men, armed with guns, held up the store. About $60 was taken, but Harry never knew the exact amount. The money was never returned.
Plans? “I plan to find me a stump somewhere and do nothing special. I might take care of a garden, but I’m no gardener,” Harry concluded.