December 5, 2001
GLADER’S ENDURES AS ONE OF THE CITY’S LAST SMALL GROCERIES
By Baird Helgeson, Duluth News Tribune
Wendy Glader can’t imagine life without her tiny West Duluth grocery store.
Glader’s Grocery has been in her family for 30 years, since she was 11 years old.
The tiny three-aisled grocery store, at 5912 Raleigh St., sits between Grand Avenue and the St. Louis Bay, barely visible to passing traffic.
“I grew up here,” she said. “I can’t remember a holiday or a birthday that wasn’t spent here.”
Glader’s is a well-scrubbed but aging nook in a largely residential neighborhood.
The aisles are filled with bread, soup and Hamburger Helper. Coolers are stocked with frozen pizzas, TV dinners and Popsicles. The shelves behind the counter have a few batteries, aspirin and ponytail scrunchies.
She keeps a list of customers who have bounced checks in plain view as an embarrassing deterrent to those thin on cash but full of checks. “You start getting a lot of bad checks around Christmas time,” she said.
A picture of Jesus Christ hangs on the wall, not because of any particularly strong devotion, but because that’s where it has hung for 80 years, since the building was a butcher shop.
“We haven’t touched the picture since we owned it; but I probably should dust it,” she said with a laugh.
Wendy Glader takes a peek out of the store to see where a firetruck turned after it rumbled down the street. (Justin Hayworth / News Tribune)
During quiet times, Glader straightens inventory and listens to the police scanner behind the counter. She turns it on when she hears sirens.
Her 17-year-old terrier-Pomeranian mix, Kenya, ambles around the store, sniffing and tail-wagging the day away.
“There used to be lots and lots of these little grocery stores,” said Deede Westermann, executive director of the Spirit Valley Citizens Neighborhood Development Association. “But slowly they have nearly all gone away.”
The reasons are varied, she said. Some owners get old, retire and shut the stores down. In other cases, shoppers opt for the amenity-filled mall areas and larger grocers.
Neighborhood grocery stores used to be more than just corner stores. They were community gathering places, said Joe Perfetti, head of the Harrison Community Club. It’s where families gathered after Sunday church for coffee and rolls. It’s where old-time wheeling and dealing was perfected and laughter filled the aisles, he said. “But that’s all changed, now.”
Perhaps for good.
“People have to recognize the value of the small stores before they are all gone,” Westermann said. “In the case of neighborhood grocery stores, I don’t think that will happen.”
Glader’s is the kind of place where Wendy is on a first-name basis with customers.
“Hi, Inga,” she said as the shy, willowy teen-ager came in. “What are you looking for?”
“Chocolate milk,” she said.
“Sorry, we’re out,” Glader said. “But we have that hot chocolate you like.”
The neighborhood grocery store probably wouldn’t be here today except for Glader’s quiet devotion. Mega-grocers moved into Duluth over the years and small, private neighborhood grocers have vanished by the dozens. Park Point’s Bay Side Market on Minnesota Avenue, the Fourth Street Market in Central Hillside and Romano’s Grocery downtown are among the last small groceries in Duluth.
But none is quite like Glader’s.
She is the only full-time employee and works seven days a week, with some fill-in help from her boyfriend. She hasn’t had a day off since July 4 this year, when she took her three children to Brainerd to see the Paul Bunyan statue. She can’t remember the last day off before that.
“Sometimes I don’t think I make any money,” she said. “But I pay all my bills and my kids are well dressed, so I really can’t complain.”
The store makes $400 on good days; top sellers are cigarettes and soft drinks. But Glader has given up on fresh meats and an extensive variety of vegetables and fruits. It’s tough to compete with the large grocery chains’ low prices, she said.
“I can’t blame customers for going there,” said Glader, who shops at the nearby SuperValu for fresh meats and other needs.
“Basically, they come here when they need an item or two. And I’m OK with that.”
Glader’s offers one feature people won’t find at big-name grocers — a line of credit. She has about 30 customers who charge items onto an account and pay them off every month or two weeks.
A sign, next to the picture of Christ, says: “Your payday is my payday.”
Glader’s parents, Cliff and Jessie, bought the store 30 years ago for about $8,000 after diabetes forced Cliff out of his job as a Proctor bus driver. Jessie, a housekeeper at a nursing home, knew he couldn’t do it alone. She quit her job and they embarked on their retail adventure.
Glader bought out her brother and sister nearly seven years ago for $45,000 after her mother died and left it to the children. The other children didn’t want to run the store. But Glader couldn’t let the store, or the memories, go.
“That’s really why I still do it,” she said. “I don’t want to let it go. But with this economy, I can’t really see doing it forever.”
Glader has considered starting a child care in her Proctor home. The hours are better and she’d get to spend more time with her kids. But the ties to the store are strong.
Glader keeps going, seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends.
“A lot of people think I live here,” Glader said. “But I have a house and a family. I’m not as into it as my dad and mom were. But I’m still here, still filling the shelves, still opening every day.”
Wendy Glader rips into a box from an early afternoon delivery so she can start stocking shelves. Her shelves may not always be full, like the larger store chains, but she tries to keep a good variety of daily necessities stocked. (Justin Hayworth / News Tribune)
Wendy Glader gives directions to one a delivery driver trying to find his way back to the Interstate 35 after he completed his delivery to the tiny West Duluth grocery store. (Justin Hayworth / News Tribune)
I can’t find any more references to the store in our archives, and – correct me if I’m wrong – the store is no longer there. So, can anyone provide more information about when it closed? If so, please go to the News Tribune Attic and post a comment.