Iron Range town brainstorms after grocery's demiseAt a community meeting, residents were shocked to learn that the town’s only pharmacy will not reopen after last week’s fire.
By: Janna Goerdt, for the News Tribune
A community that was still reeling from the loss of its only grocery store over the weekend learned of one more blow during a community meeting on Monday.
Longtime Babbitt pharmacist Frank Jaeger told hundreds of Babbitt residents he would be retiring after his business, along with community touchstone Zup’s grocery store, burned to the ground early Saturday.
“That did hurt,” said Babbitt Mayor Glenn Anderson. While members of the Zup’s family have said they intend to rebuild Babbitt’s only grocery store, Jaeger, who will turn 78 in October, has decided he cannot.
Jaeger has been a pharmacist at Babbitt Drug for 52 years, said his wife, Lorraine.
“This was not the way he wanted to retire,” Lorraine Jaeger said on Monday.
Frank Jaeger once owned the business with his uncle, and all his children worked at the pharmacy at one time or another, Lorraine said.
Babbitt city officials called a community meeting on Monday to discuss how to move on after the fire, which destroyed two businesses and caused damage to six others. Nearly 400 people attended the meeting, Anderson said. Local officials and state legislators have also been in contact with the city to offer their help, Anderson said.
About a quarter of the town’s population is heavily dependent on having a local grocery store and pharmacy, Anderson said. Local residents are scrambling to find a way to serve that group — whether it’s helping Zup’s set up a mobile grocery store, carving out space in City Hall for a temporary grocery store or encouraging the two local convenience stores to stock fewer cases of soda and more grocery items, Anderson said.
The next-nearest full-sized grocery store is in Ely, a 30-mile round-trip away. While that might not be a problem for younger residents, the town’s elderly population would have trouble making the trip, Anderson said. The local senior citizens group and the Lion’s Club are trying to organize grocery and pharmacy-run ride shares, he said.
“We’ve had an outcry of people saying, ‘If you need groceries, we will run you there,’” Anderson said. He added that Zup’s is also mulling the idea of old-style home grocery delivery.
The fire caused an estimated $1 million damage to the shopping center. No cause has been determined, though state fire marshals were on the scene early Saturday and quickly authorized much of the destroyed buildings to be cleared away, Anderson said. He watched as remains of the grocery store were bulldozed away.
“As we’re standing there, we could see the soup aisle going, and then the meat and cheese aisle,” Anderson said.
During Monday’s community meeting, city residents applauded the efforts of local and area fire responders, city personnel and others who responded to the fire. And then, Anderson said, they gave a standing ovation to someone who has also served their community long and well — their local pharmacist.
“My daughter and I started to cry,” Lorraine Jaeger said. “It was sad.”
She said she and Frank, who declined to be interviewed for this story, haven’t yet decided what their future will hold.
“Our phone has been ringing all day,” Lorraine Jaeger said, both with well-wishers and insurance adjusters. And on Monday morning Frank Jaeger had to adjust to a new reality, one that other Babbitt residents will soon have to do, too. Frank Jaeger opened a bottle of prescription medication, found just one pill, “and he had to drive to Ely to fill it, for the first time,” Lorraine said.