Vicki Surges started shopping at Duluth's Pan-O-Gold thrift bread store 20 years ago.
"We had five kids at home and it was just a godsend," said Surges, who lives within walking distance of the store at 43 W. Central Entrance.
To this day, Surges said, she appreciates the variety of quality Country Hearth bread products available at much lower prices than in other stores.
During her visit to the store on Monday, she learned she'll have to start looking elsewhere.
Pan-O-Gold Baking Co. will close its Duluth outlet at the end of the business day Friday, personnel at the store and with the parent company in St. Cloud confirmed.
At the store on Tuesday afternoon, handmade signs, black on yellow, informed customers of the closing. Some shelves were bare, but there was still a robust selection of cookies and various varieties of bread.
Barb Davey, one of two remaining employees at the store, seemed to know each of the several customers who came through in a short period of time.
Among them was Adel Morey, who has been a customer all of the six years he has lived in Duluth, he said.
"What I like about it is my money's not going to Walmart or something like that," Morey said. "I can come and get bread. It's very inexpensive to buy good bread. ... It's very enjoyable to come in here. You get a good laugh."
Indeed, Morey and Davey were laughing like old friends.
Morey likes to stop next door at Old World Meats to buy meat and then at Pan-O-Gold for bread, he said. In his former job at Valley Youth Center he would sometimes pick up larger orders at the store.
Pan-O-Gold has a number of group homes and nursing homes among its customers, Davey said. It also donates bread products to CHUM twice a week. Damaged products are set aside, and farmers purchase them for their animals.
Davey, 74, lives two blocks from the store where she has worked for the past five years. She'll retire after the store closes, she said. A lifelong Duluth resident, Davey said she remembers when the building housed the Bridgeman's ice cream shop.
Although the company didn't provide an official reason for the closing, Davey said they haven't been able to hire anyone. The manager left after finding a job that provided benefits, she said.
"It's been two of us for the past five weeks," she said. "It's not great-paying, but it's money. In my eyes, it's extra money in my pocket."
Pan-O-Gold appears to be the last store of its kind in the Twin Ports. A Master Bread outlet in West Duluth closed a few years ago and now is the site of Tortoise and Hare Footwear. Superior had two Sara Lee outlets, but both have closed.
Surges said the closest thrift bread stores now will be in Brainerd and St. Cloud, the latter being one of three cities where Country Hearth bread is baked.
Although she visited other thrift bread stores at times, Pan-O-Gold was her favorite, Surges said, and not just because she could walk to it.
"They weren't the same," she said of the others. "They did not have the same homey atmosphere that this one did. And the quality of the bread (at Pan-O-Gold) was excellent."
As for prices, she bought the same package of hamburger buns for $1.89 at Pan-O-Gold that would have cost $3.89 at Walmart, Surges said.
Surges doesn't know where she'll buy bread now, she said, but she knows she'll buy less of it.
"We'll be buying a whole lot less bread, obviously, and I can do that," she said.
"One of my favorites is raisin bread, and I just won't buy it. ... Those of us on fixed incomes, which I'm sure a lot of people were, are just not going to do it."
The Country Hearth delivery station attached to the store will continue to operate, Davey said.