Wal-Mart of Superior opened its doors Oct. 1, 1991. Twenty of the associates who greeted customers that first day are still working at the business.
They've weathered a megastorm, benzene spill, seven managers and the upheaval of moving to a new superstore. After 25 years, the core group of workers still is going strong.
"I'm sure everybody could agree with me, where has this 25 years gone?" said Laurie Dahl. "It's gone by really fast. We've seen our kids grow up, we've seen grandkids and great-grandkids amongst us; it's kinda cool."
Not only that, said Diane Blaylock, they've seen their customers' children grow along the way.
"And they remind you how old you are," said Betts VanHolbeck.
The Wal-Mart originals gathered last month for a quick picture and a look back.
"We got hired in August," said Colleen Basinski. "We pretty much had to build every one of the floors from the ground up."
"When we walked in they were just putting the carpeting in," VanHolbeck said. "I looked at Marsha (Leaf) and said 'What the heck did we get ourselves into now? Where's the store?'"
They pieced together one store, then a second, as they rolled with the times.
"One thing they told us was be flexible, because Wal-Mart is always change," ValHolbeck said, and that was no fib.
The biggest change took place in 2005, when the Wal-Mart Superstore opened. Constructed while the original store was in operation, the new building is now open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It employs 320 associates and welcomes about 13,000 customers a day.
The Superior Wal-Mart was the first to open in the Twin Ports, and the third in the Northland. It followed Wal-Marts that opened in Grand Rapids in January 1991 and Ashland in July 1991. The Hermantown Wal-Mart opened in February 1992, with the Cloquet location opening in 1993.
Technological advances ranked as the second biggest change the longtime Superior employees have adapted to. When the store opened its doors, everything was manual.
"We didn't have printers to start with," said Valerie Sweeney.
Registers were balanced by hand, and they couldn't go home until every paper void slip had been found and accounted for. Now, everything is computerized.
Other big adjustments have included department and schedule changes as the main customer base has shifted to shopping later in the day.
Less than a month after Wal-Mart opened, the Halloween megastorm hit. The associates who did make it to work were quickly sent home as Wal-Mart, along with hundreds of other area businesses, closed for the blizzard.
Less than a year later, the benzene spill along the Nemadji River caused disruption as thousands of people in the Twin Ports were evacuated. Once again, employees who got to the store were told to go home.
Since Day One, associates said, Wal-Mart has been giving back to the community.
They remembered events and fundraisers that were held in the old building, from Halloween parties for children to dunk tanks, bicycle races and even a country music concert.
Today, the Superior store donates about $15,000 a year in large donations of about $2,000 apiece and another $200 to $400 a month in smaller donations to community groups, according to co-manager Troy Foucault. These include supplying food for spaghetti dinner benefits and dollars for local causes. Through the Volunteerism Always Pays program, if an associate volunteers 25 hours or more per year to a nonprofit, Wal-Mart will match that with a $250 donation - $10 per hour.
In 1991, the store didn't compost or reclaim food. That, too, has changed. In 2015, the Superior store donated 135,000 pounds of food to Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, enough food to provide 107,278 meals.
"It's just amazing how just one store can take this product and give it to somebody that's in need and it can be put to good use instead of throwing it away," Dahl said.
The Wal-Mart originals keep track of where they ranked in the hiring list. Shirley Brown was one of the first three hires. Others called off their numbers - 10, 28, 19, 29.
Some have tried nearly every job in the store; others found their niche early. And when frontage road construction near the store slowed the flow of customers, associates and managers pitched in together to turn it around.
Dahl didn't even know what a Wal-Mart was when she stood in the hiring line along Tower Avenue.
"I knew it was a retail store. I hadn't heard about it; I knew nothing about it," she said. "And I didn't start the job planning on staying here for 25 years, and here we are."
They said they've stayed because the wages and benefits are good. At this stage in their lives, Leaf said, they'd be crazy to leave.
"And we're a close-knit group," Basinski said.
"We're family," said Irene Conklin.