Fremont Grocery Store turns 160

FREMONT — The Fremont Store on Saturday celebrated 160 years of offering sugar, flour and other necessities, as well as a big dose of history.

Visitors hang out on the front porch of the Fremont Store before the program in back Saturday afternoon. The store was celebrating it's 160th anniversary .

FREMONT — The Fremont Store on Saturday celebrated 160 years of offering sugar, flour and other necessities, as well as a big dose of history.

The store was built in 1856 south of Lewiston by Luther C. Rice, who named it in honor of John C. Fremont, a Republican candidate for president at the time. Rice sold it after 12 years and there have been several more owners, but all have kept the Fremont Store open, making it Minnesota's oldest continuously-run grocery store.

Martha Johnson, 100, took over the Fremont Store after her son Donnie, who had owned the store, died in 2004.

The Johnson family moved to the Fremont Township in 1949 from Hayfield after Martha's husband Martin became manager at the Fremont Creamery. Growing up in Fremont with his family, Donnie became interested in the store after it was put up for sale in 1978 by former owner Frank Root.

"The store went up for sale and he said, Mom, I think I can run it," Martha said.


Donnie has muscular dystrophy, but he surprised doctors by living a full life before dying at 68. He would sit in a wheelchair to stock shelves, chat with customers and sell the necessities.

Martha now lives in a house near the store and spends her days running the counter, stocking the shelves, and doing everything it takes to keep the store in operation. One store tradition unusual in today's society is the honor system — customers place their money next to the register and make their own change.

The celebration Saturday attracted several generations of people who had grown up visiting the Fremont Store. With music playing, groups of people sat in lawn chairs or on benches and reminisced about the good old days.

Three of these people were Jim Mueller, Kim Wirt, and Leann Jacobson, lifelong friends who had all grown up walking distance from the Fremont Store in the 1960s.

Leann remembers riding her bike to the store and visiting with Frank Root, who ran the store until he was 95. She said that she and her friends traveled to the store almost every day. These kind of memories are common among those who grew up in Fremont, as the store was a central part of the community.

"Fremont is a good place to be a kid," said Mueller. "We had some great adventures here."

One adventure that Mueller, Wirt, and Jacobson remember fondly is when they would return from vocational bible school to find that Martin Johnson had hid their bicycles.

"We'd have to go on a mission to find our bicycles when we got back," said Mueller. "How he found time to do that, I don't know."


Having run the store for about 12 years, Martha said that her favorite part is the people that walk through the historic doors. "It's my therapy," said Martha. "People just don't get together much anymore."

Although there are regulars, many people from around the country and even around the world have stopped into the store to visit with Martha. Visitors have come from as far as Switzerland, Sweden, Australia and Ecuador.

At age 100, Martha said that she has no plans to retire. "I wouldn't know how. What would I do?" she said. "If I was in a nursing home I wouldn't be able to meet all these people."

Memories that make Martha smile include store dances, putting on plays and bringing food to newcomers to the area.

For the event, long-time customers and those from around the area were encouraged to bring pictures of the store, town hall, creamery and school to celebrate the history of the store and the impact it has had on the close-knit Fremont community.

"So many of the families in Fremont are families that have been here for their whole entire life," said Jacobson. "That's what makes this community so unique."

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