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Lerberg’s an institution in downtown Ellendale

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

ELLENDALE, Minn. — Lerberg’s Food, Fitness and Tanning has that small-town feel, from the 1913 wood floor to the two-foot-square metal ceiling tiles.

Shoppers are greeted with a friendly "hi" when they come in the door and groceries are carried to the car. Store owner Andy Lerberg helps customers find what they are looking for or visits with them. It’s not unusual to know everyone who comes into the store by name, he said.

Andy and his wife, Mary, took over the business in 1972. He’s the third generation to own the downtown store in the town of about 600.

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"We’ve got most everything like the big stores, just less of it," Andy said.

Mary and Andy say they work well together. The secret is they each has an area of expertise. Mary is in charge of the fitness center and the paperwork.

"I work wherever they need me," Andy said.

He’s the handyman, Mary said.

They also are fortunate to have dependable, capable help, Andy said. They have seven employees.

Lerberg’s offers a full line of groceries, fresh meats and produce, and cards. They offer a dry cleaning service, tanning and a fitness center. The couple also own a car wash and Laundromat across the street from the store.

"In a small town, you kind of find your niche," Andy said.

Lerberg’s offers grocery deliveries on Fridays, a service they’ve provided forever, Mary said. The telephone starts ringing as soon as they open on Friday and Andy delivers the groceries to people in and near town.

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The fitness center replaced the store’s gift shop in 2003. It was Mary’s idea, born of her experience driving out of town to work out. She figured other people were doing the same thing.

The fitness center is open 24 hours a day, and people work out nearly around the clock.

"We’re very pleased with the numbers we have," Mary said. "It’s working out good."

They are fortunate to be located on State Highway 30 and in a community that is growing, Andy said. Three housing developments are in progress and a new senior housing complex is on the edge of town. The new developments are bringing young families to town and Andy hopes to make customers out of them.

"I hope they need us because we sure need them," he said.

Andy grew up working in the store, even coming home on weekends while in college to work. He majored in industrial arts in college and figured he’d go into teaching.

"I guess the call of the store was stronger," Andy said.

Their two daughters worked in the store while they were growing up.

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"We feel it was a really good learning experience for them," Mary said.

But neither daughter wants to become the fourth generation to take over the family business as Andy and Mary think about retirement.

Instead, there’s a young man who’s worked for them for years who may be the next owner of the downtown fixture.

"The store won’t miss a beat," Andy said.

Historic past

Andy’s grandfather, A.M. Lerberg, opened the store on or about April 6, 1901, picking Ellendale because of its location near the railroad.

"We were the first business on Main Street," Lerberg said. Lerberg’s is the oldest retail business in continuous family ownership in Steele County.

Lerberg’s grandfather offered dry goods, groceries, shoes, hats, caps, crockery and furnishing goods, according to an advertisement in the first edition of the Ellendale Eagle in 1901.

A.M. ran the store until his death in 1929. His son, Irwin, took over the business for 11 years, leaving in 1940 for missionary work in China. In June 1940, Andy Lerberg’s parents, Arthur and Marjorie, took over the business. In 1946, they became sole owners of the store.

His parents were progressive managers, Lerberg said. They expanded the store’s grocery area, added frozen food cases and built a 25-foot by 85-foot expansion.

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