LYON COUNTY GENEALOGY
THE LESTER GENERAL STORE
The last remnants of a landmark in Lester is gone. Once it dominated the Main Street scene but as life styles changed its economic and social importance diminished. It was out of place in an era of easy mobility, fluorescent lights and modern merchandising. The years dried out its wood fame and loosened its stucco face. It sagged and bulged with the ugliness of age. Like a tired old champion, it weakened with each attack of the elements until, at the end, little remained to recall its former glory.
The two-story building on the east lot was the Deno-Dugan store. It was quite an elegant place. In the fashion of the day, the entire front of the first story was windowed. Fancy box-trim accented the huge panes and the double doors of the entry. An open approach hemmed by an ornate rail spanned the front above the windows. A wall of glass windows served to display the storekeepers wares. An outside stairway on the east side of the building led to the living quarters above the store.
The Deno and Dugan families began operating the store and Post Office in the early 1890s. A dim photo of that decade shows the families posed in front of the two buildings. Nearby was a kerosene light, the only one in town.
Wm. Schroeder succeeded the first owners. After several years he sold his stock to P.L. Banwart. Mr. Banwart was a brother-in-law of August Mogler who purchased the east lot in 1910 and west lot of 1916. After World War I the buildings were joined by removing a center wall. The extensive remodeling at this time gave the store a new look which remained unchanged thereafter. The porch was removed and the front was stuccoed. Electric bulbs with white porcelain reflectors were hung from the ceiling. On the west side of the store, dry good merchandise was displayed.
The name Wick and Campbell Store was painted on the window in a wide arc of gold letters and Henry stood with his wife, Lottie. behind the new Sanitary Meat Counter to have his picture taken.
Drawers were labelled according to the contents; beside the flour and white sugar there was brown sugar, powdered sugar, dried beans in several varieties, split peas and other items. These were scooped from the bins into brown paper bags and weighed on the big brass scale that stood on the counter.
The roll of wrapping paper, the cone of string and the assortment of brown bags were convenient to the scale. Most products were sold by weight and only a few were pre-packaged.
There was not a lot of cash business. Eggs, poultry and cream were traded for goods. If the purchase was smaller than the credit due, the customer was given trade coins good for future purchases. Mr. Wick tested the cream and candled the eggs, moving them from the customers crate to the cartons of the produce buyer.
On Saturday the closing time was 11:00 p.m. but the door could not be locked until all the customers who had placed their orders earlier and left them to be picked up had returned. It was usually midnight before the last straggler left his stool in the pool hall and came back for the last brown bag.
The years brought a few changes. The egg candler and cream tester were stored in the back room and ladies shoes were no longer stocked. Counters were rearranged and the ice-cooled meat counter was traded in on a refrigerated model. The faces behind the counter were the same. Mrs. Wick had worked for a few years and then trained the clerks that took her place. Wilma Newberg and Marcella Hansen had worked for former storekeepers Schroeder and Banwart as well. When Henry died in 1937 after a brief illness she kept the store going until Mrs. Wick persuaded her bachelor son, Butch, to give up his garage business in Wilmont, Minnesota and return to Lester to run the store.
After the death of his mother in 1941, Butch purchased the interest of the other heirs. For the next forty years he was the sole proprietor of the Campbell Store. Late in life he married Leota Schwenck, a widow who owned the local telephone office next door. Leota worked in the store with Butch as long as her health permitted.
The demise of the general store was inevitable. There was no need for clerks as the business faded. Wilma was the last to go. It was only a few months before he died on April 14, 1981, that he finally yielded to the pleas of family and friends and moved to a rest home. The last sale had been rung up on the cash register.
Nadene Campbell Pettengill
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