For more than 80 years, four generations of Hansons have operated the House of Hanson, a cozy corner grocery in Dinkytown, the student enclave near the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. But Monday, owner Laurel Bauer, granddaughter of founder Henry Oscar Hanson, will open its doors for business for the last time.
The building will be demolished, possibly as soon as next week, she said, to make way for a multiuse development with ground-level retail and student apartments above.
“I cried my way to work this morning,” Bauer admitted Sunday, in between ringing up purchases of juice, energy drinks and Oreos to a steady stream of customers, friends and former employees.
Bauer started working at House of Hanson 44 years ago when she was 12 and continued during her student years at the U, buying the store from her father, Bob, in 1997. Bauer’s three siblings also worked at House of Hanson, and so did her own four children, including her youngest, Joel, a 2012 U graduate who was at the store Sunday to help his mom close it down. “This has been my life,” he said.
The Minneapolis City Council approved rezoning to allow a six-story development on the site just Friday. But Bauer has known her store’s days were numbered, ever since the announcement last year that a full-service grocery was coming to Dinkytown in 2014. “With a 20,000-square-foot grocery going in across the street, I knew my end was sooner rather than later,” Bauer said.
Her business had already fallen 50 percent from three years ago, after the arrival of a national chain drugstore a few blocks away, she said. “That’s when the train left the station.” So when developer Opus approached her about selling, she knew it was time. “I have to open a new chapter,” Bauer said. She plans to spend more time with family, do more volunteer work — and celebrate holidays on the actual holiday.
“I’m here every holiday. I give my employees the day off,” she said. “But I stay open for my customers. Some of them are students from other countries, and they don’t know that everything closes down at Christmas. I don’t make a lot, but it’s part of my service to the neighborhood.”
Many of her customers return the loyalty.
“I come in here twice, three times a week,” said Connor Evarts, a U student from Eagan. “I like to support the Dinkytown that’s been here forever. House of Hanson was here when my parents were students, and my grandparents. None of them are happy to see it go, especially my grandfather. I’ll miss it a lot.”
“It makes me sad,” said Monique Thomas of Minneapolis, who stopped by House of Hanson one last time to pick up a bottle of juice while waiting for a table at nearby Al’s Breakfast. “This is a neighborhood staple.”
Mary Focht drove from her home in Brooklyn Park “to say goodbye to the store.” Focht grew up in the neighborhood and attended Marshall University High School, which once stood across the street. “It was part of our lives,” she said. House of Hanson was a soda fountain then, and Focht and her friends used to drop in before and after school, and sometimes during, provided Bauer’s father, Bob wasn’t in sight. “Her dad would know we were cutting school and would make us go back,” Focht said.
She misses the small-town feeling that Dinkytown used to have when its business owners were part of the community, she said. “Now it’s more urban and impersonal. I guess that’s progress, but it’s sad.”
Bauer, however, thinks the new development will help restore some of what the neighborhood has lost. “Dinkytown is not what it was,” she said. “There were gift shops and galleries, so much more variety. This project will help. It will be fun to see what comes in.”