Not many stores count donkeys among their regulars, but it’s all in a day’s work at Fluegel’s Farm, Garden and Pets.
Jody Ludden knew she could count on Fluegel’s when her docile miniature donkey, Taco, needed a new halter. When the first one she tried didn’t fit, horse owner and employee Casey Fluegel suggested ordering one made for a weanling, or very young, horse.
“We get all our stuff here — everything,” said Ludden, who owns a local petting zoo. “If they don’t have it, they’ll get it for you.”
Fluegel’s, a Rosemount institution, has been helping customers pick out everything from animal feed to fertilizer for decades. Though big-box retailers abound in the area, the family-owned, fourth-generation farm store celebrated its 90th anniversary and the grand opening of a new retail store this month with a bevy of community events.
“I think it is a bit of a milestone,” said Greg Fluegel, who works at the store with his dad, siblings, nieces and nephews. “You don’t hear of too many independent, family-run businesses going that far.”
The store, which began as a grain elevator, has flourished by adapting to the times, longtime customers and family members agreed.
The store’s biggest sellers are its custom-mixed bird seed and animal feed, which includes special blends for moose at the Minnesota Zoo and horses at Canterbury Park. Its Rosemount and Hastings stores also sell pets. At the Rosemount location, an enclosed “cat shack” fosters feline friends awaiting adoption.
Along with lawn and garden staples and fun items like fairy gardens, the store now caters both to farmers and to suburban customers, reflecting a changing Rosemount.
“It’s a big connecting point between the urban and the rural,” said Wendy Wustenberg, a hobby farmer and longtime customer. “The truth is, it’s a community.”
‘Not like the big guys’
Leo Fluegel started the family business in 1927 with a grain elevator built by the railroad. The top sellers then were grain for livestock and fuel for farms and homes.
Son Jerry Fluegel took over the business in the 1960s and worked to build the trust of local farmers.
“Farmers I did business with 60 years ago still come in just to talk,” said Fluegel, now 83.
Jerry Fluegel realized over the years that agriculture was changing and he needed to diversify. He began selling snowmobiles in the 1970s when agriculture became economically difficult for many farmers.
But farming didn’t collapse and his store held strong. In the 1980s he added a retail space and a new warehouse.
Jerry Fluegel officially retired in 1999 but still comes in every day. He spends time in his wood shop, building rabbit hutches and chicken coops. “I’d go crazy sitting around,” he said. This way, he added, “I get to see my kids every day.”
That includes sons David and Greg Fluegel and daughter Kim Fluegel Mohrhauser, who runs the retail store. Kim’s son Alex and David’s children Casey and Travis work there, too. “It basically feels like you’re at home and not at work,” Casey Fluegel said.
Greg Fluegel said there are challenges to keeping the place afloat, including competing with online pet retailers and finding quality employees for the mill and elevator. “You gotta be smart and have a strong back,” he said.
He marvels at the way things have changed. For instance, the store sells tons of food to “pigeon people,” he said, who have clubs across the metro. Farmers, he said with a laugh, always tried to get rid of pigeons.
On a recent morning, customers led a donkey and several pet dogs through the store, and the Fluegels greeted everyone by name.
Excitement was building for the 90th anniversary festivities, which included a dog diving competition, a mini-horse kissing booth and hamster races. There are often more than a hundred competitors in the hamster races, which are a regular summer event.
Angela Walker stopped in to buy alfalfa cubes for her guinea pig.
“Their service is phenomenal,” she said. “It’s not like the big guys.”