Within a short walking distance of Main Street, City Hall and the Anoka County Government Center, newlyweds and recent graduates stand before a row of silos, a grain elevator and a feed store from another era.
The Rum River and a walking trail roll along the property, but the real eye-catcher here is an old sign on the outside wall that proclaims “Today’s Prices” but lists no prices. It does list commodities such as chick scratch, oyster shells and oil meal — although the sign has not been changed in decades, says Kevin Petersen, whose family has owned the Anoka Independent Grain & Feed store since 1947.
Customers and the wedding parties and graduates who pose for pictures don’t seem to care what the sign says or that the silos are empty. The atmosphere surrounding this dazzling rustic throwback in the heart of a suburban county seat is enough to lure the curious.
“We don’t use the silos in the back,” Petersen says. “We used to fill ’em with corn, but now they serve as background for people who want to pose in front of them. If it brings people to the store, we don’t mind.”
The store once catered to folks who wanted to buy feed for hogs, horses and cattle. These days, folks come from as far as Apple Valley to buy feed for birds, dogs, horses and deer. And Petersen occasionally does order monkey food and kangaroo food, presumably for the three customers with pet wallabies.
Feeding a photo appetite
Anoka Independent Grain & Feed as a photographer’s backdrop is a fairly recent phenomenon, Petersen says. Vickie Wendel, program manager of the Anoka County Historical Society, says event photography has taken on more of a journalistic style where everything is becoming more location based.
“A lot of people don’t want the traditional photo of the bride, groom and wedding party standing on the altar,” she said. “For them, the grain store is perfect.”
The store’s story
Fred Petersen, 69, Kevin’s father, finds it amusing that the business his father, Ernest, got rolling just after World War II is now something of a tourist attraction.
Ernest was a butcher, as was his father. In the mid-1940s, Ernest was looking for a job and found one at the feed store — for 50 cents a day, Fred Petersen recalled.
Then, in 1947, Ernie bought the elevator and built the seed mill around it. He added the four silos a few years later and built the office in 1954, Wendel said.
“It’s now one of the last remaining pieces of the agricultural heritage Anoka County used to have,” she said.
As the community changed, so did the grain store. Fred Petersen remembers a time when the store catered to owners of chicken, cattle and hogs. Then the store began developing more turkey feed.
“A lot of farmers in Coon Rapids began working in the Cities but would continue farming on the side,” Fred Petersen said. “Things really changed in this county during the ’50s. There weren’t so many townships anymore. Those farmers in Blaine who used to raise oats in the sandy area got big into vegetables and then sod.
“And then they started selling their farms.”
The feed store changed as well, catering more to pet and horse owners and wildlife enthusiasts. The Petersens, who once had cattle in Champlin and Andover and still own turkey farms, began developing their own feed to satisfy the specific wants of customers.
The store itself bears no resemblance to a big-box chain. The shelves are crowded and stocked with specialty items, local brands and products you’re not likely to find elsewhere. The staff of Petersen and Jay Myers is ready to answer questions — whether about custom feed for horses or for brown leghorns.
Kevin Petersen, the father of three young children, is learning to appreciate anew the attraction of the old place.
“My kids love to come down here and play,” he said. “I think they’re glad we never tarred the parking lot. It just wouldn’t be the same.”