Ralph was a pretty good Minneapolis grocer

  • Article by: LIBBY NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 7, 2008 - 11:14 PM

An era ends when Dokken's Superette in south Minneapolis changes hands. Ralph Dokken calls his market "a modern store with old-fashioned service."

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Ralph Dokken and family have run Dokken’s Superette at 28th Avenue and 42nd Street in south Minneapolis for more than four decades. As he neared his retirement day, Dokken, left, talked with regular customer Camilla Wolkerstorfer as she checked out groceries.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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For 42 years at Dokken's Superette, there were a lot of things you couldn't do.

You couldn't get your morning coffee, since 80-year-old owner Ralph Dokken has always opened at 9 a.m.

You couldn't buy a lottery ticket, because they take too long for the people behind you in line. You couldn't pay with debit or credit card, but Dokken could write the purchase on your tab, filing it away under the counter.

This morning is the end of an era: Dokken is handing over the keys to the south Minneapolis store he sold this year.

"We're a modern store with old-fashioned service," Dokken said.

The Roosevelt High yearbooks he kept behind the counter have been packed. Most customers have paid their tabs, though some remain. Regulars have come to say goodbye with cards and a cake.

"He's just amazing -- you'd never believe he's 80," said Marty Demgen, who says he stops by the store nearly every day. "There's other nice people that purvey convenience in the area, but I look at him as a real pioneer. We'll miss him."

Dokken, who served seven years in the Navy and 13 years in the Reserves before working for an airline, bought the store when he was 39.

His six children helped him stock the shelves. His oldest son, Steve, still helps him run it.

"We were practically raised in the store," said Sara Bertges, Dokken's daughter, who said that she and her siblings all worked their way through college there at $2 or $3 per hour.

The south Minneapolis neighborhood has always been good, always working-class, with a small-town feel in the city, said Dokken. He compares it to Andy Griffith's Mayberry.

For the past 42 years, students have walked the two blocks from Roosevelt High School during their lunch hour. Dokken is sure he saw former Gov. Jesse Ventura (James Janos), a 1969 Roosevelt graduate, on the other side of his cash register in the store's early years.

Most of Dokken's business is in the basics: milk, chips, soda, cigarettes, beer. He sold scratch-off lottery tickets for awhile, but "the only people that bought them were the ones that couldn't afford them," he said.

Dokken still measures produce on a Depression-era scale that can price all the way down to a penny a pound, but has evolved more toward convenience store fare.

Dokken has seen "seven or eight" owners come and go at Flag Foods, the convenience store just across 28th Avenue from his. The last change at Dokken's was in 1985, when he remodeled and added freezers.

"After awhile you get really complacent," Dokken said, adding that the new owner will make changes he should have made: opening earlier, adding a coffee bar, taking Visa.

For years, his children wanted him to sell the store, worried about his age, Bertges said. This spring, he was robbed and beaten on St. Patrick's Day.

"I'm 80 years old. I'm tired," Dokken said. But he's not sure what he'll do now: "I have no hobbies."

Today, he's taking a final inventory at 8 a.m., then closing until 10 a.m., when the new owner will take over.

The few tabs stacked on the counter, with "Minute Maid juice" or "bag of ice" handwritten next to prices, will probably just go unpaid.

Dokken's Superette will still be the neighborhood store, but not the same without Dokken, shopper Demgen said.

"I'll still be going there," he said. "But I won't make the point of going there that I always have."

Libby Nelson • 612-673-4758

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  • Dokken restocked his shelves for a final time on Thursday.

  • Some regular customers brought in a cake.

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