Soderquist’s Market of Ham Lake, which opened as a general store before there was a city of Ham Lake, is shutting down after 87 years. Many have stopped in to say farewell to a community maintstay.
Soderquist’s Market started out in 1926 as a general store in the “middle of nowhere” in Ham Lake, well before the city was incorporated. It sold chicken feed, denim overalls, farm equipment and other goods.
Most items were bought on store credit, and people would “settle up” whenever they could, says a historical account of the store.
Now, 87 years later, it’s closing time at Soderquist’s, the end of an era involving four generations of family, according to Cheryl Sauter, who co-owns the market with her brother, Mark Soderquist.
The precise closing date is unclear — it depends on when inventory is gone — but today, Oct. 30, the store is hosting a get-together from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. It will be a chance to reminisce about a place that has been a mainstay of the community, and to look through old photos and say goodbye to people, said Sauter.
A separate party for past and present employees is also being planned.
The Soderquist family has gotten to know many of their customers, vendors and fellow retailers personally over the years. “We’ve celebrated and grieved with them, with everything they’ve experienced and our family has experienced,” Sauter said.
Many people had their first jobs at Soderquist’s, and some even met their spouse while working there. Now, they’re all grieving the loss of the store, Sauter said. “We’re going to miss them. It’s something we’re all having to go through.”
The store’s sales have declined steadily in recent years while insurance rates and other costs have gone up. “We assumed it was the recession at first,” Sauter said.
However, the trend continued even after the economy improved. Sauter said the store’s financial woes are similar to those of other independent retailers. She said it has to do with “the proliferation of different kinds of stores,” including big-box retailers and other companies that are trying to double as convenience stores. People are also eating out more, she said.
Still, Sauter had hoped the market would last through her retirement. “We almost made it. We’re sad about that, but we’re proud of the run we’ve had,” she said. “The outpouring validates what we were doing all along was the right thing.”
A long history
Iver Soderquist established the original Soderville General Store at Central Avenue and County Road 18. He’d intended to open in 1925, according to a historical account, but that was delayed because of tornado damage.
A relative, Margaret Soderquist, 98, tells the story of how “Iver had gone to Minneapolis to get the first load of inventory” on a stormy day in 1925, Sauter said. He wound up in the ditch, along with all of his goods. The tornado hit the store building, too, she said.
This was a setback, but after Iver brought in his brother Albert as a partner, he was able to make a go of it. As part of their business deal, Albert paid Iver $1,587.50, “which was a lot of money in those days,” said Sauter, who is Albert’s granddaughter. Iver also got to use his brother’s Model T, according to a family history.
It wasn’t long before the junction, the intersection of present-day Hwy. 65 and Crosstown Boulevard NE, became the main drag of the village of Soderville, Sauter said. The old village, which later became part of Ham Lake, was named after Iver and Albert and their brothers, William and Gunnard.
Since then, the store has had several addresses in and around the same location. Sauter’s parents, Donald and Lorraine Soderquist, who took over the business in the 1960s, built the current building in 1979.
Sauter and Mark Soderquist bought the store from them in 1985. At that time, the parents weren’t sure how it would shake out.
“We told them if they didn’t get along, we would take it over and they would lose the money they had paid,” says Lorraine Soderquist, 87.
It all worked out and, she said, “They’ve done a fine job. We were always very proud of them.”
Swedish potato sausage
Although much changed over the years, the store remained well-known for its deli items made from scratch and its hand-cut meats. The store has supplied a dozen bars with meat for raffles, Sauter said.
Right now, the future of Soderquist’s Swedish potato sausage, which the store has sold since 1926, is up in the air, she said. The sausage came from her great-aunt Minnie. It’s a secret family recipe.
Since the store announced its closing in early October, it has made more than 700 pounds of the sausage, more than half of what it sells in a year.
What makes it unique? Fresh potatoes, along with the “perfect blend of beef and pork and of course, the secret recipe of seasonings,” she said.
Sauter hopes to find the right company to continue making it. “We have had preliminary discussions with several suitors in this regard but nothing has been agreed to,” she said, adding, “It is our heritage and we would like for it to be our legacy.”
‘Service down to a T’
Doreen Pelkey started working at the store as a way to get out of the house, she said.
That was 35 years ago. Along the way, she has done all kinds of jobs at the store. One reason she’s stayed on is that she admires the Soderquists. “The entire family has given a lot to the community,” she said.
“I can remember when it would rain, Donald would walk ladies to their cars, with an umbrella,” she said. “He had customer service down to a T.”
At times, employees would do things like jump-starting someone’s car or delivering groceries to customers’ homes, at no extra charge.
The store also has sent hundreds of cards and flowers to people over the years.
Laverne Johnson has shopped at Soderquist’s for decades. When she moved to the area in 1965, “The Soderquists were the first people I met. They went to our church.”
Often, her grocery runs became social outings.
“Lorraine showed me how to face the products on the shelves, joking that if I wasn’t going to be shopping I would have to work,” she said. “It’s such a family. We’re all so close. It makes you feel good to come in. I’m going to miss it very much.”