Lenore Olson was facing a summer layoff from her job at the grocery store in Randall back in 1971 when the owner of Bermel’s, the local shoe store, happened to mention they needed more help. Within a week, Olson had the job, and she’s been working at Bermel’s ever since. Her 90th birthday, March 14, falls on a Friday, and she will celebrate at the store. “It’s a day I work,” she said.
Olson’s primary job through the years has been selling the work boots, hiking boots and athletic shoes that are Bermel’s specialty. The store draws customers from the Twin Cities and beyond, with a worldwide mail order business in seconds and factory-refurbished used Red Wing boots.
In addition, Olson is in charge of window displays. The annual Christmas display features a manger scene with real straw covering the floor. One year, she hung historic photos of Randall in the window. Soon, residents were bringing in family treasures to add to the display. At Halloween, she said, the whole store is decorated. “We really go way out. We make it look as fancy as we can. The girls I work with are great girls.” She also rides on the Bermel float in the Randall Fourth of July parade “pretty near every year.”
For the past several years, Olson has also written and recorded the store’s radio commercials, with leads like “Spring is coming. Do you need new running shoes? You want to get in shape, don’t you?” She records the spots at the radio station in Brainerd or Little Falls. One of her few concessions to age, however, is that she no longer drives her 2004 Oldsmobile in towns that size. “I’m an old lady. I stay out of where there’s a lot of traffic. I don’t want to jeopardize anyone else with my reaction time,” she said.
She plans to keep working “as long as they’ll have me. I enjoy the store. They’re so good to me. “
What’s the secret to finding a comfortable shoe?
I have them sit down, take both shoes off. People don’t realize everyone has one foot bigger than the other. Sometimes it doesn’t make a difference. Sometimes it’s a lot. The older you get, the bigger your feet get. You walk on them and squish them out.
What’s your biggest challenge?
Most men will accept what the size on the scale says. Some people want a certain size, and you can’t talk them out of it. You can jimmy back and forth with the width. If they say 10 ½ and you think they need an 11, you get a 10 ½ EE. It will fit bigger than a strict 10 ½.
What kind of shoes do you wear?
I use sneakers because they’re comfortable. The New Balance is what I wear. It seems to do the job. You really walk in the store — you walk the length of it so many times a day. You’re on your feet going 60 all the time. The summer months are the busiest. It’s a lull after Christmas — they’ve spent their money, they have what they need. In spring they think “I’d better get my work shoes.”
What’s the secret of working until age 90?
I think to begin with maybe genes. I guess I’m the type of person that keeps going. I don’t know what the drive is. I enjoy what I’m doing there. The contact with people is my main thing, I think. □