Bernard Gunderson, a pioneering and passionate businessman whose Mr. G's stores provided Twin Cities women with stylish choices, died of a heart attack Dec. 28. He was 87.
Gunderson had been a lifelong Minnesotan before moving near his son's family in California during the last few years of his life, when he suffered from Alzheimer's disease.
The great-grandson of a Norwegian homesteader, he grew up in south Minneapolis and graduated from Washburn High School. During World War II, he served in France, Germany and Belgium.
After the war, he worked as a buyer at several Twin Cities department stores, eventually becoming manager of the former Powers store in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood before founding five stores that specialized in stylish clothes for women.
"He filled an important niche for young women," said Felix Phillips, a lifelong friend who had played tennis weekly with Gunderson, a Minnesota Tennis Hall of Famer, since meeting him at a match when Phillips was just 14.
Gunderson's retail career dovetailed with the construction of the first indoor mall in the nation -- Southdale, where he opened his first Mr. G's store. Then came four more, including two along Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. The first was in the Crystal Court at the base of the IDS Tower, where his storefront served as the backdrop for the now-famous video of Mary Tyler Moore riding the escalator in the Crystal Court during opening scenes of her popular TV show. That store later moved down the street to City Center.
By the late 1980s, the retail scene began to change. Chains started moving into the malls, creating formidable competition for once-thriving independent retailers like Mr. G's.
Still, "he had a very good run," said his son Brian, of Alexandria, Va.
Meanwhile, Bernard's wife, Mercedes, who had helped her elderly mother downsize, was inspired to start a business doing the same for others. She and Bernard called it Gentle Transitions, one of the nation's first such enterprises.
"It was an idea they created together out of thin air from a family experience," said his son Greg, of Manhattan Beach, Calif.
The Gundersons ran the company together until Mercedes died in 2001. Bernard later sold that store and the idea blossomed with other entrepreneurs around the country, including California, where Greg Gunderson started a similar business.
While Bernard Gunderson was known as an astute businessman with a knack for good timing, Phillips said that above all, he lived a quiet, principled life.
"He was a quiet guy, not a guy who would dominate a room or a conversation," Phillips said. "He took his religion and his relationships with people very seriously."
In addition to his sons, he is survived by five grandchildren.
Services will be at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Grace Church, 5071 Eden Av., Edina. Visitation will be held one hour before services.
Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376