When you talk about Minnesota’s affection for iconic fiberglass roadside attractions, the Beaver House in Grand Marais deserves mention — right alongside North St. Paul’s giant snowman, Rothsay’s prairie chicken and Virginia’s majestic loon.
A photo of the Beaver House, with the giant menacing fish that protrudes from its facade, even welcomes visitors at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, as if to say to the world: Come to Minnesota, experience the whimsy, embrace the absurd.
When longtime owner Bill Cronberg died in 2013, however, the future of the beloved family bait shop was in danger. The shop was part of the estate, and family members decided to put it up for sale to share the proceeds. There was a lot of talk of knocking it down, perhaps for a restaurant. The place stagnated as it waited for a buyer.
And now it has one. On Monday, Cronberg’s son Tyson held an open house to reveal the new Beaver House to the community. After the building sat on the market for three years, Cronberg was able to reach a deal with his siblings to buy the place where he had worked since he was 5 years old. He will hold a grand opening on May 21, accompanied by a fishing competition, to show off the new digs.
“I prayed for three years that it wouldn’t sell,” said Cronberg. “I have been here my whole life and I’m very fortunate things worked out.”
Regular visitors to the Beaver House will find a bait shop with the old favorites — including the legendary Beaver Flicks lures — but with a new look and attitude. Cronberg said members of the community volunteered to help him rehab the shop, knocking down walls to give it what the home television shows like to call “the open concept.” They painted and patched and polished the interior, working to keep a town destination that inevitably winds up in the photo albums of anyone who visits Grand Marais. Cronberg also received a small grant from the Great Place Project, funded by the Minnesota Power Foundation, to freshen up the murals on the side of the building.
“It looks awesome,” said Cronberg. “I couldn’t have done it without great friends. It’s iconic, for sure.”
One of those who volunteered was Sarah Hamilton, owner of the Trail Center Lodge on the Gunflint Trail.
“We did it because we love the Beaver House and we love the Cronberg family, it’s that simple,” said Hamilton. “Small towns have changed, people have changed and a 1950s bait-and-tackle shop just wasn’t going to make it anymore. We tried to make the inside as beautiful as the outside.”
“It’s important because everything old is going away that’s not new and shiny,” Hamilton added. “It’s good to keep the old too.”
Bill Cronberg and Guyal Anderson bought the store in 1964 and ran it for a time as a shoe shop. But the pair found their homemade fishing lures attracted more businesses, so they turned the place into a bait store.
By the time Bill bought out his partner in 1970, Tyson was 5 and already helping out, making lures. By age 9, he was running the cash register and selling big bags of ice to customers.
Tyson’s brother Marty invented the popular Beaver Flick lure, and Tyson Cronberg helped make it famous when he issued a money-back guarantee on the lure. “My dad didn’t think it was a good idea,” said Cronberg, “but it turned out to be a very good idea.”
The new Beaver House has touches of the old, giving it a kind of fishing museum look. Old boat motors became a decorative touch, and old fishing nets hang from the ceiling. Cronberg will offer more brands of fishing lures, a kids’ fishing section and an expansion into camping and outdoor gear for this coming season. He will also sell some local tourist items to attract a broader crowd.
“The effort to keep us operating was just awesome,” said Cronberg. “The whole town, the county is happy. The Beaver House is still here. The world is going to be happy.”
They are all going to be happy, because Minnesota doesn’t need another brasserie.
Minnesota needs a place like the Beaver House, with a toothsome fish busting through the front wall, giving kids a sense of wonder and adults a reminder of who we are.
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin