RED WING, Minn. – Kevin Florine’s eyes well up when he talks about the shoebox of a grocery store on Buchanan Street where he started stocking shelves for his father more than 60 years ago.
Florine, 68, gave up his plans to be a math teacher, and after a couple of years selling computers for Burroughs Corp. in St. Paul, he went back to work at the store. He and his wife, Ann, bought out his dad in 1992. Ann Florine’s degree in Russian studies and economics from Carleton College led her to a career in international business. But the store has been Kevin Florine’s career and second home.
But it won’t be for much longer.
Last week, Florine put the Buchanan Grocery up for sale, officially listing it with a real estate agent.
Florine says he’d like to spend more time on the nearby, 2-acre spread in the woods that he and his wife own.
“Things I would like to do? Take a few days off and put my feet up,” he said. “I come through that front door seven days a week.”
It won’t be easy to take the Florine family out of Buchanan Grocery.
Their two boys, Nathan, 39, and Ted, 35, grew up like their dad, working at the store. While Nathan moved away to another career in Rosemount, Ted, a ceramicist and graphic artist, has worked at the store for the past dozen years. After watching his dad work seven-day weeks, though, he’s decided to move on.
Kevin Florine’s office, which has just enough room for a small desk and a chair, is lined with photos, posters, children’s drawings and other memorabilia. Behind the meat counter there’s a giant pencil drawing of a cow illustrating the location of several cuts of meat that was drawn by Ted Florine as part of a college art project. The compact kitchen squeezed in behind the fresh vegetables was installed so Kevin Florine’s mother could make her renowned potato salad, which attracts boaters up the bluff from Lake Pepin.
Donna Tabbert Long even featured the potato salad in her book, “Tastes of Minnesota, a Food Lover’s Tour.”
“We probably make about six tons of that a year. That’s what everybody is crying about — ‘Who’s going to make our potato salad?’ ” Florine said.
The store was founded in 1923 by Arthur Johnson and Anton Hultquist. At the time, there were three small groceries within eye-shot of one another. The building on Buchanan Street originally housed the grocery, a 3.2 beer bar and burger joint, and a barber shop.
The original owners sold the store in 1946, and those buyers sold it to Kevin’s parents, Don and Dolores Florine, in 1955. In the early 1960s, Red Wing still had more than 20 independent grocers, Florine said. Now, it’s down to just two.
Florine said his dad initially offered basic groceries like Campbell’s soups and Green Giant vegetables. When Kevin Florine took over, he started buying gourmet and specialty items like top-quality sauces, pastas, different types of flours and a variety of teas.
Florine said those goods, together with the store’s hand-cut meats, down-home deli foods and baked goods from Hanisch Bakery and Coffee Shop in Red Wing and New French Bakery in Minneapolis draw seasonal boaters from the Twin Cities and regular customers from nearby cities and towns like Zumbrota, Cannon Falls, Hastings and Pepin, Wis.
“I love to hear people say this is like a mini-Byerlys,” he said.
What irks him is hearing people say that because the store is smaller, it charges higher prices. Florine insists that while chain grocery stores might offer bargains on certain items, if one were to compare a month’s worth of groceries, “we’re awful darned competitive!”
“We’re not closing because business is bad. We’re closing it because I’m getting old and my son [Ted] doesn’t want it,” Florine said.
He says he got some inquiries from prospective buyers after several local newspapers reported recently that the grocery would be going up for sale. He confesses that he doesn’t know much about selling a business, so he just refers them to his real estate agent.
The store has three full-time and four part-time employees, and it’s likely that some of them would hope to stay on if a buyer can be found.
“Three of my employees have been here 25 years-plus,” Florine said with a broad smile.