Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Canning jars and funeral info at the hardware store July 24, 2011

A sign in the Gambles' hardware store window gives updated visitation and funeral information to the residents of the New Richland area.

SHE PULLED UP ALONGSIDE the curb Sunday afternoon, leaned toward the semi-open window on the passenger side of her van and asked if my husband or I knew why Rodney had died. “He seemed so young,” she said.

“We’re not from here,” I answered. “I have no idea.”

But I had a question for her: “Why is his funeral information in the Gambles’ window?”

She didn’t exactly have a response for me—not one I can publicly share anyway—so I took this as one of those small-town oddities.

Even finding a Gambles hardware store in New Richland, population around 1,200, seemed an oddity. But there it was, sandwiched between New Richland Drug and Blondie’s Grill, along a main drag in this Waseca County community. These hardware stores were common when Randy and I were growing up in the 1960s, but not so much now.

Gambles stores, like this one in New Richland, were once common in Minnesota small towns. From 1925 - 1928, Gamble-Skogmo was headquartered in Fergus Falls and then moved to Minneapolis.

As surprised and delighted as we were to find the Gambles store, we were even more surprised to see that funeral and visitation information posted in the front window next to the canning jars.

But apparently this business place public posting is a usual practice in New Richland since the elderly van driver pulled up in front of Gambles for the sole purpose of checking out the information about Rodney Arnold.

Randy, wanting to know how she defined “seemed so young,” inquired while I snapped photos of that seemingly out-of-place sign in the hardware store window.

“He was maybe in his early 60s,” the woman, probably in her late 70s or early 80s, guessed, then drove off.

For the record, Rodney Arnold was 62. Upon our return home, I went online to Friedrichs Funeral Home and checked. I also learned that this self-employed dry wall installer met his friends every morning for coffee at Dads Good Stuff, just a few doors down from Gambles.

The things you learn if you simply take the time to stop along a small-town Minnesota Main Street…to read the latest funeral information.

The flashy front door of Dads Good Stuff.

Unfortunately, Dads Good Stuff antique, etc., store was closed when we were in New Richland Sunday afternoon.

Just a close-up shot of New Richland's Gambles store, which was closed when we were in town.

READERS: This is the first of many posts I’ll publish this week about a Sunday afternoon drive south to Hope, west to Ellendale and New Richland, north to Otisco and Waseca, and then back home to Faribault, with two country church stops in between.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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6 Responses to “Canning jars and funeral info at the hardware store”

  1. Galen Erdmann Says:

    Audrey really intersting to find this on the internet. The Gambles store is my mother’s store in New Richland. Gambles was in business until about 1974 when it was bought out by Wicks Furniture and actually ceased to exist as a corporation in 1976. Thanks for the work you have down abput the small towns.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Galen, I really appreciate your sharing this information. If the business is not open when I’m in town, then I don’t typically have details, so info like yours is valuable. Since this is not a Gambles store, what is it?

      Does the tradition of posting funeral notices in the front window continue and what can you tell me about the history of that tradition? I’d love to hear more.

      I love photographing and writing about small towns and other discoveries. Thank you for stopping by Minnesota Prairie Roots.

      • Galen Erdmann Says:

        It became a Do It Best Store when Gambles closed out, but my Dad who had worked for Gambles before buying the store wanted to keep the Gambles sign. The tradition of placing the notice in the window started when the local funeral home was sold to a funeral home in Albert Lea. The local funeral home site is only used for wakes and not staffed by anyone. So they call my Mom with the information and she posts it in the window. I want to say it began about 15 years ago maybe twenty.

        The store is operated by my Mom who will be 90 years old on Nov. 2, 2013. The store is open 6 days a week and has been in our family since 1954.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Galen, what a story. Thank you so much for sharing this. It sounds like I need to return when the store is open and chat with your mom.

        An early happy 90th birthday to her!

  2. Linda Besser Says:

    Your website was very interesting specially about Edna’s Gamble store in New Richland, Mn. The funeral notice was my brother’s so I copied it so I have it. Galen Erdmann and I graduated together. Galen gave me the website.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Linda, I know it’s been awhile since you lost your brother, but please accept my sympathies. How sweet of Galen to pass this along to you. I love the tradition of placing these funeral notices in the window of the hardware store.


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