Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What would you do with this old bakery in Lamberton? May 31, 2012

The former Sanger’s Bakery in Lamberton, a Minnesota farming community. I’d move the garbage bin in front of the building, replace it with a bench and add pots of vivid flowers.

I’VE PHOTOGRAPHED many an old building in a lot of small towns. My appreciation for history and architecture and for rural life keep drawing me back to Main Street.

One building in particular intrigues me. The former Sanger’s Bakery, a brick stronghold anchoring a corner in downtown Lamberton in southern Redwood County, possesses a sweet, timeless charm that causes it to stand out.

How long has this signage been painted on the front window of Sanger’s?

It’s not necessarily the exterior that catches my eye, although certainly the signage and sweeping arched front window and the fancy details in the brick appeal to me. Rather, it’s the interior which truly captures my interest.

The two times I’ve photographed the exterior, I’ve also paused to press my nose against the windows and peer inside to a snapshot of the past. You would swear the hands on the vintage 7-UP clock have not moved in decades. An old-fashioned candy counter and vintage lunch counter rimmed with stools look like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

A vintage sign suspended from the front of the bakery.

Honestly, you just don’t find places like this anymore. Martin Kuhar opened the bakery in 1928. The Sanger family purchased it in 1946 and eventually Bob, the youngest of Nick and Mary’s six children, bought the business in 1961. He was a 1955 graduate of the baking program at Dunwoody Institute.

All of this I learned on a recent stop at the bakery, where I found Bob’s obituary taped to the front door. He died March 30.

Just days before his death, this long-time baker was serving coffee to his friends. Oh, how I wish I could have been in that coffee klatch, listening to the stories.

I bet Bob would have shared plenty about the place where he served up baked goods, hand-scooped ice cream cones, malts and candy. He baked buns for local schools and churches and crafted wedding cakes. He also sold fresh eggs from his chickens and honey from his bees. He tended a garden.

After reading Bob’s obit, I desired even more to get into the bakery. I jiggled the front door knob, hoping the door might be unlocked. It wasn’t. I’m determined, on my next trip to Lamberton, to get inside the bakery, to share with you this treasure from the past.

In the meantime, owners of this building and Lamberton area residents, I hope you appreciate what you have here. I could easily see this former bakery reopened as an ice cream/sandwich/pie/coffee/gift shop. The location along U.S. Highway 14 only 10 miles from Walnut Grove, childhood home of author Laura Ingalls Wilder, is ideal. The area already draws plenty of tourists during the summer months.

The right owner, with the right ideas, a good business and marketing plan, and adept at using social media could turn this old bakery into a destination.

I can envision the possibilities.

Readers, what do you think? If anyone out there knows anything about plans for the old bakery, submit a comment. Or, if you simply have ideas, I’d like to hear those, too.

A side shot of the former bakery. Just imagine the possibilities for this spacious building. Let’s hear your ideas.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “What would you do with this old bakery in Lamberton?”

  1. Lisa Says:

    Please don’t let anyone paint the brick! (And blast off the white paint on the left side of the building.) You’re right; move that trash can in the front and put out a small table or two, plus some potted plants. I love old brick buildings. Thank you for sharing these photographs. I hope that you are eventually able to get inside and share some pictures of that too.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Excellent observation and point with that brick. I, too, dislike painted brick. Why would you paint brick? I’ll have to see if I can connect w/ someone to get inside the former bakery the next time I’m in Lamberton.

  2. Allan Landman Says:

    Thank you Audrey for sharing yet another “building mark” in the book of Time. Too many of yesterdays gems are sitting empty, waiting for a new owner to start the next chapter of “Lamberton”, a novel. Banks and other financial institutions could help this next chapter very easily! To protect the other business people and residents from a decaying business climate, the institutions could buy and rehab them using local carpenters and trades people to bring back the buildings charm. This would boost the economy for local businesses, and keep the charm of these wonderful towns!!! Banks too often think of themselves and profits, not what local people have done to make them strong in the financial world. I am not saying that banks should do this for “Certain” people, but for all people in their area. Small town Minnesota is an important asset, that should not be ignored. When the banks complete the rehab on these treasures, they could find the buyer a lot easier than the average investor. Not only would they be putting the peoples money back into the community, but they would be saving Minnesota towns from being “erased” from the book of Time. Wishful thinking? Sure, as most Banks only think of themselves for profits and really do not care if their communities disappear! Without these buildings, tax base will go down, Public Schools will suffer, and eventually close. Then the people will go to the jobs elsewhere, the Banks will be sitting alone on the Main Street wondering where their customers went! In times like we are experiencing now, Banks will have to step up to the plate and do their best to keep these wonderful towns together. As for the Bakery in Lamberton, this would be a starter for a Bank to “adopt” this orphan, and show Lamberton that Banks do care about the community, and not just the money they can make from the community. To many, I must sound like a nut, but really I am all for small towns and their wonderful residents. Southern Minnesota is a very unique place, with its loyal, hard working people, who built the towns with sweat and pride. Now it is up to the Banks to reinsure the great people of So Mn, that they are in it for the long haul. God Bless So Mn, God bless America!!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for all the thought you put into your comment, Allan. I agree wholeheartedly that we need to work together to “keep the charm of these wonderful towns.” I would like to think that most small town banks are already “invested” in their communities. But perhaps that “investment” can be taken a step further in the ways that you suggest. You offer much to contemplate.

  3. Jackie Says:

    I share your enthusiasm for old vintage looking buildings. Did you happen to notice in the obituary if Bob had any children? I just wonder who owns the building now??? Hope someone pick up where Bob left off !

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Those are all good questions, Jackie. I can answer one. No, Bob apparently never married and has no children.

  4. Sartenada Says:

    I love history and old buildings are full of it. Someday, some of them might disappear, but I hope that it never happens.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Fortunately, as a whole, I think our society appreciates old buildings more than we once did. The older I get, the more I appreciate history, too.

  5. Sara Dammann Kimm Says:

    Hi, Audrey,
    I’ve visited your blog quite a few times since I heard about it from Bob Collins. I really enjoy it – probably because I, too, am from a small town in southern Minnesota. Want to guess which one? Yep, Lamberton!

    I was with my 4 older sisters when we found out Bob Sanger passed away. For a day or so after he passed, Lamberton folks were hoping it was only a rumor. Sadly it wasn’t. On hearing the news, my two oldest sisters both said “Let’s open up a coffee shop there!” Unfortunately they are both teachers living in the Cities and in reality probably could not get their husbands to move to Lamberton. It would be great if they would, though!

    There already is an antique store in Lamberton (you know – the former Kletscher’s Furniture 🙂 Are you related? ) so the bakery probably won’t turn into one of these. I do hope someone buys it and does not tear it town. I have so many wonderful memories of buying penny candy there and Bob or his sister, Milicent, putting it in little brown paper bags. I was glad to see the bag of dog food which was in the window for decades is finally gone!

    I was home visiting my folks over Memorial Day and asked my mom if she knew of any plans for the building. She didn’t. I haven’t seen anything in the Lamberton News, either. If I hear anything, I’ll let you know.

    In closing, I also enjoy your blog because Faribault is one of my favorite MN towns. I have an elderly aunt and cousins who live there and I enjoy visiting them and the city!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sara, and learn that you are also a southwestern Minnesota prairie native.

      Let’s see…where do I start with Lamberton… Yes, the Kletschers who ran the furniture store are my aunt and uncle, Merlin and Iylene. They now live in Belview and I just saw them this past Saturday when they came for my son’s graduation party.

      I’ve been in the antique store in Lamberton several times. Wonderful, wonderful store with an abundance of merchandise.

      That former bakery has so much potential. If you learn anything about its future, I certainly would appreciate hearing. Do you know who owns the building? I assume it’s probably in estate right now.

      Thanks for the stories you shared about Sanger’s, especially the penny candy in the brown paper bag bit. And I love that name, Millicent.

      Thank you, also, for reading Minnesota Prairie Roots. Bob Collins over at Minnesota Public Radio has sent quite a number of readers my way and I’m so grateful for his enthusiastic support.

      Faribault, ah, yes, Faribault. I’ve grown to love this community and its historic beauty. Next time you’re in town, I’d recommend dining at Augusto’s, an Italian restaurant along Central Avenue. Fantastic food.

  6. Barb Says:

    After 67 years, the Sanger Family has just sold the bakery to an enthusiastic young couple who plan to repair the building so it will last into the future, keeping it’s original look. They are aiming to open next summer with coffee, malts, and more. I believe the candy counter is staying in some capacity. We are glad they appreciate the history of a place that has been so much a part of our family’s memories and part of the community as a bakery since 1928. “Sanger’s Bakery” was painted in the late 40’s by a traveling sign painter. (And obviously touched up more recently.)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Barb, I was just contacted yesterday by the couple who bought the bakery and am thrilled to hear of their plans for the building. I will be interviewing the couple and posting about their business plans soon, including publishing historic photos of the building. Thank you so much for your comment. You may just be hearing from me for additional comments on the project. So watch your email.

  7. Lois Hansen Says:

    They should be opening soon, aren’t they?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I would think so. I emailed David last week, but have not gotten a response. I hope to get an update this weekend.

  8. Lois Hansen Says:

    Sad news … the bakery is for sale again. The people who were going to turn it into a coffee shop ran into too many rules and regs and couldn’t afford to do it.

  9. Donald Krein Says:

    It looks like a nice building I would like to reopen as the towns bakery.

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