Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Honoring the legacy of Burkhartzmeyer Shoes through film October 20, 2017

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes opened in 1949, starting first as a shoe and harness repair shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

ON A STREET CORNER in downtown Faribault, local icon Burkhartzmeyer Shoes still stands strong after nearly 70 years in business. That’s remarkable really considering the many chain and other shoe sources in today’s marketplace.

But the family members running this business through three generations also rate as remarkable, assuring its success. I know first-hand as I’ve shopped for foot wear at Burkhartzmeyer since moving to this community 35 years ago. I brought my kids here, too, leaving with shoes or boots tucked inside boxes tied with cotton string and an added bonus sucker.

 

Boots purchased at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes last year and ready for another Minnesota winter.

 

Burkhartzmeyer owners and employees understand the importance of great customer service—measuring feet, fitting shoes properly and always always treating each consumer with welcoming respect and kindness. Like a friend.

I know these shoe people—second-generation owner Buck; third-generation owners Bruce and Brian; and current and former employees Lanny, Dee, Sharon, Larry and Kaylyn. They greet me by name, ask about my family, form relationships that connect me to them and this place.

 

High school students and filmmakers Logan Ledman, left, and Samuel Temple. Photo courtesy of Samuel Temple.

 

Buck and cousins Bruce and Brian emphasize their warm relationships with customers and more in a recently-released film about the Burkhartzmeyer family legacy produced by area teens Samuel Temple and Logan Ledman. This also remarkable pair craft “1855: A Faribault History Series on FCTV.” Via research and interviews, they present insights into local businesses, people and places that broaden my appreciation for Faribault.

Samuel and Logan nailed it in their Burkhartzmeyer film, taking the viewer through the progression of the family business starting with original owners Ferdie and Martha Burkhartzmeyer to second-generation owners, brothers Al, Putz and Buck, to current owners, Bruce and Brian. While the longevity impresses, the stories impress even more.

 

I pulled this shoe box from my closet with the Burkhartzmeyer Shoes label attached.

 

A common thread of hard work, adaptability and outstanding customer service—the business also offers shoe repair and pedorthics services—weaves through the storyline. But so does the kindness. Brian, son of the only remaining third-generation owner, honors his father, Buck, with these words: “He has the gift of caregiving…and kindness.” Specifically, Brian references his dad’s visits to care center residents, including family matriarch Martha, who died weeks short of 108 years. Buck still makes these daily visits, now to friends.

My family, too, experienced Burkhartzmeyer kindness, in 2004. At the time, Buck’s Faribault High School class awarded a scholarship to a graduating high school senior. When my eldest daughter didn’t receive the scholarship, Buck felt so bad he asked her to stop by the store for a new pair of athletic shoes. He wanted her to have good shoes when she left for college. Buck was there waiting, fitting my daughter’s feet. I’ll always remember that kind and caring gift to my family.

 

Al Burkhartzmeyer, known locally as “Mr. Downtown” for his welcoming spirit in the community (especially downtown), was instrumental in getting this historic 1915 clock restored on the Security State Bank Building. Following Al’s 2012 death, significant memorial monies were directed toward the restoration in a project undertaken by the local Rotary.  A devoted Rotarian, Al was once honored for 50 years of never missing a Rotary meeting. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I expect many others can share similar stories about the Burkhartzmeyers. They are a generous family, rooted in faith and hard work and a strong sense of community. They have swept floors, stocked shelves, put shoes away, measured feet. Through their care and compassion, they have made Faribault a better place and us, their customers, better people.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a similar long-standing business in your community that offers quality products and outstanding customer service?

FYI: Click here to watch the 1855 film on Burkhartzmeyer Shoes.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Labor Day reflections: Jeff’s job isn’t just a job September 7, 2015

Jeff Lerum sands a chair in his shop, where he restores and repairs furniture.

Jeff Lerum sands a chair in his shop, where he restores and repairs furniture.

ON THIS LABOR DAY, a day to rest from our labors, consider the craftsman I met on Thursday in Pine Island, Minnesota. He is Jeff Lerum. And he loves his job. Can you say that about your life’s work?

The shop is located in downtown Pine Island, which is north of Rochester.

The shop is located in downtown Pine Island, which is north of Rochester.

For 25 years, Jeff has operated Green’s Antiques and Green’s Stripping and Refinishing. He calls his businesses a “glorified hobby.” That word choice shows passion. As I spoke with Jeff and meandered through his shop, I understood.

A beautiful handcrafted piece of which Jeff is especially fond because of the unique craftsmanship.

A beautiful handcrafted piece of furniture, unique in craftsmanship.

Some of the furniture in the showroom.

Some of the furniture in the showroom.

The side door into Jeff's workshop.

The side door into Jeff’s workshop.

Furniture, finished and unfinished, fills this place. But it’s not just furniture to Jeff. Some are customers’ family heirlooms. Others are treasures he’s rescued from auctions and elsewhere and restored. He especially likes early 1800s handmade furniture. Cupboards are his specialty. He values good solid wood; you won’t find shabby chic style furniture in his shop. Stripping finishes from wood is the main part of his business.

Everywhere there are works in progress, including these stripped chairs.

Everywhere there are works in progress, including these stripped chairs.

He’s a guy who works seven days a week. If he’s not in his shop, he’s making the evening and weekend auction rounds. “I was a picker before there were pickers,” Jeff says.

I spotted this religious icon among all the furniture.

I spotted this crucifix among all the furniture.

He once hit the jackpot with his picking. Inside a cupboard purchased at an estate auction, he found a hidden safe. And $1,700 inside. Jeff checked with the auctioneer on ownership and was told the money was his to keep. As the father of four, I imagine the unexpected windfall was welcome.

A snippet of family photos and more displayed in Jeff's workroom.

A snippet of family photos and more displayed in Jeff’s workshop.

Family photos, a child’s artwork, handmade cards and more plaster his shop door and a section of wall. That tells me a lot about Jeff and the importance of family to him. His business is a family business of 40 years.

Signage for Jeff's business spotted inside his shop.

Signage for the business inside the shop.

This Baby Boomer appears much younger than his 51 years. And I wonder if that comes from doing what he loves or being his own boss or both. Whatever the reasons, it was a joy to meet someone as genuinely enthusiastic about his labor as Jeff.

Artfully displayed furniture that Jeff has restored.

Artfully displayed furniture that Jeff has restored.

In this photo, you can see the harvest table Jeff built.

In this photo, you can see the harvest table Jeff built.

A beautiful table showcased in the showroom.

A beautiful table showcased in the showroom.

His passion shows. In the front showroom space, where furniture is displayed like artwork in a gallery. In the hefty harvest table Jeff crafted from repurposed posts and lumber. In the way Jeff wraps sandpaper around the leg of a chair and sands the wood.

Even Jeff's business cards are displayed in a way that's simple and unique--in a box on a door.

Even Jeff’s business cards are displayed in a way that’s simple and unique–in a box on a door.

His hands, his face, his personality all convey that contentment that comes from making one’s passion one’s life work.

BONUS PHOTOS:

There are other antiques and collectibles in Jeff's shop besides furniture. I absolutely adore this floral print.

There are other antiques and collectibles in the shop besides furniture. I absolutely adore this floral print.

Love this vintage light, too.

Love this vintage light, too.

This cubby unit was among many many pieces of furniture crammed into a space between the showroom and the workshop.

This cubby unit was among many many pieces of furniture crammed into a space between the showroom and the workshop.

More treasures...

More treasures…

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Hastings: The comfortable familiarity of an old-fashioned grocery store November 1, 2012

Reissner’s Meats & Grocery in historic downtown Hastings, Minnesota.

YOU KNOW HOW SOMETIMES, when you step into a place, you feel like you’ve been there before, but you haven’t.

That would be Reissner’s Meats and Grocery in historic downtown Hastings.

Third-generation owner Dick Reissner.

Entering this narrow two-aisle store with a mustachioed, gray-haired shopkeeper in a butcher’s apron leaning on the front counter, I experienced a sense of familiarity tracing back to my childhood. Reissner’s reminds me of the corner grocery in my hometown of Vesta where I purchased my favorite Tootsie Pop suckers, Bazooka bubble gum and yellow packs of Juicy Fruit gum from the candy counter on many a trip to town with Mom.

Honestly, I cannot remember much else about Rasmussen’s Grocery except the candy and the wood floors and the big old screen door that banged shut behind me.

Aisle one with the candy counter to the left.

Reissner’s in Hastings possesses that same nostalgic feel, even a vintage look in the red-and-white tile floors, the mishmash of merchandise, the hulking and energy-sucking open cooler that holds pop, and the price stickers adhered to canned foods and more.

Dick Reissner reads at the front counter while I explore his store.

Richard (Dick) Otto Reissner was preoccupied with reading when I walked in on a recent Saturday afternoon and didn’t seem to want to be bothered. So I didn’t query him with the list of questions formulating in my mind as I perused the aisles.

Vintage photos which clued me in as to the history of this place.

Therefore I have no stories to share with you about this third-generation family business. Only photos.

The exterior sign, which dates the business to 1902.

I totally forgot to search for the lefse or ask about  Grandma Ruth.

The vintage toys, etc., are not for sale.

An old, old cooler…

How often do you see price stickers on food anymore?

I have no clue, none, why there’s a saddle, right, in the grocery store.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling