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Cherry King

"Cherry King." Prairies 8, no. 3: September 1984, 111-112.

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General stores have played an important role in the development of the Dakotas. And perhaps one of the most famous of all general stores in McIntosh County was the one operated in Lehr by Eugene G. Grenz and his wife Evelyn.

Shelves and floor-space were so packed with merchandise that sometimes it was difficult to turn around. People drove there from great distances to pick up bargains, browse and purchase fresh fruits and fish.

The Grenzes and their salespeople had an energetic, highly persuasive sales delivery. It was hard to resist their enthusiasm.

“Just take a bite of these delicious apples trucked in from Washington this morning!” excitedly elucidated a saleswoman one time.

No where had I ever eaten such a scrumptious apple! The truth!!

Naturally, the outcome of the experiment was that my wife wound up buying a whole box of those delectable apples, and never mind that we already had plenty of fruit in the refrigerator at home.

But that was what shopping at the Grenz General store was often like. For many, it was a very colorful, social experience.

Grenz had his start in business working for his uncle, Pete Wentz, and his father G.G. Grenz, in the Wentz and Grenz Store in Napoleon. They merchandised groceries, meats, fruits, vegetables, and general merchandise, and were also buyers of wool, poultry, and eggs.

In the summer of 1934, Eugene went to merchandising and interior decorating school in St. Louis, Missouri. He was graduated in the summer of 1935, and then attended Bismarck Business College. Wentz & Grenz had a store started in 1934 in Ashley with Emanuel Derheim as owner and manager. The store was in the building that is now the office of Montana-Dakota Utilities.

In the fall of 1936, Derheim decided that business was not for him, and resigned. Eugene was then asked to manage the store.

At that time there were 10 stores in Ashley that were partly or fully grocery stores.

They were Max Kelberg’s, the Sackman Store, Lippert Store, Harry Rosen’s, Andy Meidinger’s, Straule Meat Market, Spitzer’s Store, Wentz & Grenz, Glur Meat Market, and Aurbach’s.

In 1938, this store of Wentz & Grenz was sold to Emanuel W. Schock of Ashley, and Eugene moved to Lehr in August 1938.

At first, he managed the store in Lehr, but then he bought it, operating the business for 42 years at which time he sold it for health reasons.

While in business, Grenz’s promotions were usually in large quantities emphasizing volume. He started with truckloads of cherries direct from the cheery cherry country in Kalispel, Montana.

“The largest amount of cherries sold was in 1972,” said Grenz, “when the Rhodes semi of Jamestown brought in 1,200 20 lb. boxes.”

That was not all. There were another 100 boxes brought in the pickup usually driven by Evelyn, who went out and bought the cherries.

Said Grenz: “With sweat and no sleep for two nights, the cherries were gone in three days!”

No wonder that Retailers Magazine called Eugene the “Cherry Man of North Dakota.”

Another big sales hit was his promotions of fresh fish direct from Canada in January. It also became a high volume item and much-waited-for annual promotion. His fresh-fish promotion was started in the early 1950s, remaining a good volume business special until Eugene sold out in 1978.

One of his busiest fish seasons was when he sold 38,000 lbs. of fresh frozen fish! His advertising slogan was EAT FISH FOR HEALTH.

Christmas-time promotions centered around tons of unbleached walnuts, direct from California, and selling at 25 cents to 50 cents per lb.

And then every fall in the 40's and 50's, Grenz would sell a rail carload of grapes, mostly wine grapes which were shared with the Wentz & Grenz Store at Napoleon.

He also sold carloads each of flour, assorted salts (table and cattle salt), and mixed fruits (usually peaches, pears, and plums).

“Volume was the word,” Grenz said. It was a highly successful formula because people from many miles away in order to save on his carload specials.

In order to drum up even more business, Grenz organized General Merchandise Auction Sales each fall. Those annual promotions took place in the Lehr Legion Hall, next door to his store.

Explained Grenz: “This was an auction-with-action sale that people waited for. It was ‘buy for your price of auction.’”

Besides the bargains, the auctions were downright fun to attend. A person ended up seeing people he hadn’t seen in years.

The auction-sales were always highly successful, and were glowingly written about in various trade publications.

Finally, after 42 years in business, the Grenzes sold the grocery store to Dan and Darlene Adams. The general store is now owned by Sharon and Alvin Rosier. Adams then sold the grocery store to Eugene Glass, which is now is owned by Dixie Niles.

The Grenzes can look back at their business career with an enormous amount of satisfaction. They reached out and touched the lives of many people in the Central Dakota region. In fact, Eugene was listed in the 1984 edition of Who’s Who in North Dakota. That’s quite an accomplishment!

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