Closing regional chain began in small Minnesota downtown in 1889

The Herberger’s store in Osakis was the start of the franchise retail store. This photo shows some of the display methods used by the Herberger boys when they first opened their doors to business. Photo courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society

Herberger brothers George and Frank were only 19 and 21 years old respectively when they purchased the old Fry Store in Osakis, Minnesota, during the summer of 1889. Before the announcement of the closing of all their locations earlier this year,  Herberger’s had 41 stores in nine states.

George and Frank were home-grown Osakis boys who, by 1896, had expanded their store space and doubled their stock in seven short years. Stock included men’s suits from $3-8 and gingham fabric for 5 cents a yard. They sold salt for $1 a barrel and 10 bars of Lenox soap for 25 cents. The brothers even had farm implements at one time, as well as dealing in horses and cattle.

Frank sold his interest in the store to George in 1901, who  expanded his business by opening stores in Sauk Centre and Nelson and as far as Waseca and Ripon, Wisconsin. By 1911 the store in Osakis passed a historic milestone when it was incorporated as the Herberger-Cruse Company, with a capital stock of $25,000. George served as president and fellow businessman Edward Cruse as secretary and treasurer.

Alexandria’s Herberger’s history began in 1914 when George formed a new partnership with a businessman by the name of  J.H. Wettleson. With that partnership came a few name changes. Known as Herberger-Wettleson, the business was first located on the southwest corner of Broadway and Sixth Avenue in Alexandria. Eventually, the Herberger’s store location landed at 522 Broadway on the north side of Sixth Avenue, where on the second floor was Brown’s Opera House, the cultural center of the community. When the second floor became available, the store expanded up, and down, taking advantage of the basement, opening a downstairs budget area. This aspect of marketing became a Herberger’s tradition, even attracting national attention as early as 1930.

George, with vision and insight to the changing needs of a mobile society, trained his children at an early age in the Osakis store. Son Harold moved to Grand Forks, N.D., and another son, Robert (Bob) to St. Cloud. Daughter Ruth and her husband, H.B. Wussow, managed the Alexandria store. By 1943 the foresight and vision of the next Herberger’s generation brought the business to a new level when Bob founded G.R. Herberger Incorporated, for the purpose of acquiring additional stores throughout the region. We could say the rest is history.

The first Herberger’s store was located in downtown Osakis. Photo compliments of the Douglas County Historical Society

The Herberger’s store in Osakis closed its doors when the elder George died in 1956. The Herberger Company of Alexandria became a part of the larger corporation in 1963 when Ruth’s husband, Mr. Wussow, retired, and the new store in Alexandria began a remodel in order to keep pace with modern times.

In 1971, when the First National Bank vacated 601 Broadway, Herberger’s expanded to occupy the bank building. By 1972 the company had grown to 11 stores in four states, with its headquarters still in downtown St. Cloud. One of the oustanding pieces of history to the Herberger’s story occurred in 1972 when G. R. Herberger’s, Inc. corporate stock was acquired by key employees. With that change there were no outside stockholders, and consequently, the employees were working for themselves. Meanwhile, the Viking Plaza construction was underway. Herberger’s had a grand opening in the new plaza location in 1977, providing 45,000 square feet of merchandising space.