The "Lapp General Store"

by

Janet Clow

 

There stands a large, lonely building on main street ofSt. Vincent, but it is cherished in the memory of those who made a raretrip to town in the horse and rig to choose their first piece of candy fromthe big wooden barrels or the glass showcase which meant happiness and satisfactionfor many young children of the Red River Valley in the early 1900's.

In the northwestern corner of Kittson County, Minnesota,the small town of St. Vincent had increased greatly by the year 1910. St.Vincent is only two miles south of the Canadian border and located on thebanks of the Red River, so it was the center of activity with river transportationnearby. There were only three small stores occupying the "booming town"of St. Vincent at that time. These stores were being overrun by the increasedpopulation of St. Vincent, and the farmers from the surrounding area.

R. H. Lapp, the owner and operator of one of the storesrealized the need for a larger more up-to-date store to accommodate theincreasing population. So, in 1912 Mr. Lapp hired two of the town's carpenters,Ed Cameron and Peter Monroe and their sons to construct a two story buildingwith a full basement. A large cistern was built in the basement to supplywater for the new wood-burning hot water furnace, as well as water for generaluse. Over the winter this furnace burned two carloads of tamarack wood fromPiney, Manitoba. The first floor was built to take care of the groceries,dry goods, hardware, and shoes, which were needed in this prosperous townand farming area. The Post Office was also installed in the store. The secondfloor was built for a dwelling. It consisted of a kitchen, dining room,parlor, den, and six large bedrooms. There wasn't a more spacious or comfortabledwelling place in St. Vincent than the upstairs living quarters of the Lappstore.

The store was kept open from early morning (8 o'clock)until 10 o'clock at night. The two large hot water radiators were so niceto sit on! It was a gathering place for everybody. When the saloons werein their hey-day, groceries were left in the store until the owner was readyto leave for home. Mr. Lapp Jr. (Dick) can remember many Christmas evesthat were spent waiting until wee morning hours. His folks were then tootired to celebrate much Christmas day.

Many customers charged their supplies. The townspeoplepaid their bill whenever they received their pay check which was usuallyonce a month. The farmers paid theirs whenever harvest was over which wasevery fall, so it meant the storekeeper had to carry their accounts fora whole year. A lot of these accounts would run between a thousand and twothousand dollars. This practice led to disaster for Mr. Lapp when cropsfailed and people could not pay their accounts.

The farmers usually went into town once a month to disposeof their surplus butter and eggs and to stock up on supplies. They couldget almost anything they needed at the "Lapp General Store." Asthere was no self-service in those days, Mr. Lapp depended on his wife andchildren to help wait on his customers. It was a lot of work because mostof the groceries came in bulk and had to be scooped or lifted out, weighedand bagged. Mr. Lapp even wrapped the canned goods. If they bought one canof beans, they were not wrapped, but if they bought two they were wrappedtogether. The paper was on a big roll under the counter, and to cut it theypulled it across a metal blade. The string was usually on a scone or a ballhanging above the counter. The farmer's goods were usually packed back intothe wooden box, crate, wash tub or whatever the farmer brought his eggsto town in.

The farmer brought in the butter he had churned from hiscream, and the eggs they didn't need themselves, and got credit towardstheir purchases. Mr. Lapp gave the farmer the same amount of credit forthese products that he charged his customers for them. This is just oneof the many things these storekeepers were expected to do without pay. Thefirst thing the farmer would hand Mr. Lapp would be his kerosene can tofill from a spigot on the front of the drum of kerosene (or coal oil, asit was called in those days). Later a pump was installed and this was lessmessy. He would then have to wash his hands before proceeding to fill thegrocery order. Of course, sugar was usually at the top of the list and thiswas only shipped in 100 pound burlap sacks, lined with white cloth, to besold that way. Brown sugar and powdered sugar were also shipped to Mr. Lappin 100 pound burlap bags, so it had to be scooped out, weighed and baggedin brown bags. Cheese was shipped in, in a round wooden box. The cheesewas about 20" by 5" thick and covered with cheesecloth which waswaxed. This was set on a large wooden "Lazy Susan" with a rigabove it from which a knife was brought down on it, and a wedge was cutoff and weighed. The grocer became quite accurate on the weight of the sliceof cheese he cut. Dill and mixed pickles came in two large wooden 15 or30 gallon barrels and were dished out by a glass ladle with a hole in thebottom for the juice to run back into the barrel. When sold, pickles wereput into heavy paper pint containers. Peanut butter came in 30 pound tinsand was cut out by a wooden knife, and dished up into a heavy paper boattype container. To this day, Dick Lapp hasn't eaten any peanut butter becausehe can t forget the sound of that greasy spatula going through the peanutbutter. Butter was sold from the crocks of butter the farmers brought in.

Most of the cheaper and the hard candy came in large paperboxes and were put in the glass showcase, but the good chocolate candiescame in five pound boxes and were put upon a shelf. It was quite a testfor these busy people whenever anyone ordered ten cents worth of mixed chocolates,as whoever was waiting on them had to bring all ten boxes of candy downand take a piece out of each. Just think..best chocolates you could buy..onlya penny apiece!

The oldest Lapp boy, Richard Jr., or Dicky, as he was called,was expected to take on a lot of responsibility and help fill the ordersand write out the charge slips. He knew almost everybody so he had no troublethat way, but there were three brothers, all young married farmers, whobought at the Lapp store. Dick couldn't tell them apart or at least he didn'tknow whose name was what and since he didn't like to ask them who they were,he devised his own way of charging the right account to the right brother.They all chewed tobacco, but each one chewed a different brand, and wheneverthey came in for supplies, tobacco was usually first on the list. So Dickwould write down the name of the tobacco that they ordered on the top ofthe slip in front of their last name. These were Yankee Girl, Climax, andSpearhead. His father filled in the first name of the brothers from these.

Lots of strange things happened in this store to test outthe ingenuity of the hardworking storekeeper and his family. It really keptthem on their toes to keep ahead of the game without losing any customers.One day a good customer came in with a crock of butter to sell and was givencredit for it, but then she turned right around and ordered a crock of butter!In those days, local news traveled faster than it does nowadays becauseall the phones were on party lines. The farmers all got the latest newsby listening in on their party line. A lady had told a friend over the phonethat she found a mouse in her cream, so she was going to take it into townthe next time she went and sell it, because "What people don't knowwon't hurt them." Of course, this spread like wildfire and the storekeeperhad heard of it and was ready for her. Mr. Lapp just picked up her crockof butter and went down into the basement and lifted her butter out of hercrock and slipped it into another one the same size and sold it back toher without saying a word. I don't think she ever found out that she ateher own butter, but then "What people don't know won't hurt them."

In 1927, R. H. Lapp moved out of the store into the houseon his farm on the edge of town. His son Dick took over the store for twoyears. In 1932, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Ahles bought the "Lapp General Store"and moved into the upstairs living quarters. Mrs. Ahles was then Post Mistressso she ran the post office while her husband and children took care of thestore. In l946, Bill sold the store to his son Allen and wife who livedin the upstairs and ran the store until 1952. He sold out to FredStranger who ran it until 1957 when George Sylvester bought the storebuilding. Mr. and Mrs. George Sylvester ran the store until May 1968 whenGeorge's wife died. George continued to run the store for two more years.He closed shop on April 1, 1970. He continued to live upstairs until, January30, 1971 when he had an auction sale and sold his remaining household furniture.

Very few improvements have been made in the building sinceit was built in 1912. Bill Ahles put in a modern bathroom. He also put acoal stoker in the furnace to convert it from wood to coal, in l935. Thenin 1960, George Sylvester converted it to fuel oil by installing a Lennoxgun into the old furnace. In 1958, while George Sylvester was putting thestorm windows on the upstairs windows, he fell off the ladder and brokehis leg, so he had combination screen and storm windows installed on theupstairs window so they could be changed from the inside.

Robert Rondeau, the present "St. Vincent Postmaster"bought the old "Lapp General Store" in November, 1970, from GeorgeSylvester. He and his wife plan on moving into the upstairs apartment aroundFebruary 1, 1971. They are going to move the Post Office back into the mainfloor where it once was, as soon as they can.

Perhaps this building will again be the center of activityin St. Vincent. If Pembina, North Dakota, (across the river) continues togrow as it has the past five years, maybe the overflow will move into St.Vincent and Mr.. Rondeau will see the need of a store and add to his incomeby stocking the shelves with groceries and opening up a store again.

Bibliography

Ahles, Bill (Mr.) St. Vincent, Minnesota. Interview, January1971.

Lapp, Richard (Mr.) St. Vincent, Minnesota. Interview,January 1971.

Lapp, Lillian Anderson (Mrs.) St. Vincent, Minnesota. Interview,January 1971.

Sylvester, George (Mr.) St. Vincent, Minnesota. Interview,January 1971.

McKay, Helen Lapp (Mrs.) Noyes, Minnesota. Interview, January1971.

 

An enterprising business man Mr. Lapp believed in advertising.This advertisement appeared in the September 2, l914 St. Vincent New Era.

 

R. H. Lapp

Dealer in

Groceries

Dry goods

Hardware

Harness

Boots and Shoes

YOUR TRADE SOLICITED

 

In the August 18, 1916 St. Vincent New Era this one appeared.

 

Granite Ware

We have just received a big shipment of all kinds of cookingutensils. Do you need any?

Take advantage of our bargains in Palmolive Soap. Eightycents worth for only Forty~four cents!

Made to measure suits. Let me take your measure for thatnew suit of clothes.

Fit Guaranteed!

UOTE>

Fit Guaranteed!