A drive around the Nokomis East neighborhoods one morning with Janet Strom Nelson and her husband, Lee Nelson, could best be described as an affectionate reminiscence through a city retail area long known for its small town appeal. Janet and Lee were raised in the area, she at 53rd and Shoreview Avenue in Keeywaydin and he at 44th and 35th Avenue in Ericsson, and during their youth in the late 1960s they launched into the working world as employees of a number of bygone neighborhood businesses. We gathered so the Nelsons could offer their perspectives about the history of several Nokomis storefront operations.
Janet and Lee, who graduated a year apart from Roosevelt High School, she in 1967 and he in 1968, met while working together at Olson’s Super Valu grocery store (on 34th Avenue in the current location of McDonald’s Liquors). They married in 1972 and owned their first home on 27th Avenue in Keewaydin before heading off with their two young daughters to the Dakota County suburbs years ago. But it’s clear they are both deeply and happily rooted in Nokomis East. Lee’s very first job while yet a “Teddy” at Roosevelt was at Olson’s where he worked in the produce department, stocked shelves, and carried out groceries for customers. “I was paid $1.50 per hour, and I still have my first pay stub,” said Lee. Gregarious by nature with a sunny disposition, Lee loved working at Olson’s and interacting with the customers, many of whom lived nearby and were fiercely loyal to the local grocer. “Claire Olson was the owner of the store which was a Super Valu franchise. I really liked Claire,” Lee continued. “He had a great personality and was always nice to the young kids from the neighborhood who worked for him. The store was busy all the time, on Saturdays especially. Among customers, Olson’s was far more popular than National Tea grocery store (across the street in the current location of Oxendale’s) which was a corporate-owned chain store.” Since then, quite a number of grocers have occupied the space on 34th we now know as Oxendale’s.
Not long after Lee began working at Olson’s, a young cashier caught his eye. A coworker who was a friend said to him, “You know, that’s Janet Strom.” But Lee already knew who her name from Roosevelt. And nearly right away, Lee felt Janet was “the one!” Janet felt a connection too, and thus began their love affair in 1969. Fast-forward to 2021, Janet and Lee have been going strong and married to one another nearly 50 years. Both worked four years for Claire Olson, though Janet’s memories of her time there aren’t quite as fond as Lee’s. “The cashiers worked near the front doors to the building and during winter we were freezing! It was often pretty miserable,” recalls Janet. When Olson’s Super Valu closed, the building was sold to the McDonald family who now run the liquor store. The Nelsons remember the opening of the liquor store having sparked quite a controversy in the neighborhood, notably among some members of nearby churches.
Janet recalls both wanting to have jobs in her youth, and her parents encouraging her to work. Lee said he needed to go to work and was excited about having jobs. Janet’s father, Lester Strom, passed along to his four children (all of whom are now retired) a solid work ethic. Lester, who died at 94 in 2015, was a self-employed custom home-builder whose firm, Strom & Mayville, was well-known for having constructed many single family homes, apartments, and duplexes in the Nokomis East area and throughout south Minneapolis and Edina. Strom & Mayville, active as far back as 1953, was ahead of its time in that it was what would be considered today a home-based business, headquartered for decades in dedicated space inside the Strom family’s personal residence on Shoreview Avenue.
Lester Strom taught his two sons, Jim and Jon, to take very seriously the responsibilities involved in their ‘Minneapolis Star’ (PM) and ‘Minneapolis Tribune’ (AM) newspaper delivery routes in the mid 1960s. Occasionally assisted by their dad, Jim and Jon would rise at 4:30 a.m. to complete their morning routes in the neighborhood. Jon Strom recalls often stopping for breakfast at The Canteen restaurant on Minnehaha Parkway and Hiawatha Avenue once they finished delivering papers. “One of our duties was to collect money for newspapers from our customers,” Jon said. “We were expected to have a precise accounting. And I still remember families on the route who were the best tippers at Christmastime!”
As our drive took us by many of Janet and Lee’s old haunts, the stories flowed about businesses where they were employed at one time or another. Lee particularly enjoyed recalling one of his early jobs at the Minnehaha Falls concession stand where he worked in 1970. “We made great popcorn in an industrial-size hot air popper. We used tons of butter, and of course the employees ate much of the popcorn themselves!”
We toured a few well-known destinations from back in the day: 34th Avenue south of 50th Street certainly, Hiawatha and Minnehaha Avenues between 42nd and Minnehaha Parkway, the area around 45th Street and 34th Avenue, and 28th Avenue south of 50th Street. “Back when, residents in these neighborhoods shopped very close to home. It was a time preceding big box chains and not every household had multiple cars in which to get around,” Lee explained. “So in a sense, 45th and 34th was like an outpost of the busier business area near 50th and 34th.”
On the southeast corner of 45th and 34th once stood Palmer’s Drug, as Janet and Lee remember. “Best penny candy, ice cream, soda fountain, and baseball card store in the area!” said Lee. Next door was a beauty salon and beyond that a bakery. On the northwest side of the same corner was Sufficool’s, a grocery and meat market, popular with nearby homeowners and closed now more than 30 years.
The most vibrant memories from our breeze through the area, as one would imagine, bubbled up along 34th Avenue, south from 50th Street. How many readers recall the following neighborhood institutions: Zipp’s Pharmacy (northwest corner of 34th and 50th in the southernmost half of the current location of Nokomis Shoes – commonly known in days past as Red Wing Shoes), the five and dime in the northernmost half of what is now Nokomis Shoes, the small and cute Leola movie theater (demolished, in the current location of US Bank’s parking lot and office) where one paid 25 cents for a movie and cartoon, an appliance store where the Wells Fargo Bank now stands (the same building housed Olson Super Valu’s original location), Nokomis Florist (in the current location of Nokomis Tattoo) – which furnished flowers for Janet and Lee’s wedding, the Mug & Brush barber shop which was located seemingly forever in the current Nokomis Surplus building (Lee Nelson was a customer of Toby from Mug & Brush for 40 years), Lynn’s Standard service station at the southwest corner of 34th and 50th (“He was a hard worker,” remembers Lee), the Nokomis Inn bar and restaurant (southeast corner of 34th and 50th in the current location of Casa Maria) – so much history at just one intersection! Further south of Nokomis Inn along the east side of 34th was the Scandia Bake Shop, a classic neighborhood bakery for many years, and Skylane Bowl (in the current location of Town Hall Lanes) with its iconic sign that appeared as though it were hanging above “Main Street USA.” Skylane Bowling Center also sold billiards and trophy supplies. The beauty shop on the block was operated by Marilyn, and next door to Marilyn was a watch repair. Lee and Janet personally knew accountant Tom McCabe whose office was above Skylane. And in a very personal way, Lee knew Dr. Jurde – whose office was above Nokomis Inn – as Dr. Jurde delivered Lee!
The adorable, single-level brick building on the northwest corner of 50th Street and 28th Avenue was home for many years to a Baskin-Robbins ice cream franchise (in the current location of Nokomis Beach Coffee). Janet’s youngest sibling, Joan Strom Johnson, worked at Baskin-Robbins for two years between 1976 and 1978 while in high school. “I was paid $1.65 per hour,” recalls Joan, “and that was a step up from the 50 cents per hour I had been making babysitting!” Joan, a self-described numbers person, remembers that in those days single scoop ice cream cones were 28 cents (cake or sugar cones), double scoops were 50 cents, and malts were 85 cents – all including tax. “We had a lot of traffic right off Lake Nokomis. Though we were open year round, it could get pretty dead in winter. I developed a really strong right arm scooping ice cream!” Most favorite flavors included ‘Charlie Brownie,’ though Joan’s personal favorite was ‘Pralines ‘N Cream’ – topped with hot fudge – which she sometimes enjoyed during her breaks. When asked whether there were Baskin-Robbins customers who were known regulars, Joan replied, “Yes – my brother-in-law Lee! He stopped by frequently pushing his daughter, Sally, in a stroller and would buy himself a malt. Lee would often return after hours and mop the floor. I think he might have been looking for a discount.”
Prior to Baskin-Robbins, the same location housed another neighborhood corner drug store owned by Harry Zimmerman. Alongside Baskin-Robbins – at various times – were located a number of shops. One was called New Beginnings (1970s and 1980s) which, as Janet recalls, was known for – among other things – selling Cabbage Patch supplies. The retro toy store Comet came years later and endured into the early 2000s. Kitty-corner, the attractive building that now houses White Crane Design:Build rests on the former site of Dahl’s Grocery (later Dale’s). Further south on the east side of 28th in what is now Farmer's Insurance - Gretchen Frana, was Zinn’s Grocery, a small grocer and meat market. “Zinn’s was best known by the neighborhood kids as a candy store,” said Janet. “Our daughters loved Zinn’s! It was very popular. The candy section at Zinn’s was almost overwhelming.” Janet’s eldest sibling, Jim Strom, remembers Paul’s, yet another small grocer on the west side of 28th Avenue across from Bossen Field.
A little farther afield but still very much within the community were storied businesses near Minnehaha Parkway and Hiawatha Avenue – before Hiawatha was dropped to run underneath the Parkway. Janet’s very first job, for six months when she was 16, was as a car-hop at Paul Pearson’s Counter & Drive In, a restaurant at the northwest corner of the Parkway and Hiawatha, owned by the same family which for years operated the Edina Restaurant at 50th and France. Across the street on the northeast side of the intersection where today stands the brand new Shale Apartments was The Canteen, well-known and popular for years. Further north along Hiawatha was Beeks Pizza, and also Charlie’s A & W – another institution among the young people in the Nokomis area.
Fun fact courtesy of the Nelsons: the actual building that housed Joe and Eddie’s Drive-In, which had been at the northwest corner of 45th and Minnehaha Avenue (where an apartment building now stands) and subsequently became a Chineese restaurant, was later moved to the south side of 50th Street, just west of 34th Avenue, and is now home to Dominguez Family Restaurant.
Just one block east of 50th and 34th, at the site of what today is the Nokomis Square Cooperative, once stood Nokomis Junior High School, which both Janet and Lee attended. Nokomis Junior High closed in 1978. Janet recalls that Lake Nokomis Lutheran Church on 50th Street, the church community her family was part of, was a big booster of Nokomis Square at the time the concept of a senior living community in the neighborhood was conceived.
As we concluded our drive and headed for lunch at Berry Sweet Kitchen, Janet and Lee let me know that the current post office and hardware store go back at least 50 years, and that at the southwest corner of 54th and 34th (where until recently Hiawatha Dry Cleaners had been) was home to Cloggy’s, a popular neighborhood watering hole.
As Janet and Lee Nelson would attest, the quaint and popular Nokomis East business community, certainly rich with history, has been much-loved for generations.
If you or someone you know would like to get involved with NEBA or find out how to help with NEBA’s next project, contact the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEBA board member Bob Albrecht owns Bob Albrecht Real Estate, LLC. He lives and works in the former Strom family home on Shoreview Avenue in Keewaydin.
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