Living History: Beisswenger’s Hardware is a hub of community, past and present


Vintage photos of the early years in Beisswenger’s history showcase the variety of options available to customers — everything from food to hardware to farm implements.

Proud to be family-owned throughout its history, Beisswenger’s staff is always ready to help.

The second-generation family business places old-fashioned emphasis on service and expertise

 

In a surprisingly crisp photo from 1927, Fred Beisswenger stares out from amidst shelves of coffee, doughnuts and Kraft cheese. 

A calendar from the Minneapolis Paper Company hangs in the background, keeping time. Today, his son, Mark, stands behind the parts counter at Beisswenger’s Hardware, Power Equipment, Garden, keeping his father’s legacy going strong.

What was then Beisswenger & Johnson Grocery has morphed into today’s hardware store, but the emphasis on selection and service remains. This year, the Beisswenger family business celebrates its 100th anniversary, mixing tradition with Mark’s constant flow of new ideas.

For good old-fashioned customer service, Mark relies on his team of dedicated employees. Jim Neumann, a New Brighton native, came in for a job interview in 1975 and hasn’t left since. He’s gone from cutting pipe to being co-owner of the store. 

“I was just a part-time kid, you know. Back then, we weren’t open on Sundays, we were just open on Saturdays. We wrote our time on a piece of paper,” says Jim. “Now, I know so many people that come in, I’ve got to park out front so people know I’m here!”

Jim’s story is the rule, not the exception. Many employees stick around the store for decades. Oftentimes, old-timers retire and then come back to work part-time, or just show up to shoot the breeze with friends. 

“We’re like a bar!” jokes Mark’s wife, Gail Beisswenger. “They pull up a stool, or go over there and hang out and have a cup of coffee.”

Employees can also be seen having long, in-depth conversations with customers on everything from niche products to repairs. Beisswenger’s goal is always to fix something before having a customer replace it. When replacement is necessary, the store’s slogan is: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”

At the helm of such a historic business, Mark likes to keep things interesting; the store boasts a selection of over 2,000 birdhouses and feeders, as well as a small section dedicated to fairy garden supplies.

“He’s like a little kid,” says Gail. “Can you imagine, a guy who’s almost 70 and he’s setting up these little cutesy fairy gardens?”

Mark gets his good humor, and his risk-taking, from his father. When Maytag washing machines first came on the scene, Fred invested his entire savings in the purchase of a truckload of the flashy, new appliances.

Initially, he was planning to give one to his mother. However, before he could get them into his store, a bidding war started all around his truck; Fred sold the whole lot minutes after picking them up. Not to worry — his mother got her Maytag soon after. 

It’s common to hear anecdotes like that thrown around the store; customers and employees love to linger and reminisce about their history. 

As guests wander the aisles, looking for new project ideas or that one bolt they haven’t been able to find anywhere else, they’re taking part in a living piece of New Brighton’s history, and keeping its lasting small-town atmosphere alive for another century. 

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