Red’s IGA owner, Pat ‘Red’ Longmire, right, with store manager, Donna Myhre, are proud of their customer-oriented store. ‘We try to provide what the customer in the area wants,’ Longmire remarked.SGH/Moorhead
Red’s IGA owner, Pat ‘Red’ Longmire, right, with store manager, Donna Myhre, are proud of their customer-oriented store. ‘We try to provide what the customer in the area wants,’ Longmire remarked.

Back in 1989, Pat "Red" and Deb Longmire came to Spring Grove, drawn by the lure of a grocery store for sale.

"I had (owned) a small store for 10 years east of La Crosse (Wis.)," Red said recently. Putting away a putty knife with which he was patching a wall, the owner of the store washed up and sat down in the break room.

"I started in the business in 1979, and I grew up in the grocery business before that," he said with a smile. "My parents had stores."

Longmire and store manager, Donna Myhre, spoke from the bright and roomy confines of Red's Hometown Market on the east end of Spring Grove's Main Street.

"We opened this store in April of 2000," he said. At 15,000 square feet, the "new" store is twice as large as the original IGA store he bought in the middle of town.

Honored as the "2013 Syttendi Mai souvenir" business, Red's is a lynchpin of the surrounding community.

Myhre has been working at the business even longer than Red. She began at Skifton's Market in 1973 and then went to work at Benson's IGA, which was located near the present site of Spring Grove Communications. That was the business that Pat and Deb originally purchased.

How do you feel about being named as the 2013 Syttendi Mai souvenir business?

"I thought it was pretty nice," Longmire said. "The souvenir looks nice."

He explained that there have been a lot of changes in the grocery business in the last 24 years.

"We try to provide what the customer in the area wants," Longmire said. "I call it evolving. You've got to evolve if you want to last."

"It changes over time," Myhre agreed. "When I first started, I couldn't give away a taco. Now we've had to enlarge that section of our store. It's kind of a generational thing."

Red's offers a lot more than prepackaged food items. The store includes a deli, bakery and a dining area. There's also a line of outdoor grills for sale. Customers can rent movies, buy greeting cards and make use of a photo-processing machine.

While some communities and rural areas have become "food deserts" where healthy items like fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to locate, Spring Grove's grocery continues to provide a large selection of fresh produce to customers.

"That's probably one of the bigger departments," Longmire said. "It has just grown steadily over the past 10-15 years.

"A few years ago, there were some neighborhoods in La Crosse that were becoming food deserts, but that's kind of filled back in recently."

"We have loyal customers," Myhre said, "and not just from Spring Grove. We try to keep it a people store."

Red put it bluntly, "They demand it; we take care of it... So it's not really our store, it's our customers' store."

"With our customer base, you're probably talking about a 15-20 mile radius from here," he added.

"We've brought a big-town store to a small-town atmosphere. When we did this (building project) in 2000, a lot of people were telling us, 'I can't believe this is in Spring Grove.' It's kind of like our theatre here in town. When you sit down in the Spring Grove Cinema you think, 'Wow, this is Spring Grove?'

"We don't toot our horn very often. But one salesman stopped in and just said, 'Wow, I've been in a lot of small towns, but I've never seen a store this nice in a small town.'"

A small-town grocery is different. Customers are called by their first names.

"I know most of my customers by name, or at least I can recognize their car," Myhre grinned.

"I like what I do. I like working with the people. I'm customer-oriented, I guess. It's like an IGA family. Our employees like working here because they feel they're family."

"Growing up, I knew I could bag up groceries and go right out to their car," Red said. "Nobody had to tell me which one it was."