The Hart Store estate sale brings 142-year legacy to a close

TCR/SCOTT BESTUL The Hart General Store located in Hart, Minn., will host its estate sale on September 21-22. The building is full of vintage merchandise with the majority of the contents dating from the early 1900s to the 1950s.
Chad Smith

The Wolfram General Store, known to many as the “Hart Store” will be hosting an estate sale this weekend, Sept. 21 and 22. The building is full of vintage items that trace the history of a store that was run by the Wolfram family from its earliest beginnings in 1877 until it closed in 1988.

“Our sale is going to be a dispersal of a 142-year legacy,” said Jane Wolfram. “The store first opened back in 1877. My great-grandfather, Charles Wolfram, was a carpenter who built the original part of the store and the house. The property also included the attic and the storage shed, both of which became the resting places for a lot of the items up for sale.”

Jane said her family first moved into the place in March of 1877. As time passed the inventory expanded into what was considered the usual selection for general stores back then. In 1899, sons Ernst and Joseph Wolfram went into a partnership to run the store. “According to an old ledger,” Jane said, “they commenced business on January 1, 1900.

“Their letterheads advertised ‘Wolfram Brothers Groceries and General Merchandise, Boots and Shoes.” The partnership dissolved in 1907, with Joseph and his wife, Emma, beginning proprietorship of the store. In 1942, our parents, Joseph E. and Elizabeth began operating the store. They operated the store up until it closed for good in May of 1988.”

The Hart Store was a hub of social activity for area residents. Jane and her sister Mary Wolfram collected a sampling of some memories of the store from people around the area. “Area kids often remember the candy counter,” Jane laughed. “Another long-ago memory was catching rides to or from Winona with our grandfather, who took his [horse] team and wagon on trips to Winona to get supplies and bring eggs to market. That’s how they got the merchandise back then.

“Even people who were in Winona knew they could get a ride to Hart with our grandfather. Another thing people recall is gathering at the store after the Hart baseball team played its games. They do remember it being a much happier gathering when the team won, which they did regularly. They were even Winona County champions one year.”

The Hart Store was a great place to visit with the neighbors on Sunday afternoons and evenings for quite some time. It was even more popular in the 1950s, thanks to a Winona television dealer who offered to install a TV in the Hart Store. For many in the Hart community, that was the first experience the world of TV, and  Jane said it was a welcome addition to the typical card games and visiting in the store.

“We grew up beside the store and learned a lot,” she recalled. “We learned how to wait on customers, which was a part of growing up beside the store. We knew everything that was going on around the neighborhood because people would come and go through there all the time.

“That experience was so valuable to me because I became a teacher. You really learn how to meet the public. We learned how to make change in the store. If someone counts out the change to me today, I go out of my way to compliment them because most people just dump a bunch of coins in your hand after a machine spits out the right amount of money. Not everybody knows how to count out change any more.”

Growing up in Hart was a typical small-town experience, in that “everybody knew everybody,” and Jane said most people seemed to be at least “distantly related.” Jane and Mary got to know people a lot better than folks know each other today. “Life was a lot simpler back then, but it was also a lot of hard work too,” Jane recalled. “We put in a lot of long hours at the store.

“Someone had to be there very early in the morning. The bread truck would come from Winona and leave the bread outside the store in a box. Our mother would bring the bread into the store and get things ready for the day. People would already be coming into the store by 7 a.m. People would also spend time at the store at night. However, as our parents got older, they began closing the store a little earlier as the years went by.”

Mary said there was always someone in the store to visit with as they were growing up. “I remember getting a little older and being in high school when someone would come in and say, ‘there’s little Mary,’” she laughed. “I remember not liking that very much. But, you knew everybody in the community, and they knew you. We had a lot of good relationships with a lot of different people.”

Mary echoed her sister in saying that it was hard work growing up back then. As soon as she knew how to make change, she was put to work in the store to wait on customers. “That’s how we got to know a lot of people and their individual stories,” she said. “We loved growing up around the store because when the adults came in to visit, my sister and I had other kids to play with. I remember our mom would always have to come and find all of us kids when the adults were ready to go home.”

Visit The Hart Store September 21-22, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to view and purchase a piece of Hart’s history. The store is located at the intersection of Highway 43 North and County Road 102.