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  • Writer's pictureBrooke Radi

the end of an era

On our very first Going Places With Grandma day trip, we went to a place that was always near and dear to Grandma Alice's heart: the local department store. Norby's has been around for a long time (112 years, to be exact), has been in the same family for four generations and is an area landmark. We had been planning on going for a while, but our trip became much more urgent the other week when we heard Mr. Norby on the radio, announcing that the beloved store was going out of business.

Detroit Lakes is the one of the closest larger towns to our lake, so we loaded up Grandma's Buick and headed down the highway to see this Up-North icon for the last time. We weren't the only folks there. There were people from far and wide who came to pay their respects to the place that has provided generations with the housewares they need to feel at home or a suit to get gussied up for a family wedding. People had very emotional attachments to the store and many were reminiscing with the staff as they checked out for the final time. I overheard stories about employees at the cosmetics counter, little kids finding a favorite toy and also stories people told on behalf of those who have already passed away.

Roger, one of the sales associates at the store was kind enough to speak with me for a while about his experiences working at Norby's. He's a retired teacher and has worked for Norby's for the last fifteen years. He has been helping people from far and wide find luggage, clothes, housewares and shoes. People from the Twin Cities come up here to shop on the weekends because it's much more relaxed than trying to battle traffic and crowds to find that elusive pair of shoes, shorts, or activewear. Luisa, a younger member of the team also chimed in about the store's history and that people were crying as they checked out because it really was the end of an era.

Fair warning: I'm about to step up on a soapbox for a second. Local businesses matter, people! Don't wait for the "Going Out of Business Sale" to shop in stores owned by people in our own communities. I know it's so much easier to get on Amazon and order something without having to leave your house, but come on. People like Roger and Luisa depend on local business for their livelihood. Towns depend on these businesses for resources and economic stability. They employ so many people and provide so much joy to these communities.

Even in the crowded craziness of the store, I found something intensely personal about shopping at this local business. I knew that those around me knew sales associates by name and would go exclusively to them because they had developed a relationship over years-- sometimes decades. These people just got each other. There is a certain dependability about a family-owned, Midwestern business that is hard to come by anywhere else.

While this was a fun trip, I have to say it was also a very bittersweet one to start our trip with, especially since the sun may be setting on the age of family-owned department stores. So friends, no matter where you are, I ask you to please support a local business this week. Make a point to get to know the team working there and learn about what they do. Trust me, you won't regret it and it just might save a business like Norby's.

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