Vicki Starks-Hudson acknowledges she didn't really know what she was doing when she bought the building in Lanesboro, the one that someone had used a chain saw on to remove a wall, and make a giant hole in the floor, the one that was bowing off its foundation, and the one with the electrical system and plumbing systems that could make a building inspector wake up in a cold sweat.
But it was a more-than-100-year-old icon by the side of County Highway 10, a grocery store at one time, and a gathering spot for the small town east of Lanesboro proper.
Until yesterday, when it closed.
Vicki, the owner, wants to sell the place because her mom does the cooking and announced she's ready to retire. When I visited last week, I didn't get to meet mom until I cleared our dishes -- after a splendid meal -- and walked them back to the kitchen where I also met Rob, who is a route driver for Schwann's. He volunteers at the place washing dishes and he was just finishing a giant stack, indicating that business in town is pretty good.
The old people in the town are pretty bummed out by losing the place and Vicki says if you want to buy it and reopen it, you better like old people. There are plenty of them in the town. And you should be interested in providing healthy food. There isn't a deep-fat fryer in the place. Much of the food she served came from local farms. Some of the veggies came from the garden out back.
Vicki, a Minnesota native, arrived here five years ago from Fort Lauderdale. Her mom already was working as a cook in a much smaller room at the side-of-the-road location. Vicki had designs on heading to Iowa, for no particular reason other than Iowa sounded like a land of some opportunity. But she ended up buying the building and fixing it up -- actually having it fixed up by volunteers in exchange for hot meals.
She says she has no idea what the building is worth now. She'd like to fix it up some more, perhaps, so the next owner can reopen it as a restaurant and store with some outside dining. But there's no guarantee it will ever see a paying customer again.
For all of the accurately-deserved reputation for icy coldness that Minnesotans have, the people couldn't have been more of a contradiction. And that apparently is the way the place runs.
Henry Rotering, right above, was just leaving when we walked in. He volunteers to play the piano from time to time at the cafe and when we ordered lunch, he agreed to stay to provide suitable entertainment for the city slickers. He became a regular because he let it slip that he played piano one day when he was having lunch.
A couple from Decorah, Iowa revealed once that they sing and knew a little Norwegian song. So they were encouraged to sing it to the assembled. And when they finished the Norwegian national anthem, Vicki says, there were tears and a request to sing it again. And so, they did.
When you ate at the Highland Store, there were no bills at the end of a meal. You had to keep track of what you ordered and pay accordingly. Vicki's stories are free, she noted, as she took a picture off the wall and pointed out with some astonishment that at one time, there were four sets of twins in the old school in nearby Peterson.
Yesterday, the fans of the place turned out for its closing and to honor Vicki's mother on her retirement. "Bring a card," she advised everyone. "And don't be a Norwegian and just sign your name. Write something nice in it!"
Though the place closed yesterday, it will still open up for the annual Christmas show. Vicki says she'll play her usual part as the person who carries the star. She doesn't have any other talent, she reports.5 Comments)
Posted at 10:55 AM on November 19, 2012
by Paul Tosto
Whether you see him as whiner or hero, A.J. Barker this weekend did us all a favor, pulling back the veil on one of the unseemly aspects of college sports. I'm talking about the psychology of tearing people down and building them up.
Barker, the Minnesota Golden Gophers leading receiver, posted a long letter on why he's quitting the team, savaging coach Jerry Kill over the aftermath of a confrontation on Thursday centered around Barker's ankle rehab and whether he was doing what team trainers wanted.
Barker's been out with an ankle sprain. In the letter, he details how Kill launched into a tirade against him after Thursday's practice, attacking "everything about me, from an athlete to my character as a person....You took the one thing you had a say in (my football playing career and my future) and you held it against me in an attempt to break me, going as far as to tell me I'll never get a scholarship or see the field again."
Yelling or demeaning players is nothing new in any sport where there's enormous pressure to win. And, really, we shouldn't be shocked that Jerry Kill practices this art. He's the guy, remember, who last year forced a player for unspecified reasons to wear a brown jersey with "Minnesota Lopher" printed on the front in pink letters, and "I let my teammates down" on the back.
Barker says he, too, took Thursday's dressing down in stride. It was Kill's next step he says he couldn't take.
The worst part of this all, though, wasn't the way you cussed me out, it was how you "loved me up" in private after practice completed. You revealed the extent to which you are a manipulator. You assured me that you could save me, that you've had problematic players in the past and that you knew how to deal with people like me. You did everything you could to connect with me and at times you did so well that I essentially blacked out in hypnosis as you praised me like you never had before.I understood long ago that I would not succeed in sports or the military. I don't like being told what to do. I react poorly to people trying to manipulate me.
That's true for most of us. Sports and the military seem to be the only places left where those in power automatically feel the only way they'll get you to do what's required is to rip you apart and then build you up.
I get why the military has to be that way.
-- Paul Tosto(2 Comments)
As MPR News Rochester reporter Liz Baier told us last summer, many small theater owners are struggling with an expensive dilemma:
The movie industry plans to switch to all-digital technology by 2013, rendering traditional 35 millimeter film prints obsolete.
That leap to state-of-the-art projection may please audiences, but upgrading to digital projectors is expensive and the switch might force small movie theaters, including many in Minnesota, to close their doors for good.
The Fargo Theatre, while just barely not in Minnesota, faces the same problem. It's one of those old Vaudeville-era theaters that was lucky enough to survive while others faded or were demolished, like this one from Superior, Wis., my hometown. That said, The Fargo still needs to raise $200,000 to modernize its projector.
Enter, the funny Internet video.
It's cute. But moreover, it's heartening to see a community invest in institutions that define its past. It says a lot about where it's going in the future.(1 Comments)