By Jean Doran Matua, Editor
John Gohmann was 7 years old when he entered the grocery store business. His father Gene was a butcher at Red Owl in St. Cloud and was asked to fill in at the Kimball Red Owl while then-owner Les Robinson had surgery. The next year, John recalls, they lived with the Robinsons for two weeks while working in the store, to see if they liked it. And they did.
The Gohmanns took over the Kimball Red Owl and eventually built a new store at the corner of Highways 15 and 55, where it is now. The Red Owl name has long since faded into history, and the store is now Gohmann’s Foods. At least it is for a couple more weeks.
As of the end of this month, Gohmann’s Foods will cease to exist. The store will close. The business has been listed for sale since March, but there have been no serious inquiries. John says he wrote a letter to Kimball Mayor Tammy Konz a month ago; Konz said she’d set up a meeting with someone, John can’t remember who, but had heard nothing further as of last week’s announcement to close. (By contrast, when Ed and Cindy Stein wanted to retire from their grocery store in Watkins, the city held an emergency meeting and offered numerous ways to save the store including buying it outright, setting it up as a coop, loans for a new buyer, and help to find new owners. When Jeff and Reneen Babbitt chose to return to Watkins to buy the store there, they had loans available to them from the city’s Economic Development Authority, something Kimball does not have.)
There’s no single reason for the closing. Rather, it’s a combination of things that make continuing operation no longer feasible.
First came the opening of Dollar General just up the block; that reduced sales by about 30 percent, John figures.
Just over a year ago, John’s father Gene had a major stroke after coronary bypass surgery. Gene is still working hard to recover from that, but it is clear that he won’t be able to return to the store. While Gene was recovering, his wife Gloria also had a stroke, a milder one.
It didn’t help when Costco opened a store on the south side of St. Cloud, either. It helped a bit after Sam’s Club moved to Sartell a few years back, but a closer Costco plus a re-opened Walmart in the same neighborhood would draw some sales away from Kimball.
Then came last year’s construction season when Highway 15 was closed most of the summer. Summer is when they see the most sales, and waiting for summer 2020 to catch up was not going to work. Lack of enough cashflow – with no relief in sight – is the ultimate reason for the store closing this month.
Add to that the general trend that people just don’t cook anymore and you have an untenable situation. Customers today are buying more pre-made food than ingredients, and there are plenty of options for buying food.
The store has plenty of customers, John explained; the numbers are sufficient. But most are spending $5 per visit rather than $20 or $30 per visit. That makes a big difference.
Gohmann’s Foods employs 12 people in addition to John who literally grew up in the store. John went to college for sales, something he hopes to pursue elsewhere now that the store is about to be part of Kimball’s storied past.
Kimball will not only lose its grocery store in what corporate types have described as the best grocery location in the state. The Gohmann family – and the store – has been inextricably involved in the community. For years, Gohmann’s has provided grocery delivery for those who can’t shop in-person. They have added products and services to better meet changing customer needs: Cold Spring Bakery delivery (and special orders), school supplies, a hardware aisle, clothing and accessories, deli service, and more. Both Gene and John served many years on the volunteer Kimball Fire Department. Gene has been deeply involved in the Kimball Lions; before his stroke, you would see Gene at just about every single event in the community – usually working in some capacity. The store has provided food and supplies for local fish fries, burger sales, and pancake breakfasts (including the well attended annual fire department breakfast each Palm Sunday). That’s 45 years of dedicated service to the community. THANK YOU!
The doors to Gohmann’s Foods will close for good at the end of this month, unless everything sells out earlier. Starting this Wednesday, everything will be 20 percent off. They will carry fresh milk until the very end.
If you are among those who regularly purchase your Tri-County News at Gohmann’s – either out of convenience, or to get it earlier than by mail – there are options: you can subscribe and get it delivered by mail each week, or you can buy it at one of the other countersales locations in town (Knaus Sausage House, Casey’s General Store, Kim-Built Country Store & Deli, or at the Tri-County News office downtown.
Reaction to the announcement on Facebook last week that Gohmann’s was to close at the end of this month was immediate, and consistent. Here are some of the comments made.
“Thank you, Gohmanns, for all you have given the community. The store will be missed.”
“Thank you for so many years in Kimball. You have supported this town with everything you had. You will be greatly missed.”
“Thank you for all you have done to keep it going after Gene’s illness, and for all the support given to the school and the various organizations over the years. You have been a blessing to our community and the dearest of friends.”
“On behalf of the Kimball Boy Scouts: Thank you! Thank you for letting us sell our Christmas trees on your lot. Thank you for allowing us to sell our popcorn on your storefront. The valuable lessons these boys learned through that are irreplaceable. You will always have a special place with the Boy Scouts and with the community!”
“My first job, and many great memories. A great place and family to work for.”
“Thank you for all you’ve done for the community through the years. Definitely a wonderful place to work for Gene, Gloria, John, and crew. So many memories ….”
“The Gohmann family has done so very much for Kimball! Thank you Gene, Gloria, John and Sheri Gohmann and your kids for all your sacrifice and generosity to others. Thank you to the many past and present employees. The store will be missed!”
“Thank you for always having a smile on your face when I would come into your store. The Gohmann family has done so much for this community. You will be missed.”
“Your family and business has been such a blessing to the whole community. Gene, Gloria, and John put their heart and soul into building up Kimball and giving back. Your endless donations and years of service to the Fire Department as well as the Lions Club and churches have left a legacy here that will not be forgotten.”
“From the Red Owl store on Main Street to your location on the corner of 15 & 55, Gohmann’s Foods has proudly served Kimball area residents for these wonderful 45 years. You have given so much to this community: your time, talents, and all the donations to various schools, clubs, organizations. We have so much to be thankful for. Thank you for everything over the years. What a blessing you have been.”
“Your family has touched the lives of so many people. Thank you!”
“I have shopped there for 30 years, but I certainly understand. Plus the sheer generosity to the community in sponsorships for events and causes. The end of an era. Thank you for the kindness and small-town atmosphere that I always felt coming in there.”
“Thank you, Gohmanns! You were more than just a grocery store. Your family has always been so friendly and helpful. … The store, and your friendly faces, will surely be missed.”
“We are sad to see you close. Can we talk you out of it?”
“Thanks Gohmanns for giving so much to everyone for all these years. The employees were always helpful and friendly. Gonna miss the store and all who made it a happy business!”
“Thank you, Gohmann family, for everything you have done for our community during the past 45 years. May you feel the hometown love and support as you begin a new journey.”