Winona Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) member Kelly Fluharty looked around the Fastenal Museum in Winona after the HPC honored Fastenal for its work to preserve the historic museum building and other pieces of Winona history.
by CHRIS ROGERS
It doesn’t look like much from the street, but inside it holds the story of one of Winona’s most successful companies. Last week, the Winona Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) honored the Fastenal Museum with the city’s annual Heritage Preservation Commendation Award.
Tucked away between the Acoustic Cafe and Island City Brewing Company, the Fastenal Museum’s carefully restored exterior features wrought-iron columns, embellished cornices, and stone accents. The building looks nice, but otherwise nondescript. Only small lettering on the door carries the museum’s name.
The museum was opened for free public tours in 2017 to celebrate Fastenal’s 50th anniversary, but is predominately a private venue used to give Fastenal employees an education on the company’s origins. Someday it might be opened to the public more often, Fastenal representatives said. “We don’t know if we’d really be able to employ anyone here, but we do hope to have it open once or twice a year so people could come in,” Tammy Neumann of Fastenal’s Trade Show Management Department stated. HPC members got a rare glimpse inside the museum last month, when they presented museum exhibit creators Neumann, Jean DuBois, and Molly Trim with the award.
The Heritage Preservation Commendation Award recognizes property owners who have preserved important pieces of Winona history. Past winners include St. Stanislaus Basilica and the Latsch Building on East Second Street. “It’s a wonderful contribution to the Second Street Historic District,” HPC Chair Kendall Larson said of the Fastenal Museum.
What is now the museum at 69 Lafayette Street was once Fastenal’s very first store. In the early 1900s, the building was home to “Pickle Frank’s” pickle shop and later a saloon, which was raided by Prohibition authorities in 1927. They found a singular hidden bottle of booze — enough for them to shutter the storefront, according to museum exhibits and newspaper articles from the time. At some point, a fire scorched the building’s beams, Nuemann reported. In 1946, Fastenal founder Bob Kierlin’s father, Ed Kierlin, opened an auto supply business, BK Auto, inside the building, and in the 1970s, Ed Kierlin sold the building to Fastenal. Fastenal sold the building in 1974, when it relocated to a larger shop in Winona. The company eventually repurchased the building in 2009 in order to create the Fastenal Museum.
The tales and memories just started pouring out of people, Trim said of her work to develop the museum’s exhibits. “It was fun to try to preserve their stories as much as the building,” she stated. “We tried to put the founders’ humor into it, so it’s got some character,” Nuemann said.
Inside, the building’s original stained glass windows decorate an upstairs boardroom, while the main floor is filled with Fastenal paraphernalia from various decades. An early, coin-operated version of the company’s now-famous vending machines sits in one corner. A high school yearbook turned open to a photo of the young Robert Kierlin sits under glass. Timelines depict the company’s growth — from occupying a single shop heated to no more than a chilly 55 degrees and making long-distance phone calls before 8 a.m. to avoid higher fees to dominating the global market.
HPC members praised Fastenal’s work to restore the exterior of the building and maintain its original details, as well. “It’s really nice you’ve retained the original brick and restored that because a lot of brick gets painted,” Larson noted.
DuBois, Trim, and Neumann thanked the HPC for the honor and credited Fastenal Vice President Dana Johnson’s work to restore the building.