by CESAR SALAZAR
Nestled in the small community of Fremont lies the Fremont Store, a business that’s been around since before the U.S. Civil War and even before Minnesota gained statehood. Since its establishment in 1856, the grocery store has been exchanged through many hands, and now, new owners Bonnie and Bradley Wegg have reopened the business and are adding their story to the already historic store.
The Fremont Store is one of Minnesota’s oldest continually-running shops, with a history going back 167 years. Bonnie and Bradley reopened the store last November as the B&B Fremont Store and serve the local area’s farmers and residents with groceries and other products. It is one of the only commercial shops for miles.
The Weggs purchased the store from the children of the previous owner, Martha Sophia Evangeline Johnson, who passed away in July 2021. The couple purchased it after talking about opening a boutique that could sell Bonnie’s goods from her other business, Fainting Goat Arts and Crafts. Bradley came across the store, which was for sale, on his way home from work, which gave him an idea.
“He loves history, and the history of this place is just amazing,” Bonnie said. “We tossed the idea around for a little while, and we decided to come look at it. As soon as we walked in the door, it felt kind of like home, and it seemed like something we should do. So we did it.”
The store continues to serve the community around Fremont as it did for many decades, and some people have been customers for many years. Jason Elsing, a local farmer, was the first customer in line when the store reopened in November, and in fact, retains the receipt of his purchase of donuts and caramels. Jason and his wife, Alicia Elsing, return to the store just about every day for food as it is the closest store to their farm. “I think it's just convenience, and I like the nostalgia of the store being here,” Jason said. “I think a lot of people want it to be here, and the only way to keep it here is to bring it business.”
Alicia said she remembers coming to the store all the time as a child. Growing up about a mile away from the store, Alicia said she and her brothers would ride their bikes over to buy candy and pop with money that their grandparents had given them. She added that the store has changed since she was young. “It’s nice to see it morph into something where it can really bring in the local goods from the area, local crafters, and other business owners to make that available,” Alicia said.
Jason said he appreciated the non-corporate ownership of the store, with the local store essentially being a local member of the community. “I love that it had a lot of locally made things,” Jason said. “That’s really cool, even down to the Spring Grove pop.”
Despite the business running smoothly now, the easiest part of reopening the store was actually buying it, according to Bonnie. The store needed some tender love and care which was hindered by COVID-19, as Bonnie and Bradley contracted the virus. The couple eventually renovated the store inside and out: renovating an apartment into a kitchen, adding floor bracing, and installing railings along the deck outside, she said. The couple also hopes to be able to bring back the awning outside, as the previous one had to be removed because it was falling apart.
Despite the renovations, many parts of the store remain original, such as the flooring, counter, and exterior of the building, according to Bonnie. She added that the biggest challenge in the future is maintaining the historic building in good shape, as it is over 160 years old. “We need to keep up on the maintenance,” Bonnie said. “There are still things that need to be done to make sure it lasts another 167 years.”
Bonnie said she’d like to set up a small museum in the store as a way to show some of the historical aspects of the store and the town. She plans on staying with the business as long as possible. “We’re hoping that this will be our retirement,” Bonnie said. “We’ll stay long enough to retire here, work part-time, maybe if we’re lucky by that time. We’re planning on keeping it for quite a while.”
When reopening the store, the couple wanted to keep the store as local as possible. It is set up as a consignment store, where many local crafters and artisans sell their goods. The couple also sells products from many local and regional businesses, such as meats from the Frickson Family Farms in Dakota, McCabe Family Farms in Chatfield, Hart Country Meats in Rushford, dairy products from Capra Nera Creamery in Altura, and goods from Ziebell’s Hiawatha Foods in Winona.
“I appreciate our crafters,” Bonnie said. “They help keep things stocked and full. Our local food suppliers, we have to thank them. They’re very supportive as well.”
“We thank everybody so much for their support,” Bonnie said. “Our family has helped out greatly, but the support of the community has been wonderful. We couldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support of the locals.” She continued, “I thank my husband for having this great idea, and for his support.”
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