Anyone who grew up in south-central Minnesota in the last half of the 20th century probably has memories of Madsen’s Super Valu, which later became Randall Foods.
In our house, we often sought out items at area hardware and department stores before finally relenting, going to “Maaadsen’s” – as we called it in such instances – to find what we were looking for. We knew it would be there; we just wanted to offer another store the chance to sell it to us first.
Earl Madsen opened the first Madsen’s store on South Front Street in Mankato on Dec. 12, 1946. He established his Super Valu Store at 43 Park Lane in 1953, adding a second store at 709 N. Front St. in 1955, and another Mankato store in the Madison East Center later. Of these, it was the store on Park Lane — eventually known as South Riverfront Drive through combining and renaming of roadways — for which he is likely best remembered.
One of a Kind
That store, which was originally 13,000 square feet with more than 22,000 square feet of parking lot, had at least two additions and became Madsen’s Valu Center and Family Department Store, incorporating innovative marketing and sales techniques. Eventually, it spanned more than 60,000 square feet under one roof, with a parking lot that could accommodate about 500 cars.
At a time when Mankato was still served by neighborhood grocery stores on every other block, in May of 1961, contracts were signed for the construction of a $450,000, 35,000-square-foot addition to the store. This addition nearly quadrupled the existing building, and Madsen said it would house merchandising of supermarket items and other related items.
When this nearly half-million-dollar expansion opened in January 1962, it contained grocery store innovations including conveyor belts that connected the checkout counter to a pick-up station out front, which was covered by a canopy. After being rung up, groceries were bagged and put into a tub. Shoppers were given a number that corresponded with the tub; they put a card with the number in their car window so an employee could load their groceries into their car as they pulled up.
One thing that stands out in memory is the dedication to customer service. Employees, a mixture of high school-aged boys and girls and adults, were assigned full-time to each task: stocking shelves, checking out customers, bagging groceries, and moving groceries to cars out front. Madsen was quoted often emphasizing the importance he placed on customer service.
Madsen was also an innovator. In an interview decades later, Tom Frederick, Sr., who with his brothers founded Happy Chef Restaurants, spoke about what he had learned while working for Madsen in high school. He would sell Hi-C fruit juice for 31 cents per can, Frederick remembered, until he could purchase large amounts of it. Then he would sell it at 3 for $1, letting people believe they were getting a deal.
One Stop Shop
If it seems you could get everything you needed at Madsen’s, here is why. In February of 1962, the expansion continued with the opening of the new Family Department Store. The 20,000 square-foot addition brought the total value to more than $1 million, making it “probably the greatest single merchandising effort ever sustained in Mankato for the supermarket shoppers of southern Minnesota,” reported The Free Press.
The department store addition featured many departments: greeting cards, writing supplies, school supplies, party supplies, lady’s handbags and accessories, infant’s and children’s clothing, year-round toy department and lady’s ready-to-wear, men’s and boy’s clothing, men’s work clothes, sportswear, home furnishings, gift section, hardware, tools, garden equipment, miscellaneous plumbing and electrical supplies, displays for the handyman, costume jewelry and cosmetics, hosiery, and lingerie.
End of a Local Era
In 1971, Madsen was elected president of the National Association of Retail Grocers of the United States. In addition, he purchased the inventory of Thro’s Drugs on North Front Street, moving the pharmacy to the Valu Center. Sadly, just a couple of years later, Madsen died of an apparent massive cerebral hemorrhage. He was just 54 years old.
In late 1976, Madsen’s Enterprises was sold to Randall Stores, Inc. of Mitchell, S.D.
In early 1989, Madsen’s innovative strategies were being celebrated at Randall Foods and by its manager, Jim Davis. “The thing that really makes this store unique is the fact that we have [one-stop shopping],” said Davis, store manager. “And when you consider that this concept was established in 1963, it’s almost before its time.”
“In the United States right now, the big thing that’s happening is ‘everything under one roof’,” Davis added. “And if you were in the supermarket business and you looked at trade magazines, you would find that this concept has been re-discovered, I call it.”
In March of 2001, heavy snow caved in part of the roof of the older section of the store, and it was demolished. Owners of the store, which by then had an address of 1200 South Riverfront Drive, hoped to salvage some of the inventory, but the full building was scheduled for demolition to make way for the current Cub Foods store that was built on the west end of the lot.
The innovative store, which had survived flooding and changing tastes, was being replaced.
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