Frozen In Time: Gopher Bargain Center [VIDEO]
ST. CLOUD — This week in our “Frozen In Time” series we feature a local third generation business known for offering bargains.
Gopher Lumber and Supply Company opened in 1941. It was owned and operated by Herman Held who was in the railroad salvage business.
After the Great Depression, Herman saw a need to offer discounted building materials. Herman and his brother made playground equipment for many years before he had the idea branch off and start his own business.
The building was constructed out of salvaged material from train wrecks and old buildings. Herman ran the business until he got sick in the 1960s.
He wrote a special letter to get his son Thomas Held out of the service to continue running the company.
Thomas started buying material that had been damaged by wind or fire and offering it at a discounted price. He changed the name to Gopher Bargain Center.
Thomas’s son Dan Held took over in the 1990s. He changed the company’s focus to closeout sales, bankruptcy and scratch and dent products.
Dan says he remembers working in the store when he was six years old, but didn’t get his first paycheck until he was in ninth grade.
Dan grew up getting to know many of the store’s employees, some of which are still there today.
Ron Lauer has been working at Gopher Bargain Center for 56 years. His co-worker Julietta Jenkins is four years behind him. She’s been working at Gopher for nearly 52 years. Lauer was employed under Dan’s grandfather and father.
Dan says the employees are like family to him, “they are my family, and that’s what I always tell people. I didn’t build that company, they did or we all did.”
Friendly faces aren’t the only thing you’ll recognize at Gopher. There is one item that is synonymous with the store and has been in building for more than 40 years. It is an over sized chair that was acquired through a train wreck salvage.
The chair has been updated and maintained over the years. Dan says through research he has found that only five other chairs like it exist in the world.
Over the years he has had many customers pose for pictures with the chair and even offer to buy it. He says he tells his customers the chair is not for sale.
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