From lutefisk in wooden barrels to chicken-to-go in a full service deli, the Larry’s grocery story spans a half-century and three generations.
It also spans a large swath of geography–from South Dakota to central Minnesota’s farm and lake country.
Larry’s Super Market is marking its 40th year in Pelican Rapids this week. Phil and Cyndy Stotesbery and their daughter Brittany and son-in-law Mark Dokken will be serving up hotdogs, cake and soda from 4-7 p.m. Oct. 4 to celebrate the occasion. Pelican Rapids was the fourth store established by the late Larry Fix, who at one time had five stores–in Wadena, Battle Lake, Morris, Bertha and Pelican. Larry, who got his start in the food and grocery business in South Dakota, died in July.
At various times, all six of the Fix children were involved in the family grocery businesses– including store management and ownership, said Cyndy.
“Dad offered it to us, and we thought we’d try it,” said Cyndy (Fix) Stotesbery, who basically grew up in the grocery business in Wadena. “At that time, there were three stores on main street in Pelican, but nobody really had any parking, so Dad thought Pelican would be a good town to go into.”
It was a brand new building on the south end of town–with plenty of parking–when Phil and Cyndy Stotesbery opened the store in October of 1977.
Forty years later, Larry’s is transitioning to the next generation, with Brittany (Stotesbery) and Mark Dokken assuming much of the day to day operations since 2011. Cyndy has scaled back, but Phil continues to be visible at the store almost daily for most of the year.
Phil Stotesbery and Cyndy Fix met in the teachers lounge when both were educators in the Wadena school system. The two were married in 1974.
Originally from Graceville, Minnesota, Phil earned his teaching degree at Moorhead State. Cyndy also graduated from Moorhead State, though the pair didn’t meet until Wadena.
“The only time we didn’t work together was when I left the Wadena school system to teach at the parochial school in Wadena,” noted Cyndy, who said she had always wanted to be a teacher. Even when teaching, the couple worked part time in the summers at Larry’s Battle Lake
After opening the Pelican Larry’s, Cyndy was able to continue her love for teaching, substituting in the Pelican schools for a number of years. By the late 1990s, Larry’s was “the last grocer” standing in Pelican Rapids.
In 1997, Phil and Cyndy completely rebuilt the store, and about five years later, added on–including the deli. The original 7,700 square foot Pelican Larry’s building was sold for $1, dismantled, moved and reassembled in Barnesville–bolt by bolt–where it became a meat locker, she noted.
Larry’s is now a 20,000 square foot store with about 50 employees, 14 of them full-time–and many longtime employees, said Phil. “We wouldn’t be here without all the great employees we’ve had over the years–and all the customer support,” said Phil.
Running a seven-day-a-week family business is consuming, but both Phil and Cyndy had a few diversions. Cyndy’s teaching as a substitute for a number of years, and civic volunteer– and Phil’s baseball passion.
A high school and town team ballplayer–and farmboy–in his hometown of Graceville, later Wadena and then Pelican Rapids, Phil had an unusually long career on the diamond. All totalled, he played from his high school days to 1995. Pelican re-formed an amateur team in about 1978, said Phil–recalling a few of the familiar names: Jim Perrin, John Morgan, Brad Lindberg, Rex Haugen and Steve Babb.
“Baseball helped maintain my sanity,” laughed Phil. He also had a five year stint with an Army National Guard artillery unit in Ortonville. “My buddy and I flipped a coin to see who would be the mess hall sergeant. I won, so I got to come in early, get things going, and leave in time for
baseball games,” said Phil.
Not that the Stotesberys needed any additional exercise. The grocery business can be surprisingly physically active.
“You put in long hours, and you put a lot of miles on your feet,” said Cyndy. “You lift a lot of boxes and merchandise…you do get a workout.”
Retail can be a tough business, acknowledged Cyndy. It has always been competitive, but increasingly so with the large, “big box” retailers in nearby cities.
Larry’s is positioned well, with a good, loyal base of year-round customers. “We also have more people retiring full time to the lakes area. Some folks spend winters elsewhere, so you rely on your loyal, local clientele to sustain you year-round,” said Cyndy.
“The year-round clientele is our base…it keeps us going,” agreed Phil. But the seasonal residents are also great customers. “I think they really like a smaller, friendly store,” said Phil. “They can get in and get out and get to the lake so they can enjoy the summer while they’re here.”
Also, Larry’s hasn’t abandoned that local grocer tradition of carrying out groceries, noted Phil. “There are not that many who still carry out, and people really like that service.”
Larry’s is poised for another generation, with Mark and Brittany Dokken on board–and possibly yet another generation, with their children Treyd, 7, and Tydan 4.
Who was this Larry guy; with his name on the big signs?
Who is this guy “Larry” behind Larry’s Super Market?
On more than one occasion, over the 40 years of the Pelican Rapids store, the assumption was that Phil Stotesbery was “Larry.”
By all accounts, Phil’s late father-in-law, Larry Fix was a colorful character and a classic grocery entrepreneur–who has had grocery business interests from South Dakota to Wadena to Battle Lake to Pelican Rapids.
A meat packing worker at the Morrell plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at age 16, he returned home from his Navy tour of duty, 1945-48, fully expecting to continue at the plant. First day back, his friend shut off the alarm; he was late to work: and the boss fired him.
This led Larry Fix into a long career in the grocery biz–with a couple of early forays into sales. For a period, Larry successfully sold toilet bowl deodorizers, saunas and light bulbs–but as a family man, became weary of the travel.
Early store management positions, including Adrian, Minnesota and Lake Andes, South Dakota, paid little more than $50 a week.
He eventually bought his flagship store in Wadena, and in 1968 forged a relationship with Wadena-based Mason Brothers wholesale–which continues to this day with the Larry’s stores in Battle Lake and Pelican.
As his grocery business expanded, Larry eventually had four sons managing three storse–and one son in the meat department.
“For somebody who never went to college, Dad had a very good business sense–he was also a very hard worker,” said Cyndy (Fix) Stotesbery.
Larry became visible in the Pelican Rapid area for a few years, when he had a summer place on Prairie Lake. And he even pitched in on busy July 4th weekends–historically the busiest weekend of the year.
“Larry had a great influence. He was motivated, innovative and definitely willing to take a risk,” said Phil, adding that he was a pioneer in marketing with Gold Bond stamps–an advertising incentive program nearly every Baby Boomer youth will remember.
Larry eventually retired to Mesa, Arizona. He died July 3, 2017…one month prior to the 50th anniversary of the opening of his first store in Wadena and three months prior to the Pelican Rapids store’s 40th anniversary.