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Bob Lind, Published August 30 2010

Lind: Johnson Stores supplied North Dakota townspeople

It was a store people in several North Dakota communities depended upon for their clothing and other items.

It wasn’t a flashy store, and neither was its name. It was simply the Johnson Store.

The parent company, Johnson Stores, had both its headquarters and one of its stores in Larimore.

It was that store which a Fargo man, who wants to remain anonymous, told of in a note to Neighbors.

He is a Fargo native who had relatives in the Langdon-Nekoma, N.D., area, and his parents would drive up to see them Saturdays.

But they didn’t drive through Grand Forks, he says, because, 1) they didn’t like the traffic there, and, 2) Larimore had a Johnson Store.

So the routine went this way: They’d drive through Larimore and have lunch in a café, where his mom would gulp down her food so she could get over to the Johnson Store.

Almost invariably, her son says, she came out of the store with two bags full of items.

His dad wasn’t too thrilled with this routine, but on the other hand, he liked the prices and “the small-town service.”

This would have been from about 1958 to 1966.

Michigan and on

The company was founded by M.A. Johnson, a native of New London, Minn., who attended college in Mayville, N.D.

When he was 18, M.A. began working at his uncle’s general store in Michigan, N.D. By the time he was 21, he was managing the place. That store became the first in his Johnson Stores operation in 1907.

Over the years, Johnson Stores were located in Cooperstown, Park River, Lakota, Hillsboro, Hatton, Finley, Edmore, Drayton, Adams, Rugby, Northwood, New Rockford, Maddock, McVille, Portland, Cando, Hope and Stanley as well as in Michigan and Larimore.

The company did well for many years. Total sales in 1974, for instance, totaled $4.7 million. All this led M.A. to become known as the “J.C. Penney of the North.”

M.A. was a friendly man with a look of distinction about him, a man who was respected by his employees and his competitors alike. He died in 1972.

The parent company liquidated in 1983 due, its officials said, to increased competition from discount stores, higher operating costs and that period’s recession. But some locally owned stores continued to operate for some time.

The Larimore store has been torn down, but the large Johnson Stores warehouse, from which goods were trucked to all the stores, still stands.

But for many area residents, the Johnson Stores remain a piece of hometown retail nostalgia.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail blind@forumcomm.com