New owner revitalizes Marine General Store's operations to serve growing Marine on St. Crois customer base
Marine General Store is the oldest store in Minnesota, having been in operation since 1849. In fact, it provided the inspiration for “Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery” on the Prairie Home Companion radio show. But Marine General Store is more than just a grocery store—it’s the vibrant, beating heart of Marine on St. Croix, and an essential part of the town’s identity. Since the closest big box grocery store is more than ten miles away, Marine General Store supplies a large portion of the town’s food in addition to providing a gathering spot for residents and tourists in the riverside town.
In 2015, the previous owners listed the store for sale, bringing it to the attention of Gordon Arcand. As a manager in a large grocery store chain, Arcand already knew the ins-and-outs of the grocery retail business. When he visited Marine General Store, he instantly envisioned changes that would make the operation more efficient and customer friendly.
“The previous owner had made Marine General Store a self-sustaining business, but he knew he didn’t have the experience to grow it,” said Arcand. “He was looking for a new owner that could take that next step.”
Arcand was a perfect fit. He negotiated a contract for deed purchase, making payments until he could afford a loan, and became just the fifth owner in Marine General Store’s long history.
Open to Business Helped Secure Financing
Arcand started by making some essential improvements to the wiring and cooling systems, significantly cutting the store’s monthly expenses and putting the store on the path to profitability. But as the end of his contract for deed approached, he still lacked the capital to refinance the store.
Luckily, he had a chance encounter with Open to Business advisor Tyler Hilsabeck, who was going door to door and being introduced to local business owners by Marine on St. Croix City Council Member Bill Miller.
Hilsabeck not only assured Arcand that Open to Business could help with investigating financing options, he also asked the business owner if there was anything else that could set up his business for success. Arcand revealed that he desperately needed to buy a generator to provide backup power during Marine on St. Croix’s frequent power outages.
“The power goes out all the time. This is a small town,” said Arcand. “We pretty much lose everything in the store, and the community relies on us.”
Hilsabeck worked with the local Sunrise Banks branch to secure most of the necessary financing. Open to Business stepped in to provide gap financing for the project, and funded the generator purchase that will keep Marine General Store open in inclement weather.
“Without Tyler doing all the legwork, I would have been lost,” Arcand said. “He went above and beyond what I imagined.”
Local Bank Supporting Local Community
With the new financing in place, Arcand can go back to doing what he does best: serving the town, drawing tourists, and providing good jobs for the community. Rich Esquivel of Sunrise Banks said that the store’s local history and Arcand’s excellent operations made the deal attractive to the bank.
“Gordon is knowledgeable and he has phenomenal experience,” he said. “We are one of the last true community banks left, so we were happy to support the different things they do serving their community on Marine on St. Croix.”
Founding a Family Legacy
Arcand continues to work his full-time job at a grocery store chain, but he believes Marine General Store will soon be profitable enough to help him retire comfortably. It’s a true mom and pop shop: His wife owns and operates the ice cream shop next door and he is training his son to be the general manager.
“We want to keep it in the family,” said Arcand. “Now we should be able to make it happen.”
Visit Marine General Store at 101 Judd St., Marine on St Croix, MN 55047. Find the hours at marinegeneralstore.com.