After eight years, the Family Market grocery store in Pine River will undergo a change in early January when Chuck Lindner and partners Steve and Susan Hagen, all of Warroad, become the new owners. They'll take over for current owner Chuck Welte, who plans to move on to something different.
Welte had been considering selling the store since making a big life decision.
“I was ordained a deacon in the church Nov. 25 last year,” Welte said. “I knew that was the direction for my life, to do something for the church and God, and I wasn't sure how well the store fit into all those plans. So I mentioned that to my accountant. It's a business so there are always business sides to things.”
That accountant was how the two Chucks met, setting the stage for what appears to be a good match.
“We share the same accountant,” Lindner said. “We have an accountant that does primarily grocery stores and he thought we'd be a good fit. Certainly Chuck and I would get along and complement each other. That was the catalyst - our accountant.”
Lindner owns several businesses to the far north, including Doug's Supermarket in Warroad, which has a Caribou Coffee shop; Lake of the Woods Foods in Baudette, which has a Shell station; Pine Ridge Liquor between Warroad and Roseau; and Dollar Savers.
In the year it has taken for the sale to take off, Welte and Lindner decided that the Pine River Family Market isn't too different from the stores Lindner already owns. As such, he was a good match for the existing hierarchy and management style in Pine River.
“(Pine River is) a resort area,” Lindner said. “We are on Lake of the Woods in the Warroad area, and Baudette - that's Lake of the Woods County on the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods resort area. Tourism is something we're familiar with. It seemed like a good fit.”
Everyone involved is optimistic about the change.
“I'm happy,” said store manager John Bueckers. “I think the new Chuck owns businesses in small communities and understands the importance of a grocery store for this community and wants to keep on going with the tradition that's been here. He wants to support all our employees. I'm happy in that regard and we will continue to operate as is for the community.”
“I'm feeling really good about it,” Welte said. “Chuck has two other stores in Warroad and Baudette. This is a really good store. We've done a lot of good things here, but he'll be able to take it to the next level.”
To Welte, finding a new owner was more than just finding a buyer.
“That was one thing, looking around and deciding to sell, was we wanted to make sure it was someone I felt comfortable with,” Welte said. “Yeah, it is a business, but it's part of the community. We're a large employer in the community, one of the largest. People need to get groceries. They want to come in here and they want to know where to find what they need and have good service. I knew he'd continue that part of it and he would also bring some new things to the table that would help the store and community as far as upgrades and things like that, which the store will probably need soon.”
During his period of ownership, Welte remembers all that his store has done to be part of the community, including charitable contributions to the food shelf, helping with benefits and funerals and other events. Lindner said those same contributions are part of his business model as well.
“We've talked about heritage in Pine River, of donating to the school, and we plan to continue that in our community because that's how we operate too,” Lindner said.
The store will see some changes eventually, but staff won't be part of those changes.
“I'll remain as store manager,” said Bueckers. “All employees are being carried forward. No staff changes will be visible or any visible changes for several months.”
“There are a lot of great employees at the store,” Welte said. “A lot of them had been here a year before I came and they're still here. It's wonderful to have that dedication and core people.”
After he and the store have gotten more acquainted, Lindner said updates and changes will be forthcoming.
“I'm not saying everything we do in Warroad or Baudette will fit Pine River,” Lindner said. “I know it won't. But there are some things we do that Pine River could benefit from and vice versa. Every business has something to bring to the table and I know Pine River is going to teach us some things also.”
Yes, Caribou Coffee could be included among the local changes, though Lindner said that decision would need to be made further down the line.
As for Welte, he will still be around, though he has to figure out what line of work he will move into.
“When I made that decision I didn't have anything particularly in mind, and I still don't necessarily other than to be open to God's will,” Welte said. “I probably will have to have a job of some sort and get paid. That's the nature of things. I don't have anything lined up at this point but I won't be staying here at the store.”
The sale is not quite complete. Lindner said there is some certification and licensing necessary for him to run the gas station and accept WIC (a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children), among other things. The transaction is expected to conclude in early January.