Lake Country Faces: Heart attack prompts Pine River Carpet owner to retire after 46 years
Norman's family got him into the business, and now helped get him out as well
PINE RIVER — Steve Norman, of Pine River, had started to vaguely plan for his eventual retirement.
"We've been talking about it," Norman said. "We started downsizing our house and things like that. We kind of started the process, but I would have dragged it out a lot longer than what actually happened."
Even after he had a massive heart attack Dec. 4, 2022, he intended to return to running his store, Pine River Carpet, just as soon as he recovered.
For his own well-being, however, his family had other ideas.
"My family decided (to close the store)," Norman said. "They took the keys away and said, 'You're not going in the store. You're not doing this. You're not doing that.' And I didn't have the strength or energy to fight them. I realized they were looking out for my best interest. I just said, ‘OK,’ and let them run with it."
Our plan is to spend more time with family and probably spend more time at the cabin this summer. Just enjoy family more. That's the big plan right now. The number one priority is to get a little healthier so we can do those things. I have to mind my p's and q's and watch what I do and how I do it.
The store's 840 items were sold by online auction that concluded Sunday, Jan. 22. Like many business owners, there are things Norman will miss now that the store is basically liquidated.
"The people," he said. "The interaction with the people. I enjoyed that."
Norman has owned the store since 1977. He bought it as a partner with his in-laws, though he very quickly became sole owner.
"After maybe half a year or so I was a young bloke with a lot of pride and ego," Norman said. "I bought the in-laws out."
Previously, Norman worked at the Coast to Coast Hardware Store in Pine River. He said the manager there could sometimes be hard to work for, so when the Pine River owner decided to expand into other towns, he jumped at the chance.
"The owner at the Coast to Coast was looking to buy another hardware store in Walker and have me manage it," Norman said. "Between him and Coast to Coast, that kind of fell through."
That left Norman looking for a career change. At that time, Tom's Carpet in Pine River was for sale. This offered him the chance to go into business with his in-laws in a new industry.
And Norman had a history of working with flooring. Before Coast to Coast he had been a carpenter by trade.
"I cut my left thumb halfway off," Norman said. "So I ended up taking a job at a hardware store for a year."
Norman's wife and in-laws were also his introduction to the Pine River area. He had originally lived in Brooklyn Center, but he wasn't very fond of the lifestyle there.
"As a young guy I was already tired of rush hour traffic," Norman said.
His chance to escape the hustle and bustle came courtesy of a girl he had been seeing.
"We met at a bowling alley," Norman said. "I ended up asking her three times and she refused. I was going to quit, but she accepted the third time."
Her family had a homestead near Pine River, so when they decided to move, he moved with them. Her father ran a carpentry business in the north woods, which offered Norman a shot at a decent job.
"I was offered a job as a carpenter where the idea was, we bring the house up from the foundation all the way up," Norman said. "That's where I learned to install hardwood flooring and ceramic tile and all of that stuff."
In 1974, Norman and that girl he met at the bowling alley, Debbie, got married.
"We ended up having four kids," Norman said. "Boy, girl, boy, girl — like two separate families. Of course, the four kids turned into eight kids because they got married, and eight kids turned into 12 grandkids."
His nearly 50 years in the flooring industry have seen many changes. Norman saw carpet dethroned as a top seller and replaced by ceramic tile, hardwood flooring, vinyl flooring and eventually luxury vinyl planks.
"People's tastes are going to change," Norman said. "You just don't know what direction they're going to change, so you try to be aware of the changes and respond accordingly. Your thinking has got to be a little fluid or you won't be around for very long."
Norman's store location also changed in that time. Pine River Carpet started where Sherwood Florist is now, then was part of the Lifehouse Coffee Shop building location, then the former Iron Hills Gun and Pawn next to the bowling alley and finally into the most recent building, formerly an Ace Hardware Store.
"When we were in the Iron Hills Pawn Shop building we built the warehouse across the alleyway," Norman said. "When we bought the Ace Hardware (spot), we still had the warehouse, but I wanted to build a warehouse on the back of our new property.
“It was hard to transfer customers from the store over to the warehouse,” he said. “When we just had to bring them across the alleyway it was fairly easy. We ended up selling the warehouse to Riverview Church."
That building is now The Warehouse, a recreation center connected to Riverview Church's ministry.
We met at a bowling alley. I ended up asking her three times and she refused. I was going to quit, but she accepted the third time.
Now, with Pine River Carpet closed and a buyer ready to close on it in February, Norman is now focusing on careful recovery. He takes careful walks every day to build up strength. Soon he will be able to start cardiac rehab.
Once he reaches a certain point, Norman can start to enjoy retired life.
"Our plan is to spend more time with family and probably spend more time at the cabin this summer," Norman said. "Just enjoy family more. That's the big plan right now. The number one priority is to get a little healthier so we can do those things. I have to mind my p's and q's and watch what I do and how I do it."
Travis Grimler, staff writer, may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com . Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.