Duluth’s Snow White Sold Groceries

The Snow White Food Center, at 2305 Woodland Ave., had been a grocery store for more than 100 years, opening as McGhie’s Grocery in 1887. In 1989, the market was owned and operated by Don and Mary Ellen Miller and their family. (1989 file / News Tribune)

Chain supermarkets and 24-hour convenience stores seem to be the culprits pushing mom-and-pop grocery stores to the wayside. Just look what has happened to Park Point’s Bayside Market and Central Hillside’s Fourth Street Market, both of which have closed in the past year. (Romano’s Grocery in downtown Duluth also is looking for a buyer.)

But in the late 1980s, there was a little-grocer-that-could in Duluth’s Hunters Park neighborhood. Snow White Food Center, at 2305 Woodland Ave., seemed to be thriving in 1989, according to a News Tribune story written in November of that year. The building that housed Snow White had been a food market for more than 100 years, opening as McGhie’s Grocery in 1887.

LaDonna Bergum and John Fawcett chat while shopping an aisle at Snow White Food Center.
The pair said they were regular customers. (1989 file / News Tribune)

The grocery store also had been family-owned since then. As of the 1980s, the Miller family had owned and operated it for four generations. Snow White’s patrons could attest to the benefits of a grocer kept all in the family. They said it was a place where every worker knew your name. The Miller family — owners Don and Mary Ellen; Don’s brother, Richard, and Don’s nephew, Mark, who all worked at the market in the ’80s — also knew their regular customers’ hobbies and grocery preferences.

Many of Snow White’s regular customers say it is the friendliness of
the people that keeps them coming back to the grocery store, and the
warmth and smile of owner Don Miller sets the tone. (1989 file / News Tribune)

And unlike its super-chain counterparts, Snow White also offered home delivery and took its customers’ orders over the phone, charging the bill to a running tab. The Millers also were known to loan customers cash from the register, if they suddenly found themselves without money when checking out.

Snow White owner Don Miller catches up with customer Alyce Flaherty as he rings up her groceries. Miller often spends a few moments chatting with patrons, most of whom he knows by name. (1989 file / News Tribune)

By July 1990, the Miller family was planning a remodling project for the store. They wanted to change Snow White into a deli and gourmet specialty store, but were having some trouble securing financing, according to a July 24, 1990, News Tribune article. The Millers said they would be forced to close if they couldn’t get a loan. The story didn’t say whether that happened, but a chiropractic office had opened at that location by 1996. And in 2003, a News Tribune story indicated the former Snow White Food Center had been reincarnated, again, into an ice cream and coffee shop.

Now, the former Snow White building is home to a photography business, the Flower Cart floral shop and the Hair Company salon.


24 Responses

  1. David

    From 3rd grade on (1958) I probably went in Snow White several times a week to purchase a nickel pack of baseball cards, then next door to the drug store for a cherry coke at the counter! I’m not sure if the drug store became a beauty parlor or it was next to that, but my neighbor, Marie Nichols worked there. Of course, we all remember when Anders and Ray were sitting on the corner and got hit by that car coming down Oxford….I ended up having to deliver Ray’s papers for quite awhile until he healed (broken leg) and would be joined by their dog Duke. That’s just a little bit of remembrance about a wonderful corner in my life!

  2. The drugstore next to Snow White was Halenbeck’s Pharmacy. I think the owner’s name was George Halenbeck. His son’s name was Paul. They had a very large Irish Setter named Ruff. We used to get nickle cokes at the fountain counter.

    1. Sue Brockopp

      When we moved to Duluth from Richfield my parents were having a house built by George Hovland. My mom would pick me up from Washburn elementary school and take me to the drug store for a quick lunch as Washburn didn’t have a cafeteria. I would get a grilled cheese sandwich at the soda fountain counter and they would “microwave” it back before microwaves were in every house. You either had to go home for lunch (not an option for me as our house wasn’t finished yet and we lived in a efficency motel on London Road [now where Blackwoods is located]) or bag it and eat in a hallway.

    2. Kathy Nelson

      I remember when I was a kid my Mom would call in her grocery order to Snow White and when the next Morley Heights bus went by the store he would pick up the groceries and as he went through the loop would drop groceries off for certain families. Stan Sawyer had that route for many years! Yes the drug store was Halenbeck’s and they had great cherry chocolate cokes! The post office used to be the Oxford Exchange building for Northwester Bell Telephone and at one time had a library in it. I also remember the little library in the basement of the Job’s daughters building on Oxford St.

  3. Steph

    Regarding the salon in the Snow White building, there’s been a salon in that location since at least the ’80s, when I lived nearby as a child, and I think it must have been there since the ’60s, judging by the wallpaper I remember it having. …Or did I dream up flocked pink and silver metallic stripes?

  4. michelle

    There was a drug store next to Snow White Grocery and the Hunters’ Park Post Office branch in a brick building next door… I think the drug store also had a soda fountain?

  5. Patt J.

    If memory serves, and it almost never does, I don’t think Bridgeman’s was next to Snow White, but was at the end of Woodland Avenue, where Denny’s Lawn & Garden now exists.

  6. Jim

    I remember Burger Brothers in Gary-New Duluth and
    also going to Snow White to purchase meat–they had an excellent meat counter and butcher. I think the butcher rented the space from Snwo White
    as you paid for the meat at the butcher counter.
    Bioth Snow White and Burger Brother’s had excellent cuts of lamb and also amde mock chicken legs. Alsao, Ideal Market downtown was also an excellent family owned/operated store with a grat bakery!!!

  7. Chris

    Does anyone remember the Mike’s Far West Market? They had their own butcher shop in the back. I can still remember the smell and cramped aisles. The old butcher shops were far better then the packaged meat you get today from Super One and Cub. Old World Meats is the closest thing you have to the places of the past.

  8. m switzer

    Small were store were ounce a staple in the city but the advent of automobiles killed them. As a kid my dad would put the car away for winter and he took the bus a lot, I now have 4 cars and a motorcycle for 2 people. My mother lold me when she was in Denfeld there was 1 car in the parking lot now high schools look like new car lots I see people driving around looking for a closer parking spot when going to the gym. The only problem wioth the small grocery store was for the owner putting in 12-14 hours a day and if you were open on Sunday that kill any free time you would have

  9. John, Toran’s Market is now a restaurant with dual names called Chester Creek Cafe / At Sara’s Table. It serves great coffee and has a wine bar. If you ever come back to Duluth, it’s definitely a place you should revisit.

  10. John

    There was another small market on 19th Ave E. north of 8th St and south of Kent. I think it was called Carter. I think it closed in the mid to late 70’s. How about Taren’s on 19th Ave and 8th? Is that still open? Sorry, I don’t live in Duluth anymore but I do frequent this site to look at old photos. thanks for posting them.

  11. Frank A

    Remember the ads on WAKX radio that would tell you what grocery stores were OPEN on Sunday?!?!?!?! I believe Snow White was one, but I was closer to Pletzs’ Grocery Store on the corner of Woodland and St. Marie where Republic Bank is now. I would like to see if you have an article on Pletz Grocery Store of better yet, a picture of it. I believe the owners lived above the store. It closed about 1974, give or take.

  12. Patt J.

    I remember going to Snow White in the 50s and 60s with my Aunt Kay, who lived in Woodland. It was one of the few stores open on Sunday in Duluth. (Busy Bee on Fourth Street was usually open on Sunday, too…now the home of Burrito Union, I think.) Dennis is so right: those small neighborhood stores are so important. He’s right about Marshall Hardware, too … a fabulous store in Lakeside. We’re lucky to have them. I grew up in the lower Kenwood area and we had a great little neighborhood store (Schoen’s, I believe) on Martha Street. Gone but not forgotten.

  13. michelle

    I worked at Snow White in the late ’40s and early ’50s with my Uncle Walter Miller, the owner and founder of Snow White Grocery, and his sons, my cousins Dick and Don Miller. I stocked shelves in my teens to earn some pocket money, and will remember always the joy of helping Don with deliveries on Saturdays. We became very close and had great fun together bringing groceries to customer’s homes and we always started the day with coffee and fresh, warm cinammon rolls from a small bakery on East Fourth Street. Don also taught me how to drive, using the Snow White truck. That was a very special time in my life. My uncle Walter taught me many valuable lessons about good working ethic including, “Whenever you come from the back (supply) room of the store to the front of the store, do not come empty-handed. Always find something that needs to be brought to the customer area.” His practical advice has stood me in good stead over the years. I am grateful to have had such a wonderful opportunity to work at Snow White Grocery with the Millers..

    1. Kim Taylor

      Don & Mary Ellen Miller are god-parents to one of my siblings. I remember the old Snow White Grocery. Where is Donny at now?

  14. Don Dahlberg

    Thank you for an article that brought a smile to my face! I remember working at Snow White as a teenager. Donnie,Dick, Mark and all the Miller family understood real customer service. Does anybody remember the day’s when your grocery could be delivered to your door? I do, because that was part of my job, plus it did not bother me to come in on sundays, sometimes 3-4 times to stock shelves !!!!!
    Don D. Ellensburg Washington

  15. Nancy

    I remember going there all the time as I lived 2 blocks from there. They were great folks & really cared about the customers. They are still missed….

  16. Dennis

    Stores like this are important to a neighborhood. Just visit Marshall Hardware in Lakeside to take a step back in time and see how retailing can still be done…I remember the corner candy store…if you had a nickel you could come out with a nice little bag of licorice records, jaw breakers, laffy-taffy, black jack gum or maybe some lik-um-aid.

  17. Al

    I grew up just two blocks from Snow White and walked by it daily to school at Washburn, played Little League with Mark.
    I have many, many memories of Snow White but none any better than in my young adulthood still driving there to get custom cut steaks from there to grill out.

  18. Jim D

    What a wonderfull time that was. I worked in the meat market at Snow White for many years growing up as a kid. The Miller’s and Mr Green were great mentors in teaching us young kids the true meaning of customer service (which you really dont see much these days). Snow White was a nice neighborhood grocery store where people enjoyed shopping at and knowing they would be served well with great prices, good quality food, and great meat (and don’t everyone forget the awesome potatoe sausage. We still rave about that!).
    It is too bad times have changed and big business has forced the little guys out becuase i would sure like to believe we would be a better society. Thank-You Bluege, Donnie, Dick and Mark.

    1. Debby Long

      I found this site while Googling for a source for real potato sausage like the ones Bluge made at the Snow White grocery store in the 60s when I was a kid. We lived on Sparkman Avenue, and it was my job to do the shopping at Snow White. I remember Donnie well – so kind and friendly, as were all. We had a black Labrador named, Dory, who was extremely helpful in carrying the loaf of Wonderbread up the hill (Oxford Street) to our house without crushing a single slice of bread. (The bag had a bit of drool on it, but the bread was always pristine. I also remember walking down to the Snow White followed by my two mallard ducklings and two white domestic ducklings. They had “imprinted” on me as chicks, and, accompanied by Dory, we made quite a scene as we marched down the hill to the grocery store. The ducks, under the watchful eye of our masterful retriever, waited patiently at the door to the Snow White – quacking amicably among themselves until I emerged with the bag of groceries. Then back up the hill in single file. I have wonderful memories of Donnie and of course, Bluge the Butcher. Once, he even found calf’s brains for me for a Julia Child’s recipe for “Cervelles Braisées”! Still haven’t found a source for his delectable potato sausage though. Anybody who knows a butcher who ships potato sausage, please email me at bamcl@bellsouth.net. Forever in your debt. You betcha.

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