The narrow aisles and crowded counters behind Berger Hardware owner Sam Berger serve to support his advertising slogan, “The store that has everything.” This photo is from January 1983. (Bob King / News-Tribune)
This hardware store really does have everything
News-Tribune, January 24, 1983
Sam Berger is a chip off the old block – and so is the hardware store he owns in Superior.
Berger has spent most of his life, starting as a youngster, in the business his father opened in 1915. And like his father, who worked at the store until he died five years ago, Sam Berger has kept the Berger Hardware of today just like the Berger Hardware of yesteryear.
It stocks hardware and household items that can be found on the shelves at most of his competitors, from neighborhood hardware stores to the supermarket-style home-building centers.
But what Sam Berger, and before him Morris Berger, have done is retain the atmosphere of a hardware store of decades ago – complete with merchandise that may have been on the display shelves and counters 10 to even 40 years ago. Tucked away in corners, on shelving, hanging from the walls and ceiling are such items as handles for walking plows, horse collars, blacksmith tools, two-man saws, milk cans and plumbing and building supplies of another era.
Sam Berger knows what’s in the store at 525 Tower Ave. and, despite its old-time flavor, he’s an astute businessman. If Berger Hardware doesn’t have what a customer wants, he’ll try to locate it by telephone from some other hardware store owner or supplier from among a list of connections he’s made over the years.
“You can call Berger Hardware the store that has everything,” Sam Berger says in his astute businessman’s sales pitch. “Everything but money, that is.”
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Sam Berger, who took over the hardware business founded in Superior by his father, makes some long-distance phone calls to locate a hard-to-find item sought by a customer in January 1983. (Bob King / News-Tribune)
Sam Berger died in 1993, and the store passed to his son, Charles. Charles Berger suffered some health problems and sold the store to Jim Kremer in May 1994. Kremer ran the store for about three years, but was plagued by the lack of a inventory or organization of all the store’s merchandise. He closed the store, and the contents were auctioned off in March 1999. Here’s the story from the March 19, 1999, News-Tribune…
Eager bidders eye a spool of rope up for auction at the old Berger Hardware in Superior on March 18, 1999. People came to the auction from all over the area, including small groups of Amish from southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin. (Bob King / News-Tribune)
FOLKS HAVE SOFT SPOT FOR LONGTIME HARDWARE STORE
BARGAIN HUNTERS FROM REGION, FAR AWAY REMINISCE, PICK UP TOOLS AT BERGER AUCTION
By Candace Renalls, News-Tribune
They came to Superior’s North End by the hundreds Thursday for good buys and rare finds as Berger Hardware’s massive inventory began being auctioned off.
With it goes the end of an era.
The old-fashioned store at 525 Tower Ave., a North End fixture since 1915, had long been known as THE place to go in the Twin Ports for odd pieces of hardware, no matter how old or obscure.
On Thursday, bidders wearing serious expressions, crowded around the auctioneer’s truck on a closed stretch of North Sixth Street as item by item, box by box, pile by pile, the inventory began to shrink.
Items sold quickly — 100 pounds of rope, pick ax handles, cross-cut saws, rolls of wire, old boat anchors, large steel shelving units used in Berger’s warehouse.
By 12:30 p.m., two hours after the auction began, about 260 people from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Ontario had registered as bidders. The auction continues today and Saturday, then resumes next Friday and Saturday.
For $25, Jim Jamaouski of Esko bought caulking compound, a bunch of nuts and bolts and some rubber belting. For years, the 56-year-old farmer had been a regular customer at the store.
“It had a little bit of everything,” he said. “You could get stuff you couldn’t get anywhere else.”
The cash register inside the old Berger Hardware in Superior, seen here in March 1999, had been around since at least the 1950s.(Bob King / News-Tribune)
Among those who turned out Thursday were members of various Amish communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota who read about the store and auction in “Country Today,” a weekly farm newspaper.
Emery Hershberger of Harmony, Minn., was one of them.
“I’m interested in things we still use, like stainless steel milk strainers for straining cow’s milk,” said Hershberger, 28, who came to Superior with his nephew.
Jim Kremer, the store’s owner, said he intentionally tried to reach Amish communities with news of the auction.
“They’re looking for old hand drills, horse harness buckles, snaps, some buggy whip holders and braces for buckboards,” Kremer said.
And Berger Hardware had them, as well as an abundance of other hard-to-find items, some still in the boxes they came in more than 50 years ago.
The store, with its squeaky wooden floors and decades-old display cases, was founded by Morris Berger in 1915 in the tradition of a general store.
He’d buy in volume to get a better price. He’d go to auctions and buy in bulk, rapidly filling his storage space.
When Berger died in 1978, his son Sam took over the business.
The jam-packed store had it all, from horse harness buckles to hand plows, from turn-of-the-century coffee pots to globes for old ceiling lights, from 2-inch drill bits to old door knobs.
“If we don’t have it, you don’t need it,” Sam Berger used to say.
Sam Berger ran the business until he died in 1993 while sitting at his office desk. His son, Charles, left his chiropractic practice in St. Louis to take over the family business. But health problems forced him to sell the following year.
Jim Kremer at Berger Hardware in Superior in June 1994, shortly after he bought the iconic store. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)
Kremer, a former owner of Kremer Disposal of Superior, bought Berger Hardware in 1994. But finding merchandise seemingly placed randomly on shelves and stacked in storage was a challenge.
The Bergers kept no stock charts or inventory lists. They just knew what they had and where it was.
“Surprisingly, I got to where I could stumble around and find what I was looking for,” Kremer said.
But after running the operation for three years, Kremer tired of the hardware business. He closed the store 1 1/2 years ago. But the merchandise remained, filling the building’s three floors, basement and next-door warehouse.
“I loved the place,” Kremer said. “I appreciate some of the old stuff. But it started getting to me. It just isn’t my line of work.”
The entire stock is being auctioned off, along with display cases, office furniture and storage shelves. The building is up for sale, with an asking price of $185,000.
Sam Pomush, who says he practically grew up in the store, couldn’t resist showing up Thursday.
“I just had to come back and reminisce,” he said with a big grin.
“It was like a menagerie,” said the 52-year-old Pomush, who grew up in the North End. “Anything you wanted you could buy here.”
He pointed to a corner of the store and said, “Every kind of screw you’d ever want was there.”
He recalled the row of Schwinn bikes that used to be in the basement and the pans that lumberjacks used for cooking. He remembered well the turn-of-the-century safe and old cash register that soon will be sold.
“The store never changed,” he said, adding that that’s what made it special.
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The building that housed Berger Hardware has since been home to several restaurants, including Mama Get’s and, currently, Marlee’s Caribbean Restaurant.
UMD art student Matt Palmer browses through Berger Hardware in Superior to find art supplies on June 1, 1993. (Clara Wu / News-Tribune)
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