The Story Of Us
My father and mother, Milford and Helen Nelson, started Fleet Farm Supply in the early 50’s. My father was an entrepreneur with his hands in everything: I can remember when I was a kid he went into business with my uncle Dale selling accordions; I always thought it was funny seeing them laying around the house and neither one of could play them.
Milford took an opportunity to sell tools for Lesota tool company of Albert Lea. They were driving across the Midwest and their biggest score was in power tools. As soon as they hit the market my father would follow powerlines from state to state selling his power tools out of the back of his Buick.
At one point they met Fred Fichtner, who ran a buying group for an automotive company. Fred told them about a group he was forming where 12 stores would leverage their buying power to get a better deal. Sadly, my father didn’t have the $1500 entry to get in that year. Through hard work and perseverance, the money came. They joined in 56.
They found their first physical location in the back of Olson Motors building next to the Union Center, the old Premier Video store. Later on Olson Motors moved out and my parents took on the rent of the entire building.
The American Dream was alive and on track! All the hard work had paid off.
Tragically my father Milford, passed away from a heart attack leaving my mother, brother and me behind. At the time it was rare for a woman to take on the role of a business owner. She persevered, gained the respect of other business owners in town, and kept growing the business.
My uncle Dale came back to Albert Lea for a visit in 1963, and while he was here they heard of a building down the street going up for auction. Dale said he would stay in town and help my mother with the bidding. She made Dale promise not to bid more than 15k, but as bidding passed 15k Dale kept bidding. I remember my mother telling the story of punching him in the ribs and telling him to stop. The bid went up to 18k, with one more punch to the ribs Dale yelled out 20k! The bidding stopped, the party moved onto the union center, and we are in the store you see today. We later added onto the building twice and picked up the lots behind for storage.
Helen was far ahead of her time as a woman in business, gaining the respect of her peers. She loved her boys, her business and her Cadillac’s and ran the store until her passing in 1995. My brother and I went on to run the store, and shortly after I bought him out and brought my wife in to help.
It is with a heavy, yet proud, heart that this part of our journey will come to an end. Our kids have gone on to their own successes. Ryan is in the Minneapolis area where he runs and operates multiple businesses he started, and Kari followed through her passion to help others and is currently a physician assistant in the Winona area. With no one to carry the torch and an itch to end on our terms, we announce our retirement and the closure of our store.
I personally have worked in the store since I was in grade school. The story above never happens without the support of a great community. From my family to yours, we are humbled and ever-so thankful for the 60+ years that you continued to walk through our doors.
Let the liquidation and our retirement begin!!
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