With a recent change to the nature of their business, the Arnesons enjoyed sharing fun memories.
Forty-six years ago, in 1972, Al and Rae Ann Arneson moved to 100 1/2 Greenback Street in Sleepy Eye with 62 bricks, nine boards (their entertainment center) and a few pieces of furniture. They had just purchased the 40-account Barthel Grain Belt and Hauenstein Beer Distribution rights.
With a recent change to the nature of their business (more on that later), the Arnesons enjoyed sharing fun memories of their early years in Sleepy Eye and how their business developed.
Before moving here, the only visit they had to Sleepy Eye was a quiet Saturday during the Centennial Celebration. “The few people we saw were dressed in long dresses and bonnets, clothing of the Centennial era,” said Rae Ann. During that visit they stopped at the Wagon Wheel in Essig, as that is as far east as they would distribute in the territory they purchased.
Rae Ann said they were given smearkucken by Martha Barthel, and invited to a sauerkraut and dumpling Sunday dinner at Warren Sandmann’s home. (Warren managed the “old” Eagles Club.) Another memory is of being asked to play sheephead. “This was the only “German” feature we two Norwegians didn’t embrace,” Al said. Rae Ann said, “Sharon Carr came to welcome us on behalf of the Welcome Wagon.” The Arnesons started their family not long after moving to Sleepy Eye.
“Al had one small delivery truck and a ‘hugger orange’ pickup,” said Rae Ann. “That was such a bright orange color, I’ll never forget it — it was just not like Al to have something like that.”
“Our first warehouse was the back of the Serviceman’s Club, which is now the dance portion of the club,” said Al. “To get a new load of beer in, the whole warehouse had to be emptied into the alley first.”
Rae Ann enjoyed reminiscing about fun times in Sleepy Eye:
“Main Street had two on and off sale liquor stores, and was lined with a number of bars and restaurants, retailers, clothing stores, and specialty businesses — shoe repair, barbers, movie theatre, and bakery. There were several car dealers and gas stations where they filled your tank and washed your windows!
“The couples Friday night golf league was always a peppy summer night time, and the MDA fundraiser golf tournament “chicken poop” was a classic for this memorable and rewarding event. There was live music at various bars or the Orchid Inn every weekend. At the Orchid Inn there was shrimp on the salad bar, gizzards and shrimp dip in the bar, and popcorn in boxes as the ballroom dances ended. Apple rings on the dinner plates and people enjoying late night breakfasts created fun times at the Delroy.
“Sleepy Eye was a busy downtown and Friday nights, with stores open, were buzzing!”
Living in Sleepy Eye was a good experience as the Arneson family grew to three children — Annie (now Steffl), Toby and Teddy; and kept growing to include five grandchildren — Adam and Alexa Steffl, and AJ, Brooke and Blaine Arneson. Al and Rae Ann said all their grandkids have worked in the business.
Many, many parades, fairs, festivals, and celebrations were fun family functions for the Arnesons. “We participated in many local functions, but Al’s favorite will always be the 31 years he spent on the Sleepy Eye Fire Department!” said Rae Ann.
Over the years, Arnesons employed a variety of local employees who worked in different capacities, some a short while and some were with them for many years. “In a small town, this included three Weicherdings and three Heiderscheidts,” said Rae Ann, “two of which are still with us today.”
There were many changes in the business over the years, and Al and Rae Ann worked on various projects. Together, they developed 1919 Classic American Draft Root Beer, and Buddy’s Original Sodas. About twenty years ago, they bought the Hauenstein label to preserve it and bring it back to the area of origin. As always, all of their products are made locally at the August Schell Brewery. For years, the family enjoyed and appreciated the local support they received and worked to give back to the community they called home.
As the years went by Al and Rae Ann worked more on these new family ventures. “Toby and Annie gradually took over most of the day to day operations of Arneson Distributing Company, and brought the business to the next level,” said Al. “Teddy no longer lives in Sleepy Eye, but his education has made it possible for him to be a frequent consultant for family business projects.”
This fall, Locher Brothers of Green Isle called to see if Arnesons had any interest in selling Arneson Distributing Company. Al and Rae Ann said they had a family discussion, which gradually went from no, to maybe, and eventually, to yes. The sale of the business was finalized on Dec. 1, forty-six years and two months after Arneson Distributing began.
Pam Braulick and Alisa Heiderscheidt still work with the Arneson family. The office and Arneson’s Gift Shop in Sleepy Eye will remain open. The distribution business is now all located in Green Isle and run by Locher Brothers. Arnesons no longer have any delivery trucks, vehicles, or trailers.
Al and Rae Ann said they are still working, but are transitioning, as Toby and Annie take over the 1919, Buddy’s, and Hauenstein portions of the business. The family goal is to maintain the established base, grow the brands, and expand to more markets.
Arnesons thank everyone for the memories, support, and friendships over the years, and hope they left others with good memories as well.