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From fixing car engines to making caramel rolls, Grove City mechanic builds new Schmidty's store

Marle Gaarder Jr., co-owner of Schmidty's in Grove City, left, talks with store regular Gale Peterson of Grove City at the store's counter. Gaarder tore down his old service station to build the new store, which opened in late January. The store sells gasoline, diesel and groceries. It also has a deli counter that makes cheeseburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, egg rolls and pizza. Tribune photo by Linda Vanderwwerf

GROVE CITY -- After years of operating a one-man automotive shop, Marle Gaarder Jr. encountered a steep learning when he built and opened a new convenience store.

Instead of repairing engines and changing oil, Gaarder is now perfecting the art of making caramel rolls and sub sandwiches.

The new Schmidty's convenience store in Grove City opened in late January.

Schmidty's owner Tom Schmidt has been after him for about 10 years to make this move, Gaarder said, and he had avoided it for a time. But after being a mechanic for years, he said, "My hands were starting to hurt, my back was starting to hurt."

With the new store, he's still working long hours on concrete floors, but he can do it wearing tennis shoes.

The store sells gasoline, including E-85, and diesel fuel. It sells groceries and has a deli counter that makes cheeseburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, egg rolls and pizza. It has Minnesota Lottery games and rents videos. He plans to carry a full line of bait, too.

So far, the community has been supporting his business, Gaarder said. Employees from nearby businesses will often come in for lunch, and he has some regulars who stop in for coffee most days.

One of those regulars, Gale Peterson of Grove City, said he thinks the new store is great. It was natural for him to come for coffee at Gaarder's new business. "I was a regular in the old place," he said.

"I hope the town appreciates what we did," Gaarder said.

The number one seller so far is the personal-sized pizza, he said. He's still learning to gauge what his community wants, he said, and if people ask for something, he'll try to get it.

Gaarder started stocking more eggs, because they sell well in Grove City. He found room in his freezer for frozen strawberries when customers requested them.

Gaarder said he is getting used to using the various electronic machines needed for different parts of the business. His wife, Sue, is a bookkeeper and has helped him get the accounting system running smoothly.

Building a new business during a recession was not an issue him, Gaarder said.

"I don't know, how do you decide when is a good time," he said. A lot of contractors were eager for work and gave him good prices, he said. He contractors from Grove City, Atwater and Litchfield to do the work and worked alongside them on the project.

"I believe in shopping local and staying local," he said.

With the economy still down, he said, he feels the store has done well.

Gaarder is a co-owner of the business, with Schmidt. He said it has helped to operate under the Schmidty's name because it's an established business and he can rely on the Schmidts' experience in operating and promoting similar businesses.

Right now, his hours are long, he said, mostly 12 hour days that start at 7 a.m. "With any small business, you've got to make your own check," he added. He hopes as the business becomes more established he'll be able to cut back on the hours a bit.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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