Volunteers keep a 93-years-long business tradition popping
GRANITE FALLS -- The Minnesota Twins turned to a relative newcomer on the roster, Tommy Milone, to pitch the 2015 season opener. The Granite Falls Kiwanis stuck with their veterans, trusting Tom Kramer and Les Bergquist to staff the Granite Falls...
GRANITE FALLS - The Minnesota Twins turned to a relative newcomer on the roster, Tommy Milone, to pitch the 2015 season opener.
The Granite Falls Kiwanis stuck with their veterans, trusting Tom Kramer and Les Bergquist to staff the Granite Falls popcorn stand on its season opener Friday night.
It’s a good thing they did: “Unbelievable,’’ Bergquist said. “An all-time record.’’
The duo tallied up $999 in sales by firing containers of popcorn and glasses of 1919 Root Beer out of the popcorn stand like Tommy Milone fastballs. They kept up the pace for three straight hours. They bested their own 2013 opening night record of $605 by 68 percent.
“I really like to have Tom there on the opener,’’ Bergquist said. “I like to be there too to back him because I know how busy it is.’’
Bergquist co-manages the popcorn stand along with Mike Elliot, Brad Peterson and Mike Betker.
Since 2002, the Granite Falls Kiwanis has owned and operated the stand. Its 30 or so members take turns as volunteers to staff it from 7 to 10 p.m. every evening of the week. The season runs from the opener on the first weekend in May through Labor Day, and includes weekends into October.
The Kiwanis took on a tradition that dates to 1922, when Fred Ernston Jr. erected the first popcorn stand at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Prentice Street in downtown Granite Falls. There has been a popcorn stand operating at this site continuously ever since, Bergquist said.
It’s believed that Ernston originally opened at this site because the Granite Theatre was only two storefronts away. Movie houses eventually caught on and began selling their own concessions, but the outdoor popcorn stand has never lacked for business.
Credit the success to tried and true business practices. Bergquist said they pop up the best. Last season they popped up three-quarters of a ton of fresh-packed Morgan Popcorn. It’s popped in coconut oil and topped only with real butter, which is then sprinkled with fine ground popcorn salt.
Patrons swear by the 1919 Root Beer as well, all of it poured straight from an ice-cold keg. Schell’s Brewery began making the root beer in 1919, the year that Congress passed the Prohibition Act authored by Congressman Andrew Volstead of Granite Falls. In more recent years, Granite Falls native Al Arneson, currently of Sleepy Eye, purchased the root beer recipe and has been supplying the kegs of the sweet treat ever since.
The popcorn stand had seen a number of different owners through its years before the last private owners, David and Jill Kafka, turned it over to the Kiwanis. Bergquist said the Kiwanis took it on with a commitment to make certain the stand would be staffed and opened every day of the season.
Along with tasty treats, everyone knows that a walk or drive to the popcorn stand will also be rewarded with the opportunity to bump into friends and neighbors. “It’s like a community center,’’ Bergquist said.
“If something is going on around town, you hear about it down there and probably hear two or three versions of it,” he added, laughing.
He also gets to hear stories from all over Minnesota and beyond, thanks to the many out-of-town visitors the stand also attracts. Natives who are coming home for class or family reunions will visit the stand as certain as a home run hitter will stomp on home plate.
The popcorn stand also sees a lot of business from people who are traveling to and from lake cabins on summer weekends. Many purposely make a detour into town for popcorn and a chance to break up their trip, Bergquist said.
He also sees a fair number of visitors who happened to have heard about this icon from friends. They hop on motorcycles, or in vintage cars or whatever they rely on for transportation. They make the site just half-a-block from the Minnesota River their summer’s evening destination for the sheer fun of it.
Bergquist said the Kiwanis know better than to tamper with a good thing. The current popcorn stand was built in 1969. It offers its workers no more than 36 square feet, but the Kiwanis have resisted the temptation to expand it.
All of the profits are donated to projects that serve youth. They range from the “We Read’’ program at the local library to a scholarship program for Yellow Medicine East graduates.
Last year the Kiwanis donated $16,000 to these and other efforts thanks to the popcorn stand.