"Cherry King." Prairies 8, no. 3: September 1984, 111-112.
General stores have played an important role in the development
of the Dakotas. And perhaps one of the most famous of all general
stores in McIntosh County was the one operated in Lehr by Eugene
G. Grenz and his wife Evelyn.
Shelves and floor-space were so packed with merchandise that sometimes
it was difficult to turn around. People drove there from great distances
to pick up bargains, browse and purchase fresh fruits and fish.
The Grenzes and their salespeople had an energetic, highly persuasive
sales delivery. It was hard to resist their enthusiasm.
“Just take a bite of these delicious apples trucked in from
Washington this morning!” excitedly elucidated a saleswoman
No where had I ever eaten such a scrumptious apple! The truth!!
Naturally, the outcome of the experiment was that my wife wound
up buying a whole box of those delectable apples, and never mind
that we already had plenty of fruit in the refrigerator at home.
But that was what shopping at the Grenz General store was often
like. For many, it was a very colorful, social experience.
Grenz had his start in business working for his uncle, Pete Wentz,
and his father G.G. Grenz, in the Wentz and Grenz Store in Napoleon.
They merchandised groceries, meats, fruits, vegetables, and general
merchandise, and were also buyers of wool, poultry, and eggs.
In the summer of 1934, Eugene went to merchandising and interior
decorating school in St. Louis, Missouri. He was graduated in the
summer of 1935, and then attended Bismarck Business College. Wentz
& Grenz had a store started in 1934 in Ashley with Emanuel Derheim
as owner and manager. The store was in the building that is now
the office of Montana-Dakota Utilities.
In the fall of 1936, Derheim decided that business was not for
him, and resigned. Eugene was then asked to manage the store.
At that time there were 10 stores in Ashley that were partly or
fully grocery stores.
They were Max Kelberg’s, the Sackman Store, Lippert Store,
Harry Rosen’s, Andy Meidinger’s, Straule Meat Market,
Spitzer’s Store, Wentz & Grenz, Glur Meat Market, and
In 1938, this store of Wentz & Grenz was sold to Emanuel W.
Schock of Ashley, and Eugene moved to Lehr in August 1938.
At first, he managed the store in Lehr, but then he bought it,
operating the business for 42 years at which time he sold it for
While in business, Grenz’s promotions were usually in large
quantities emphasizing volume. He started with truckloads of cherries
direct from the cheery cherry country in Kalispel, Montana.
“The largest amount of cherries sold was in 1972,”
said Grenz, “when the Rhodes semi of Jamestown brought in
1,200 20 lb. boxes.”
That was not all. There were another 100 boxes brought in the pickup
usually driven by Evelyn, who went out and bought the cherries.
Said Grenz: “With sweat and no sleep for two nights, the
cherries were gone in three days!”
No wonder that Retailers Magazine called Eugene the “Cherry
Man of North Dakota.”
Another big sales hit was his promotions of fresh fish direct from
Canada in January. It also became a high volume item and much-waited-for
annual promotion. His fresh-fish promotion was started in the early
1950s, remaining a good volume business special until Eugene sold
out in 1978.
One of his busiest fish seasons was when he sold 38,000 lbs. of
fresh frozen fish! His advertising slogan was EAT FISH FOR HEALTH.
Christmas-time promotions centered around tons of
unbleached walnuts, direct from California, and selling
at 25 cents to 50 cents per lb.
And then every fall in the 40's and 50's, Grenz would
sell a rail carload of grapes, mostly wine grapes
which were shared with the Wentz & Grenz Store
He also sold carloads each of flour, assorted salts (table and
cattle salt), and mixed fruits (usually peaches, pears, and plums).
“Volume was the word,” Grenz said. It was a highly
successful formula because people from many miles away in order
to save on his carload specials.
In order to drum up even more business, Grenz organized General
Merchandise Auction Sales each fall. Those annual promotions took
place in the Lehr Legion Hall, next door to his store.
Explained Grenz: “This was an auction-with-action sale that
people waited for. It was ‘buy for your price of auction.’”
Besides the bargains, the auctions were downright fun to attend.
A person ended up seeing people he hadn’t seen in years.
The auction-sales were always highly successful, and were glowingly
written about in various trade publications.
Finally, after 42 years in business, the Grenzes sold the grocery
store to Dan and Darlene Adams. The general store is now owned by
Sharon and Alvin Rosier. Adams then sold the grocery store to Eugene
Glass, which is now is owned by Dixie Niles.
The Grenzes can look back at their business career with an enormous
amount of satisfaction. They reached out and touched the lives of
many people in the Central Dakota region. In fact, Eugene was listed
in the 1984 edition of Who’s Who in North Dakota. That’s
quite an accomplishment!