FREEDHEM -- The creamery closed long ago in the tiny town of Freedhem, a small farming community about 12 miles northeast of Little Falls.
In its wake, the two churches in town closed as well, leaving the town's 35 residents with only the Freedhem Store.
The store, originally built by founders Oscar and Alfred Swanson in 1902, is not just a place to buy a cold soda, although that's one of its most popular items.
The store is where to go to find out the latest gossip, a place to go to shake dice in the mornings with neighbors and the gathering place in town after church on Sundays. Residents hang out on the antique green bench inside or sit and chat on the nearby old church pew, a souvenir from the former Swedish Lutheran Church.
"This is the pew you can't cuss on," owner Paul Nieman said of the old church pew. "But this pew ... If it could tell you stories I wouldn't have to work anymore."
The store, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary Saturday, almost never made it to the 21st century. Twenty-six years ago, the store owner was selling it and it appeared no one wanted to buy it. Nieman, who owns an 800-acre farm in Freedhem, came home one day after a trip up town and told his wife, Celia, they were going to buy the Freedhem Store.
"I said, 'What?'" recalled Celia with a laugh.
The Freedhem Store -- the only store in the small farming community 12 miles northeast of Little Falls in Morrison County -- will celebrate its 100th anniversary Saturday. The store, originally built in 1902, has been located in its current building since 1914 and remains nearly the same as when founders and brothers Oscar and Alfred Swanson built it. (Dispatch Photos by Jodie Tweed)
The couple has maintained the timeless quality that the store has had since the Swanson brothers owned it. The original wooden shelves, counters, bins and glass cases are the same ones that were installed by the Swansons. Even the tin ceiling remains intact. The Niemans also use the same antique cash machine. The original store was built in 1902, and the current building was built nearby in 1914.
Paul Nieman remembers as a boy going up to the store and getting a free hand-out of penny candy from the former owner, Ed Swanson. Every now and again he does the same thing for the children in town, although the candy costs more than a penny now.
The store stocks everything from livestock feed to fan belts, kitchen supplies, knee boots and food.
"We close at 4 p.m., but people know where we live and stop by," said Celia. "If we know them we give them the key and they can get it themselves. We're just country folk."
The store has its own lending library. The bookmobile no longer stops in Freedhem so residents decided to lend and borrow books from one another at the store.
"We've had it so long, it's a part of me," Paul said of his store. "I won't close it as long as I can move. What the hell would I do? Who would I aggravate?"
According to Celia, most people come into the store to chat with "the boss," her husband.
"This is the place for the B.S., that's the truth," said customer Robert Stevenson, who stopped in for a cold soda Wednesday afternoon. "And a little bit of politics and whatever."
The Niemans are hosting a celebration from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday in a tent next to the store to celebrate its 100th anniversary. The public is invited for root beer floats, sandwiches, chips and cake.
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