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Jungas Celebrates 100th Year

by Bill Paulson
from Mt. Lake newspaper,
September, 1997
Sent to us by Marion Franz

What's been a secret to Jungas Hardware's 100 years on Mt. Lake's main street?

It just may be shoes...hundreds of them piled up in front of the store after it was destroyed in a March 7, 1920 fire.

Those shoes were all that remained of the Jungas Hardware inventory, John P. Jungas said. He was 10 at the time, and watched not only the store, but the Jungas family apartment and the telephone company on the second floor go up in the flames. "We had just gotten a grand piano for Christmas," John said. It was lost along with the family possessions including the cat, which was repeatedly rescued, but kept running back into the burning building. All that survived from the apartment were five freshly baked loaves of bread and the family Bible. (Also Mom's doll, right? - Jo)

The fire started next door in the Heppner and Dick Garage (now the Marston building) where just-delivered oil ignited in a corner. A 16-foot-wide alley separated it from the hardware, and at first Jungas Hardware didn't appear to be threatened. Firemen were confident they could contain the garage blaze until they discovered the closest fire hydrant at city part was frozen.

This was before running water, so a bucket brigade was formed to draw water from the store cistern to fight the fire. It was a hopeless effort. Soon flames engulfed the hardware store as well as a residence south of the store. (On the Epp's Store lot). Although a bucket brigade couldn't save the building nor other contents, the substantial shoe inventory (it occupied 25% of the store) was saved because it was close to the front door. People grabbed shoes and piled them in the street.

That was on a Saturday night. The next day John P.'s father, John Sr., struck a deal to purchase the empty hotel "annex" (now the Pizza Ranch parking lot). Monday morning John Sr. was open for business with, you guessed it, a shoe sale. (His shoe supplier sent men down to sort and help display the shoes.)

The proceeds from that shoe sale, says John, are what funded the continuation of Jungas Hardware. As the shoes went out, in came hardware. Once the shoes were all sold, that was it. Jungas Hardware never again sold shoes.

John's mother had a lot to do with keeping the family in funds too. She turned the upper stories of the 3-story annex building into a hotel, the only one in town. John remembers the store was on the first floor, the family occupied much of the second floor and 12 or so rooms, mostly on the third floor, were rented out.

As Jungas Hardware celebrates its 100th year this weekend, the fire remains a landmark in its history. Another came seven years later when a new building was built on the location of the fire site. (John's brother, Henry, was the store's serviceman. He built all the new fixtures.) That's where Jungas Hardware has resided for all but seven of its 100 years.

You might be interested that the first event to take place in the new Jungas Hardware building in 1927 was not a grand opening sale. No, it was the wedding reception for John's sister, Anna, who had just married John N. C. Hiebert. "The whole town was invited," John remembers.

Started as bicycle shop

The history of Jungas Hardware began when a young 25-year-old man from Danzig, Germany opened a bicycle repair shop in Mt. Lake. In 1895 John Jungas Sr. repaired and sold bikes, gradually adding hardware. By 1897 he was running a fully-stocked hardware store.

He took his family back to Germany once, in 1914, and that's when John, just 4, saw his Jungas grandparents for the only time. He kept up the family ties to Germany, though, returning five more times.

John and older brother Al (Leando) worked in the hardware store as youngster s. He remembers that in high school, he would beat it to the store from school at noon to clerk while his dad grabbed dinner. After school, he headed straight to the store. Hardware was in John's blood. While Al went off to Carlton College, John stayed at home in the store, learning from his father.

That isn't to say Al didn't have the same entrepreneurial spirit. He had his fingers in many things, some---like Alpen Krauter---he had the store sell for him. He also had a wide-ranging pots-and-pans business. It was only natural Al would gravitate back to the store as well. In 1931 the sons bought out their dad. John was 21, Al was seven years older.

He was no longer the owner, but John St. rarely missed a day at the store until his death in 1945.

John purchased Al's interest in 1962. In 1964 he sold Jungas Hardware to son Jack and son-in-law Lee Loewen, extending ownership to the third generation. Jack purchased Lee's share in 1970.

Today Jack and wife Becky mark the 100th anniversary of the family-owned store. You would be hard pressed to find another business in the area which has stayed family-owned for a century.

Their daughters, Kristin and Karna, worked at the store after school and summers during college. But both are now married and have families in the Twin Cities. The generational link has evidently been broken.

As for John, 87, he's at the store daily, fixing and selling on his own schedule. That includes a respite to Florida each winter.

Looking back, and ahead

John has seen a lot of water go over the dam as he looks back on his 60-plus years at Jungas Hardware. The changes in customer demands and the products they buy, as well as the customers themselves, are enormous as he recalls them.

When John and Al ran the store, they split their duties. Al sold the field seed, which was a big business, while John concentrated on hardware. They endured the depression years of the 1930's when nobody had any money, and the war years of the 1940's with its shortages and rationing.

John remembers buying a car load of coal and wood stoves, and making a slim profit of $49.95 per stove. He also remembers when the first automatic washer came out. It groaned and vibrated so much, he told himself it would never sell.

When people show concern about today's large ethnic population that has problems with English, he chuckles. He remembers back when a primary requirement for being a Jungas Hardware clerk was the need to speak German. "Most of the old people couldn't speak English."

The store today is hardly like it was when John sold it. It's expanded several times under Jack and Becky's ownership, both in size and in services. Most significant, John says, are the carpet department added 10 years ago, and the Rent-It Center added three years ago.

Customers have been winners, too, in promotional drawings over the years. Lou Bottin won a trip for her family to Disney World. Richard Stout won a trip to Denver and Virginia Anderson won a $500 shopping spree.

100th Anniversary bash runs Thurs. thru Sat.

Bring your memories and your souvenirs of Jungas Hardware's 100 years with you to the anniversary celebration at the store this Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 18-20.

You can gab about the old days with some people who lived them--John, of course, and Eddie Quiring, Frank Jungas and Susie Balzer. They were long-time store employees who will be holding court from 10 to 11 a.m. on Saturday.

If you have any old photos, souvenirs, receipts, calendars, etc., you may want to display them at a Memorabilia Display in the store. The Jungases are especially looking for pre-1920 pictures of the old store that burned. Theirs, of course, went up in smoke.

An ad on page 3 gives details of the big weekend event. It will include $1,500 in door prizes, a Saturday noon hog roast, and much more. A century of service deserves the celebration Jungas Hardware is giving it.