For more than 100 years, a small grocery store has stood on the corner of Myrtle and Owens streets in Stillwater. Although ownership has passed through various hands several times, Len’s Family Foods has occupied the corner store for more than two decades—and has no plans to leave any time soon. Open 365 days of the year, the grocery store is a neighborhood gem, well-loved and well-known in the Valley as a warm and welcoming place to shop.
The family in Len’s Family Foods is not only a part of the name, it is a part of the store’s identity, as well. Named for owner Len Nelson, the beloved corner store is a family-owned and -operated business, which makes it not only one of the best-loved grocery stores in the St. Croix Valley, but one of the more unusual, as well.
This year marks the 22nd anniversary of Len’s, but the building itself has been around since 1900 and has always housed a grocery store. Nelson says that storied history is a big part of what makes it so special. “We are, in fact, the oldest business in operation in the same location in Stillwater,” he says. He first opened the store back in the early 1990s to avoid growing too bored during retirement. After spending his life in the grocery business—his first job as a teenager was in a grocery store—opening his own seemed like the obvious choice. And, of course, the location was already perfect.
“We are one of the last of what are called mom-and-pop stores around, so we’re very proud of that, and we’re proud to serve our community,” Nelson says. With so many chain grocery stores popping up throughout the Valley, family-owned operations are a rarity. Even in the midst of such changes, however, Len’s continues to hold its own.
Throughout the years, Len’s Family Store has remained a family affair. Nelson’s son Kevin works as the store manager; his daughter-in-law Tammy does the books for the store, and his grandson Jacob runs the meat department. Though the staff is small, they work hard and love what they do, and they make a point to treat their customers like family.
“We pride ourselves on our fast and friendly service,” Nelson says. At his store, even running in to pick up a dozen eggs or a loaf of bread is a positive experience, and Nelson works to ensure that it’s as easy as possible; you’ll never have to wait in line too long. “It’s always quick and easy shopping, easy parking,” he says. “I sound like a record, don’t I? But we really do pride ourselves on that.”
As a full-service grocery store, Len’s has just about everything that could be on your weekly shopping list, despite its small size. There’s fresh produce, a bakery and a dairy department, but the store’s meat market is particularly noteworthy. “One of the things that we have that’s special is our meat department, which has a sterling reputation in the St. Croix Valley,” Nelson says. They use the highest-grade products available, and, of course, the service is second to none. Employees greet customers with friendly hellos and are more than happy to answer questions, make recommendations or make you a delicious sandwich for lunch.
So the next time your fridge gets empty—especially as we enter the holiday season, with the store’s 365-days-a-year policy—consider paying Len’s Family Foods a visit. The colorful mural on the side of the building makes it easy to find, and its friendly service makes supporting a local business even more rewarding. Nelson says that, more than anything, he and his family are grateful that their work gives them the opportunity to serve people throughout the community they have long called home.
“I consider myself a native of Stillwater, because I used to work at Hooley’s in the olden days and the Red Owl when that was still here,” he says. “I sure love the Stillwater area. I’ve been here and been a grocer all my life.”