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Garden Hut owner Steve Flaten sells business after 46 years in Grand Forks

Flaten will stay on as a “teacher” for Garden Hut’s new owners: Tyler Haug, his brother Tom Haug and Andy Fruetel. All of the company’s employees are set to stay on as well, and the new owners stressed the customer experience will stay the same.

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Steve Flaten, second from left, is photographed with the new owners of The Garden Hut, Tyler Haug, Tom Haug and Andy Fruetel on Tuesday, July 19, 2022. Flaten sold the business after 46 years in Grand Forks.
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — Steve Flaten and his wife, Deb, opened the first Garden Hut in Grand Forks in 1976 in a building on University Avenue. After 46 years of being the sole owners and operators of the store, they decided it was time to hang up the lawn equipment — sort of.

“I’m going to stay on for a few months,” Flaten said.

Flaten will stay on as a “teacher” for Garden Hut’s new owners: Tyler Haug, his brother Tom Haug, and Andy Fruetel. All of the company’s employees are set to stay on as well, and the new owners stressed the customer experience will stay the same.

“It’s huge,” Fruetel said. “He knows the system better than anyone here and (can) help us with that.”

Now sitting at 949 2nd Ave. N., Garden Hut has sold various pieces of lawn care equipment for nearly 50 years, including lawn mowers, snow blowers, power equipment and more. Deb was in charge of the bookkeeping, and Steve handled the day-to-day operations.

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The Haug brothers and Fruetel finalized the purchase in July to become the new owners. The sale process began in June with Tom coming to the building to do a walk-through and inspect inventory. From there, the ball began rolling quickly. Now, Flaten will no longer be at the helm for the first time in more than four decades.

“(I would) live, eat and breathe Garden Hut for 46 years,” Flaten said.

What drew Tyler and Tom to the store was its status as a well-established business in Grand Forks. The numbers just made sense, and Tom called his old friend Fruetel about the opportunity. Both graduated in 2007 from Central High School and Red River High School, respectively.

“We’re good buddies,” Tom said. “We were in each other’s weddings and have kids the same age.”

Tyler jokingly referred to himself as the “tag-along brother,” and Fruetel joked back, saying he has “always been that annoying brother.”

Flaten made the decision to sell Garden Hut because he was, as he said, “getting older. It was time to quit.” At age 68, Flaten has been running the store with Deb since he was 22. He built the current building just after the 1997 Red River Flood. He did almost all of the concrete and building work.

“I started with digging in the dirt and poured concrete,” Flaten said. “I put up the steel and (did) all the finish work. That is kind of unusual, (especially nowadays).”

The flood was not a factor in moving, however. He bought the property the current store sits at about 10 years before moving there. Five years after that, the warehouse was built and another five years later, the store portion was finished. Garden Hut moved into its new location in the winter of 1999.

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“We moved in here, and it’s four times as big and filled it all,” Flaten said. “(We) moved in and were shocked because it was so huge.”

Looking back on it all, Flaten said he has fond memories of his time at Garden Hut. While his time at the store is not quite over, he said he will miss the routine and enjoyment of it all.

“I guess the fact that I enjoy going to work every day, talking to customers and selling equipment,” Flaten said. “That's all good stuff.”

Related Topics: LOCAL BUSINESS
Jacob Holley joined the Grand Forks Herald as its business reporter in June 2021.

Holley's beat at the Grand Forks Herald is broad and includes a variety of topics, including small business, national trends and more.

Readers can reach Holley at jholley@gfherald.com.Follow him on Twitter @JakeHolleyMedia.
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