EDINBURG, N.D. – At age 56, Bernice Flanagan, launched another career: proprietor of the Edinburg General Store.
In November 1994, a year and a half after she purchased the store, a fire destroyed the building in which it was located. Flanagan reopened the store a month and a half later in the former community hall across the street.
With that kind of determination and optimism, it’s no surprise then that, at age 82, Flanagan still is running the store on her own with no plans to retire. Flanagan is a woman-of-all-trades at Edinburg General Store; only the greeting card section is entrusted to another pair of hands.
“I have a lady who comes in and does Hallmark,” Flanagan said.
Other than that, Flanagan orders merchandise, rings up sales and helps customers find the items they seek. She keeps track of her merchandise orders and sales in the three-ring binders she keeps on her desk at the front of the store. With a flip of a binder cover, she can look up when she sold pieces of pottery to Wolverton, Minn., customers: Sept., 12, 2009, during the town’s centennial.
The blue, Pennsylvania-made pottery with the names of towns on front is one of several signature pieces Flanagan sells at the general store. Another is her bird-themed items located in a room off the main floor.
“Everything birdy is in here, except live birds,” Flanagan said.
Bird figurines, bird books, suet wreaths, feeders and birdhouses fill the room.
Fewer than 200 people live in this Walsh County town, located about 75 miles northwest of Grand Forks. Residents here know the selection in Flanagan's store outpaces expectations, and it isn't just a milk-and-bread pickup spot. Instead, it's a place that stocks linens, small kitchen appliances and glassware. There are shelves filled with toys, dolls and children's puzzles. It's a potpourri of retail items.
The variety of gift merchandise for sale at Flanagan’s store is one of the reasons it is so popular, said Naomi Myrdal, who lives in nearby Gardar, N.D.
“This hardware store has everything you need to get a birthday gift or a wedding gift,” said Myrdal, noting that Edinburg General Store even has a bridal registry.
But while the gift selection is large, the store also caters to farmers and other customers who need items to run their businesses. For example, Flanagan cuts and threads black and galvanized pipe to order.
“If you’re running water, you need galvanized pipe. If you’re working with fuel, you need black pipe,” Flanagan said.
The store stocks dozens of sizes of stove pipes, pet food varieties and work clothing. The shelves and walls are stocked with small items such as internet cables, printer ink and landline telephone cords in 25-feet lengths. Light bulbs of many shapes, sizes and wattage hang on hooks.
“When you need something, Bernice always has it,” Myrdal said. “The other day I needed a 7.5 (watt) light bulb.”
Flanagan, of course, had it in stock.
Don Hall also found an item he sought: A half-inch drill bit.
“I come here a lot,” Hall said. “She’s usually got what a person needs.”
But it’s not only the inventory and the convenience that draws visitors. They also come to see the three toy trains that run on the tracks above customers’ heads, as well as the antiques and collectibles that decorate the store’s sections.
A Maytag wringer washer, for example, is in the plumbing section. Old-time glassware sits on top of oak bureaus in the dishware section. Raggedy Ann dolls pose on shelves.
The oak floor, meanwhile, is stamped in red with the names of area sports teams, including the Milton Meteors, Adams Rockets and St. Alphonsus Saints, who once played basketball in the former community hall. A photograph of the 1988 Edinburg Spartans basketball team, which won that year's state championship, hangs on the wall. So do band uniforms from the high school.
Flanagan still uses a rolling ladder to reach items on the store’s high shelves, demonstrating to visitors from the Herald how easy it is to grab items after climbing up a few steps.
Customers routinely come from Grand Forks, Devils Lake and as far away as Bismarck to visit Edinburg General Store, Flanagan said.
“Without ever planning it, the store has become a destination place,” she said. “I’m never going to retire. I’m very fortunate. I love what I do.”