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MARILYN HAGERTY: Bernice Flanagan's General Store draws people to Edinburg, N.D.

In a way, she reminds me of the Little Red Hen. Bernice Flanagan didn't become proprietor of the "biggest little general store in North Dakota" by sitting idly waiting for things to happen. Instead, after the death of her husband, she went "home"...

In a way, she reminds me of the Little Red Hen.

Bernice Flanagan didn't become proprietor of the "biggest little general store in North Dakota" by sitting idly waiting for things to happen. Instead, after the death of her husband, she went "home" and got busy in her Walsh County town of Edinburg, N.D., with a population of 251. Now, after 27 years, she runs a three-story store.

And if you can't find what you want in Edinburg's General Store, she says probably you don't need it. I found a pottery pitcher that says Grand Forks on it and a can of white paint that will cover the nicks on my kitchen cupboards. Bernice has Carhartt work clothes, Wrangler jeans, bins of nails of all sizes, pipes and drain plugs. She has housewares, Hallmark greeting cards, gifts and a dollar department.

Everything almost, except groceries. And the Hall grocery store is across the street.

Bernice has a mind that seems to work like that of the Wall family who runs Wall Drug on the way to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. They figured out a way to bring people into town to their drug store for ice water and built up a massive series of stores. Flanagan has made the Edinburg General Store so appealing that people come from miles around.

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That's because the store is a living museum with features such as trains that run on three different tracks. She shows the replicas of trains that ran in the Edinburg area when she takes visitors up to the balcony. The building originally was the Community Hall, built in 1938 as a Works Progress Administration project. From the balcony, Flanagan points out the marks on the wooden floor once used for community basketball games. Flanagan sometimes serves coffee to visitors as they survey the store from the balcony.

She can tell you the history of the area because she was the first teacher at nearby Nash, N.D., school that closed this year. And her late husband, Jim Flanagan, managed Nash Grain and Trading Co. They raised two sons.

Bernice enjoys showing her bird room organized eight years ago with inspiration from Janne Myrdal and Herald Publisher Mike Jacobs. In August 2004, Edinburg was declared Bird Capital of North Dakota by Gov. John Hoeven. The store has a Coca-Cola display, a work in progress. A patriotic area features Uncle Sam flanked by little boys dressed in uniforms of all military services.

The store is indeed a trip back in time with antique pieces of furniture placed here and there amid the merchandise.

If you drop in to visit the store, Bernice usually is there to greet you -- smiling and pleasant. She has a helper, June Ellingson, who works with her.

Bernice first shows you around the town with a Main Street so clean it fairly sparkles. The town has huge boxes of colorful flowers this summer. She talks of the oxcarts that one time traveled the nearby ridge. She introduces you to people on Main Street. And she insists on showing you the neat, inviting city park and the sod house nearby.

She wants you to see the oxcart on the corner and meet Jeff Monsebroten who runs Main Street Computers in the building that was the original bank in Edinburg. The main attraction is the vault that still is intact. They call it Victor the Vault. She points out the new lamp posts along the street. They were given by people of Edinburg. You don't leave Edinburg until you see the city hall where senior citizens get three meals a week. And Bernice takes you into the Citizens State Bank.

As long as they have Bernice, the town of Edinburg probably doesn't need a Chamber of Commerce.

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Even with all her visitors, Bernice knows that the more people who come to her store to have fun, the more merchandise she will sell. She said, "You have to have something they want." And if she wants to find more business, she goes out for it. She will load up her minivan and take Carhartt work clothes to area elevators in order to make sales. She keeps Watkins products on hand. She makes sure her canning goods are at a favorable price.

One of Bernice's sayings is, "If it's meant to be, it is up to me."

She comes early and stays late at her store. Each Tuesday, a Do It Best hardware supply truck rolls into Edinburg with supplies she orders at the end of business on Saturdays. The driver sets merchandise at the end of the row where it will be stocked. Bernice gives him a candy bar and a bottle of pop. They exchange pleasantries and say, "See you next week."

Reach Hagerty at mhagerty@gfherald.com or by telephone at (701) 772-1055.

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