Cottagewood Store History

The Cottagewood Store was opened in 1895 by Ralph M. Chapman to serve as a grocer to the cottage and hotel guests summering along the shores of Lake Minnetonka. Lit by kerosene lamps in this pre-electricity time, the store was stocked with the foods of the day, many offered in bulk, as well as niceties like tobacco, bulk candy sold from counter jars, and the world’s first soda pop, Coca Cola.

What has happened since 1895? Not much, other than 22 more owners, seven or eight remodels, the transition out front from a hitching post to a parking lot, three near-death experiences when the building was shuttered and put for sale, a thriving gas pump to a restored gas pump, 51 years of July 4 Parades, and most importantly, generations and generations of smiles. Smiles from the customers, and from the building itself. At least according to former Store owner and operator Carl A. Soelberg, as he wrote in 2000, in the definitive history of the Cottagewood Store:

“The Cottagewood Store Smiles – just look at it. And it sings, too. As you drive into Cottagewood you can make out the store from several blocks away. As you approach the store and see it hugging the street, framed by the sky and tall trees, you can almost feel a gentle tug backward in time – 70, 80, 90 years! What you see is a full-size, three-dimensional Norman Rockwell magazine cover from another era. How did this thing ever survive all these years? Most haven’t. They were killed off by “progress.” This one survived because it continued to serve a modest purpose long enough for the community to recognize it had a unique heritage landmark that had to be rescued from the fate of all the rest. Not long ago, an old worn-out building with little economic value or purpose might have been disposed of. Luckily, this store crossed the time threshold into an era when people are aware of and appreciate things from our past. We’re now more willing to save, rebuild and give new life to a steamboat or streetcar or a worthy old building. The residents of Cottagewood had something they did not want to lose because they knew it could never be replaced. Why not? Because the store combines a special blend of setting, patina, age, quaintness, charm and a living room-sized scale that can’t be found in the shopping malls lining the freeways. A visit to the Cottagewood Store is simply soul-satisfying.

Now that the store is in the hands of a neighborhood foundation, surrounded by people who have proven they care about the place, I believe the store will survive another 100 years. I believe that, 100 years from now, the residents of Cottagewood will thank us, if they could, for what was done by their predecessors in 1995 and since.

The will enjoy then what we enjoy now – a store, a café, a visitor information center, a boutique, bank, babysitter, dog sitter, coffee shop, bulletin board, lost and found department, social club, resting place, meeting place, Norman Rockwell magazine cover, heritage landmark, neighborhood signature.

What more could we ask of the old place than this? How could we ever be without it? Here’s to the next century, old store!”

The Store in 1920 (provided by John Felix Mackey)

The Store in 1944.

The Store in 1980.