- This Week
Small business in Rock Rapids, Iowa and San Francisco, 1902 to 2006
04.23.06 - 9:20 pm | Bruce Brugmann |
Back in my hometown of Rock Rapids, Iowa, a flat land of tall corn and homestead farms way out in northwest Iowa, my grandfather and father ran a small, family owned drug store for more than seven decades. Their slogan, known throughout the territory, was "Brugmann's Drugs: Where drugs and gold are fairly sold, since l902."
The town was then and still is about 2,800 in population, and we were miles away from the nearest cities of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa. The merchants, and the farmers and townsfolk who patronized them, had to go it pretty much alone and depend on each other for economic sustenance. The two Brugmann families bought shoes at Jensen's and Hornseth’s shoe stores, purchased clothes that often didn't quite fit at Bernstein's department store, bought our groceries from Bob Bendinger and Tony Sieparda's grocery stores, ate meals out at Jay's and the Grill Café, banked at the Rock Rapids State Bank and later the Lyon County bank, went to endless church suppers in town and in the country to support the local churches, hired Jim Wells to do our taxes, used both Doc Wubbena and Doc Cook, the town's two doctors, and had our teeth done by Doc Lee and Doc Fisch.
My dad, as the town pharmacist, would often get called at night, sometimes twice, to go down to the store and fill a prescription for one of the doctors tending a patient who needed emergency help. My wife's father, who owned a lumberyard in Bennet, Nebraska, and later a hardware store in Le Mars, Iowa, followed the same routine. As did her grandfathers, one who founded banks in small towns in Nebraska and Kansas, another who ran a grocery store in Topeka, Kansas.
I asked my grandfather and my dad why they went out of their way to do all these things in town and why I always got pulled along as Con Brugmann's boy. "We want to keep our money working in town," they would reply. "That helps the store and that helps the town." I also asked why they put regular ads in the local Lyon County Reporter, run by Paul Smith as the fourth generation of the pioneering Smith family, when everybody already knew what the store offered in merchandise and service. "That's the price of having a good local paper in town,” my dad would say.
Significantly, Brugmann’s Drugs and our old store building have been transformed into the B and L café, a friendly oasis featuring yummy homemade pies and soups and a unique setting full of antique furniture. It is owned and operated by Beth and Lawrence Lupkes, a husband and wife team who work long and hard to keep the café going from dawn till dusk seven days a week. Their key to economic sustenance: they keep their “day” jobs, Beth as a dispatcher for the county’s emergency services, Lawrence as a rural mail carrier and mayor. Lawrence’s sister is the main cook and they press family members into service.
When my wife Jean Dibble and I founded the Guardian in l966, we quickly found that the cooperative small business way of life that worked in little towns in Iowa and Nebraska and Kansas worked the same way in San Francisco with its tradition of neighborhoods and communities. Small business, we found, was not only the leading job generator and a key piece of the city's urban fabric. Small business was critical to building sustainable local economies in San Francisco and most other cities. Jean and I like to think that the Brugmann and Dibble families have been continuously making small business contributions to our communities since l902.