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Minnesota's oldest co-op the 'heart' of Finland

Oct 01, 2018 06:38AM ● By Editor
The mural on the side of the Finland Co-op reflects the diversity of heritage and outdoor treasures in the community. (Jamey Malcomb/News-Chronicle)

By Jamey Malcomb of the Lake County News Chronicle - October 1,  2018

For more than a century, the Finland Cooperative General Store on County Road 1, in its namesake unincorporated community, has reflected the diversity of its residents and culture with a vast array of inventory that makes it more than just a grocery store. 

It is the oldest continuously operating co-op in Minnesota and is one of the oldest in the U.S. 

What makes it really stand out, however, isn’t its age. It’s a true general store in the tradition of generations of settlers throughout the nation’s history. 

If someone needs an American flag for the Fourth of July — or maybe the St. Urho’s Day Parade — the co-op’s got it covered. 

What about a gardener looking to measure the rainfall from week to week? Rain gauges are next to the flags. 

From fruits, vegetables, meat and other groceries, to the nuts, bolts and screws of a hardware store, to oil filters and belts of an automotive store, if the Finland Co-op doesn’t have it, “you probably don’t need it,” according to co-op board member Honor Schauland. 

There is even a small selection of ammunition for the avalanche of hunters that descend on the the North Shore each fall for deer season.

On Tuesday, Sept. 24, co-op sales associate Elaine Heine was on the floor taking inventory and changing out the seasonal apparel section from flip-flops and T-shirts to winter hats and thick wool socks. 

“It’s a sad day,” Heine said as she worked, dreading the frigid months to come. 

Heine said customers regularly comment on the extensive selection of things to buy, from hot coffee to camping supplies, and the variety makes her job fun. 

“It’s a great place to work,” she said. “Daily, we get comments from customers about all the stuff we have, and people who do live around here bring relatives in for a tour.”

The Finland Co-op is, at its core, a reflection of the needs and wants of its community. From the bulletin board outside to the pipe fittings in the back, it is as much a part of the fabric of the community as the Baptism River just down County Road 1. 

Finland resident Cheryl Aronson works the cash register Monday Sept 24 at the Finland Co-op Jamey MalcombNews-Chronicle

Finland resident Cheryl Aronson works the cash register Monday, Sept. 24, at the Finland Co-op. (Jamey Malcomb/News-Chronicle)

Schauland said the setup of the store as a cooperative is part of the reason for the diversity of products and its reflection of the community. Many residents are members of the co-op and step in to work in or manage the store. Some even volunteer their time to make repairs or perform maintenance on the building when needed. 

“People feel a sense of ownership, both because most of the town are members and they literally own the store and because a lot of people have put in a lot of time and effort to make sure it continues,” Schauland said. “People from Finland made it happen and have kept it going for over a hundred years and that’s taken an effort over time.

“It is Finland,” she said. “In my opinion, the co-op has always been the heart of the community.”

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