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Red Owl Grocery Store

By | Last Modified: December 9, 2017

Red Owl LogoRed Owl was a regional grocery chain headquartered in Hopkins, Minnesota that once maintained stores in Bismarck and Mandan.

Corporate History

Red Owl dates back to 1922 when it was a coal investment firm for General Mills. It wasn’t long until Red Owl entered the grocery business, adding stores across multiple states.

Retail conglomerate Gamble-Skogmo purchased Red Owl in 1967 or 1968. At the time, there were over 400 Red Owl stores.

In 1980, Wickes Corporation acquired Gamble-Skogmo and its assets, including Red Owl. Wickes filed for bankruptcy protection two years later, in 1982. Three executives acquired Red Owl from Wickes in January 1986. Supervalu – a chief competitor – acquired the Red Owl name and assets in December 1988. Attemps to revitalize the chain ultimately failed, and the brand was faded out.

As of 2017, only one operating Red Owl could be confirmed, in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Bismarck History

Over the years, Bismarck had had five different Red Owl locations, including as an original anchor (along with corporate sibling Tempo Discount Store) at Northbrook Mall in 1963.

Once the region’s dominate grocer, Red Owl’s market share degraded during the 1970s and 1980s, mainly to local grocer Dan’s Supervalu. As Dan’s expanded and invested in new stores, Red Owl remained stagnant. Added competition from Cash Wise Foods and Econofoods proved fatal to the local Red Owls.

Red Owl first came to Bismarck in 1927 with a location on Main Avenue. One year later, Red Owl opened a second location on Broadway Avenue. Sometime in the 1930s, Red Owl closed its Main Avenue location upon expanding its Broadway store.

In 1952, Red Owl opened a location at the intersection of Fourth Street and Avenue A. Red Owl would later relocate its Broadway store to 715 E Broadway Avenue. When Northbrook Mall opened in 1963, Red Owl was established as an anchor, along with its corporate twin, department store Tempo. It continued operating at both locations.

Rod’s Family Foods

Both Bismarck Red Owl stores temporarily closed in December 1982, in response to bankruptcy reorganization efforts of its then-parent, Wickes. Two weeks later, Rod Morast purchased and re-opened the stores from Wickes. The stores were re-branded Rod’s Family Foods, but remained franchised with Red Owl, despite Morast’s initial efforts to affiliate with Nash-Finch.

Re-brand and Closure

In 1986, Red Owl’s corporate office asserted control of the failing Bismarck franchises. Shortly after, in 1987, both Bismarck stores underwent renovation and re-opened under the company’s new Freshmart Foods pilot store concept.

Both of Bismarck locations added a new bakery and deli and enlarged produce departments. Its 23,000-square-foot downtown store, at 715 E Broadway Avenue, also enlarged its produce and frozen departments, while its 15,600-square-foot Northbrook store a “smokehouse” for custom-made sausages and enlarged meat and produce areas.

That same year, 25-year-old Sean Schulke, who happened to be the son of Red Owl President C. Patrick Schulke, purchased both Bismarck locations with hopes to revitalize the stores.

His efforts proved unsuccessful, however, and both Bismarck Red Owl locations permanently closed by March 1989. Its assets were auctioned off soon after.

The former store at Northbrook was divvied into several spaces, while Medcenter One acquired the former Broadway store.

Mandan History

Mandan’s Red Owl was also established in 1927. It was housed at 114 2nd Ave N.W. until a new 7,800-square-foot store was erected at 206 4th Ave N.W., where it remained for the remainder of its existence.

Howard Schwinkendorf, who was the store’s long-time assistant manager, acquired the Mandan store in 1984. He closed it in July 1987. Red Owl opted not to continue its operation, but did seek a new owner-operator.

It re-opened under the ownership of Shannon Staehr in November 1987, but Red Owl Inc. took over ownership by June 1988. It permanently closed shortly after.

Its former store housed Brown & Saenger as of 2017.


One Comment

  1. Delores Landis

    November 23, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    I worked at the Bismarck Red Owl on Broadway from 1972 to 1974. It was a wonderful place to work. The Co workers were great. Miss the store. A downtown grocery store was so convenient for many.

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