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Around the Corner: Super One by: Pilot Independent

Super One Foods has been part of the community since July 31, 2006, when Miner’s Inc., based in Hermantown, purchased the Walker location. Miner’s Inc. is a fourth generation family owned business that started with a small grocery store in Grand Rapids, MN in the 1940’s, but they now operate 31 grocery stores, 10 liquor stores, a distribution center, and trucking division.
Over the past 15 years Super One has been quick to give back to the community. Besides sponsoring fund-raisers, non-profits and the local schools, Store Manager Mark McKenna said the company strongly believes in supporting those people who support the store. Some of these events and entities include the Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign, three local food shelves, Leech Lake Youth Hockey, Walker-Hackensack-Akeley sports teams and other school-affiliated organizations, local high school yearbooks, After Prom Party, Fourth of July fireworks, Walker Bay Days, Faith in Action, Paws and Claws, Audrey’s Purple Dream, and many more.
“Super One makes it a priority to lend a helping hand with any event involving Walker and the surrounding communities as well as helping out with fundraisers for ill community members,” said McKenna, who was an assistant store manager for Miner’s for about a year prior to them taking over the Walker location. He was then promoted to store manager and has been running the Walker store ever since.
Currently, Super One has 79 employees, but that number jumps significantly every summer to about 120. Super One hires employees as young as 14 years old by giving school-age students an opportunity to have a “first job” and to help them enhance their social skills with customer service situations, learn about responsibility, punctuality and multi-tasking.
Having many employees trained in customer service was vital when the COVID-19 hit last spring. The pandemic drastically changed how people shop and how frequently. For Super One, which gets most of the deliveries from warehouses in the state, it wasn’t as bad as other parts of the state because Miner’s Inc. had a large amount of inventory ready to go.
“It started with the mad rush of customers trying to stock up on everything they could. This caused a complete breakdown of the supply chain and production,” McKenna remembered. “It took months for businesses and suppliers to somewhat get caught up and restocked.”
Canning supplies were an item that customers could not find anywhere. Despite many products that were not available from suppliers, McKenna said customers seemed to understand and changed their buying habits.
McKenna said at the beginning of the pandemic customers would come into the store to ask if they could help stock shelves and assist in any way possible. “It’s actions like this that show the support that this area gave each other during hard times.”
Once the pandemic got into full swing the focus became more on labor. With guidelines and protocols in place, warehouses and manufacturing suffered because of a decreased labor force. Super One, like most businesses, had some close contact cases from outside of the business, however; so many of the employees stepped up to work extra shifts to cover any labor shortages.
“This shows how great the Super One employees truly are,” McKenna stated.
Super One has also gained many more customers from surrounding areas over the last year and people are purchasing more at each visit. A big part of this is due to restaurants closing down or operating at a limited capacity as well as children doing distance learning for school, which means more meals eaten at home.
McKenna said he also noticed many new faces in the community. Many people from around the state chose to work from home and bring the family up to the cabin. The children could do their distance learning through the internet so they had no reason to go back home.
Super One was also able to hire some of these out-of-town high school and college students to help get through the busy times.
McKenna said there are still some challenges related to the pandemic with product availability but that it is nothing like it was in the beginning.
“One of the goals of Super One is to offer products at the best possible price. When product availability went downhill, the deals that many manufacturers had set were either cancelled or adjusted. This, in turn, affected retails at all levels of the grocery business including mass merchants. The supply goes down, the demand goes up, cost of goods goes up, and prices need to be adjusted,” he said. “Over the last four months the manufacturer and distribution center supply chain has energized. Super One has also been able to bring their retail pricing in most affected areas back down to where it was for the most part. We also have a corporate office team [of] very skilled buyers. They are always looking at getting the best possible product to sell at the best possible price for their customers.”
Super One gets their groceries from a variety of suppliers. Miner’s Distribution Center, UNFI (formerly SuperValu), Mason Bros., Russ Davis Wholesale, Northland Foods, J & B Foods, Upper Lakes Foods, Royal, Kemps, Crystal Farms, and all the local bread, pop, chips, and pizza vendors are just a few.
Deliveries are made every day of the week by multiple suppliers. Russ Davis, produce distributor, delivers seven days a week which helps keep the produce department full and fresh every day.
Buying habits and trends are constantly changing in the grocery industry and Super One is always trying to make sure every customer’s needs are met, especially the local customers. McKenna said product requests come in every day, sometimes multiple times a day. If a product is available, it will be ordered for the customer.
There are also many items that are requested to accommodate certain health-related needs. Gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free, non-GMO, are some examples where Super One tries to have as much of a variety as possible. Keeping customers coming back is a high priority for Super One.
Keeping the store clean and safe during the pandemic has also been a focus. From the beginning, Miner’s Inc. was very proactive in making sure the stores were as safe as possible for the employees and customers. Extensive sanitizing practices, mask requirements, shields at the registers, directional arrows and social distancing were all implemented, and most of them still are.
“At times it still is very difficult when reminding customers to follow certain requirements. This has been a stressful time for many people and the employees have done a great job taking care of the customers by staying friendly, keeping the shelves stocked and lending support to others when needed,” McKenna said. “After contact tracing was completed, it was found that out of the few employees that did test positive, nothing was traced back to the store. This alone shows how the hard work and commitment of all of the employees has helped maintain a safe working and shopping environment.”
The guidelines put out by the state have also seemed to help the cases of COVID, which, in turn, is keeping employees healthy and able to work.
“People have also used good judgement when it comes to large group gatherings, social distancing and mask wearing to help avoid transmitting anything to other people,” McKenna noted.
Keeping the shelves stocked with COVID-related items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and cleaning products has been much easier than it was last summer. Customers will notice a variety of brands, sizes and products that they were not used to. For awhile, whenever a product was available, no matter the brand, Super One would buy it.
The future of Miner’s Inc. building a new Super One store along Highway 371 just past the U.S. Forest Service Walker Ranger District is still up in the air, but recently the Walker City Council approved support for the Tower Avenue Local Road Improvement program grant application. The city is seeking support from Cass County to act as sponsor for the road improvement funding application and the associated project development for construction of Tower Avenue.
Construction would be for a new segment of Tower Avenue that includes a 10-ton road design, starting at Division Street extending east to Highway 371 for the purposes of economic development and to provide safe transportation for commercial vehicles and to provide another access to WHA School.
“Miner’s has been proud to have a great store and team under Mark McKenna’s leadership to serve the community since 2006. We appreciate all of our loyal customers from both the local community and beyond. Our company will continue to work hard to serve them even better both now and into the future.” said Patrick Miner, Vice President of Miner’s Inc.

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