Interview with Hugo Magnuson
Grand Forks, N.D.
October 23, 1954
Hugo Magnuson is a Grand Forks grocer who opened his store in 1939. Active in city, church, and business circles, he is a keen observer of the North Dakota scene during and after the war.
When did you start your grocery business in Grand Forks?
I opened my Pure Food Market in downtown Grand Forks just before the war. All the large grocery stores—I think three of us—were downtown. There were dozens of small neighborhood groceries scattered throughout the city. The large national food chain stores came to town after the war—stores like Red Owl, National Tea, and Piggly Wiggly. Later I was associated with Piggly Wiggly for a time.
Would you describe your business during the war years, 1941-1945?
It was hectic. Food rationing really complicated things. Because of food shortages, customers had to present ration stamps to buy most products. And quite often we didn’t have what people wanted, especially canned fruit. Pineapple was really hard to get from suppliers. Once a rumor spread around town that I had a case of pineapple. Our store was mobbed. Actually I had only ten cans, and I had set them aside for our best customers. It was almost a fulltime job sorting and keeping track of ration coupons. The store was also the receiving station for fat drippings which were used in the manufacture of ammunition. People would save up their bacon fat; we paid 9 cents a pound. We were especially busy in this fat business on Saturday mornings. Kids would come in with a pound of fat for their 9 cents. On Saturday afternoons the movie theaters ran double features and a young person’s ticket cost 9 cents. The fat paid for the movies.
How did people cope with food shortages?
Pretty well. There was some grumbling, but people understood that this was wartime. Almost everyone had a big garden, victory gardens they were called. Right in the middle of town some folks began raising chickens for eggs and fresh meat. People got along pretty well.
How was business in the postwar years?
Prosperous. Folks had a lot more money. Crops were good. Farm prices were good. And, grocery products became plentiful. No more fights over a can of pineapple. I opened up a much larger store downtown and later stores outside of the downtown.
What was life like for young people in the 1950s?
First of all, everything was located downtown—retail stores, movie theaters, cafes, bowling alleys, pool halls. You name it, it was downtown. At Christmastime the sidewalks were elbow-to-elbow, crowded. And the city ran a very good bus system to get folks downtown in ten or twenty minutes. Young people, high-schoolers, tended to hang out at the bake shops, ice cream parlors, and bowling alleys. There were three especially popular ice cream parlors—Tweets, the Clock, and the Palace. At noon and after school these places were packed. All the churches had very active young people’s organizations like Luther League. During the summers, of course, the swimming pool and the drive-ins are very active congregating spots. More kids have cars, so there’s a lot of just driving around. The parks are pretty lively at night.
So, lively and prosperous describes those postwar years. What about North Dakota generally?
The same holds true for the state. Prosperity abounds. You’ve got to remember that during the war, there were no consumer goods to buy. So people, especially farmers, had nowhere to spend their money, which by the end of the war was considerable. The appearance of goods—appliances, cars, machinery—after the war created a buying frenzy. This brought prosperity to main street. A building boom—businesses, schools, churches, homes—followed. The coming of a big federal project like Garrison Dam further stimulated growth. With the discovery of oil in the western part of the state, there is great optimism about the state’s future.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.