Focus on Old Hwy. 61: Peterson’s North Branch Mill: Rediscovering An Old Friend
Written By Gail Gates
Wanna be charmed? Wanna stand on the crossroads of nostalgia and modern desire? Wanna cross off a lot of names on your gift list and have fun doing it? Well then, might I suggest a visit to Peterson’s North Branch Mill?
Whaa? Peterson’s? The garden/pet/ feed place? Yes. If you have never stopped by… be prepared for a surprise. If you have visited before, but haven’t been there in awhile… be prepared for a surprise. They are determined to change with the times, to be the answer to your needs, and they are succeeding.
Growing up in the Finlayson area, feed mills were a part of life for my family. I would ride along with Mom or Dad when it was time to pick up feed for our farm animals. The dusty, almost acrid, smell of grain, the heft of burlap sacks testing the shock absorbers of our vehicle, and the dirty bib-overall-wearing men working at the mill fascinated me. About the fanciest thing at those old mills was the colorful display of garden seeds, and even those were a little gritty and, well, functional. There was something honest and real about all of it, though, an echo of farm life in general.
When I first moved to North Branch in (hand over mouth mumbling) 1979, my then-husband and I decided to try our luck at raising chickens. We were told the place to go was Peterson’s Mill. I recall driving up to the wood and metal building, walking over creaky boards, and wandering through mini-mountains of feed sacks. It felt right. It felt like home.
Peterson’s North Branch Mill, circa 1979, was a great fit for big area farms, and for teeny-tiny hobby farmers like us. Nonetheless, the area was changing. Farms were turning into housing developments, and people were commuting to work. To respond to those transformations, Peterson’s added the Home & Garden retail store in 1999. Departing from the “mill” feel, this store elevated the shopping experience. The mill was still there, of course, just across the road. But now you could buy clothing, bird feeders, yard and garden art, benches, pots, country décor, and other delightful objects in a clean and well-organized space.
Over the years my second husband and I attended classes on putting in a fishpond, purchased pet supplies, bird seed and feeders, and Carhartt clothing. If we had a question about any of our home and garden needs we knew th
e friendly knowledgeable staff would answer it. If the sacks of birdseed were too heavy, someone would carry it to our car. Service is top on their list and one of the reasons we keep returning.
Within the past year, Peterson’s North Branch Mill remodeled again. They enlarged the space considerably, shuffled merchandise around, and kept me intrigued. What was going to happen? How would a business we considered a workmate, change?
Last week a friend and I visited Peterson’s Mill to ask about an upcoming art exhibit. Sharon (Peterson) Laegreid, an award-winning watercolor artist, will be offering her fine art for sale at the store. A niece of owner Jerry Peterson, Sharon grew up in Cambridge, MN. Now living in Washington, her art will be a welcome, upscale, addition. My friend and I previewed her paintings and were wowed. But that wasn’t all.
Simply walking in the store mesmerized us. The Peterson family has created a somewhat romanticized North Branch “main street” that includes f
acades of businesses that used to populate the area. Those who have lived here awhile will smile at the life-sized photos of locals sitting at the barbershop, at Dinty’s, or at the movie theater. I can easily imagine this as a fun family outing with interesting “selfies” in front of the displays.
The indoor k
oi pond remains a calming spot, and the shopping has been expanded. I wandered around for quite some time mentally checking off gift ideas for the holiday season. Whether you are someone who leans towards practical gifts or something unique and extraordinary, Peterson’s Mill will have what you need.
Speaking of outings, on December 3rd, Santa will be visiting the store! Check out their website for more information and other monthly events. I believe you will be delightfully surprised at this second and soon-to-be third generation family-owned gem along Old Hwy 61.