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Longtime Luverne store owner retires

LUVERNE -- He's a Vietnam War veteran, former mayor of Luverne and 29-year volunteer at the city's fire department, yet many know Glen Gust as the longtime owner of Glen's Food Center.

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LUVERNE - He’s a Vietnam War veteran, former mayor of Luverne and 29-year volunteer at the city’s fire department, yet many know Glen Gust as the longtime owner of Glen’s Food Center.

After 40 years and nine months of managing what is now Luverne’s only full service grocery store, Gust recently retired. Gust sold the store to Teal family in December. He and the Teal family signed closing paperwork Dec. 27, and the store reopened under new ownership the next day as Teal’s Market.

Gust, a Canby native, discovered his love for the profession working at SuperValu in Diamond Lake during his summer breaks. As a sophomore at St. Cloud State College in 1970, Gust was drafted to fight in Vietnam. After returning in 1971, he worked at a few more grocery stores before deciding he wanted to own one.

He borrowed money from friends, neighbors and relatives to make a down payment on a store, but it still wasn't enough. He got a partner to help him purchase a Luverne store in 1976 and bought him out a year later. He changed the name to Glen’s in 1978.

Around that time, there were four major supermarkets in Luverne, including Hy-Vee, Les’ Foodland and Kenny's SuperValu. But after a series of closings and buyouts, Glen’s was the only major store remaining in 2005.

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“We did it by taking care of customers,” Gust said. “We knew them, we knew what they wanted and we would do our damnedest to get it for them. We made personal connections with them - when they call the store, we make sure they're not talking to a machine.”

Gust worked seven days a week for 40 years, and didn’t take a vacation for a dozen years after buying the store. Nonetheless, he always enjoyed the work.

“The grocery business is a lot of fun - I never really considered it a job,” Gust said. “It was a heck of a ride for me, and I loved every minute of it.”

Some of Gust’s employees worked with him for more than 30 years, and still work at the store today.

“I’m very proud of building my business from how I started to where it is today and having long-term employees,” Gust said. “I had so many great employees that built it with me that are still there. We all built it together.”

Gust served on the Minnesota Grocers Association board starting in 1992. In 1999, he was recognized as Minnesota Grocer of the Year. In 2012, he was elected chairman of the board.

“That was a great honor,” Gust said. “It was pretty humbling because I got to work with people like Jim Kowalski and Chris Coburn. Chairing the board with all these successful billion-dollar operators, I learned a lot from them.”

One of Gust’s proudest achievements was being able to give back to the Luverne community. Gust donated more than $1 million to community efforts and local programs over the last 15 years, averaging around $70,000 per year.

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“People supported me, so I like to give back to the community for what they gave me,” Gust said. “I’m proud to be a member of the Luverne area.”

Gust was also proud to serve coffee to a group of Luverne World War II veterans - who called their group the Last Man Club - at his store every day at 1 p.m. In 2005, Gov. Tim Pawlenty invited the group to the Capitol for coffee. Four of the 28 members are still alive today.

In selling the store, Gust made sure to find the right buyer.

“I've had opportunities to sell my store in the past and I never did,” Gust said. “I was very choosy on who I would sell it to. I wanted the store to remain family-owned and for the new owners to have the same philosophy of taking care of customers as I did.”

Gust’s priority was that all of his employees stayed on after the change in ownership. All of the employees at the store are the same under the Teal family’s ownership.

“There’s basically no changes,” Gust said. “Everybody is still there, and that was the major selling point; that they would take care of all my employees.

“They are great people, I've known them for quite a while,” Gust added. “They're a great family company - they have good values and are very competitive.”

For 40 years, Gust would arrive at the grocery store at 4:30 or 5 every morning to walk around the store and make sure everything was in order. Now, he no longer has to.

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“This morning, I woke up at 2:30 and I didn’t know what to do,” Gust said. “It’s a weird feeling ... it's gonna be a big change for me.”

Nonetheless, Gust was happy to have more time to see his family and enjoy his favorite hobbies - golf, fishing, snowmobiling and traveling. Gust said he and his wife would be doing some traveling soon.

“I've never been to Yellowstone, so a road trip is in the future,” Gust said with a laugh.

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Glen's Food Center in Luverne is shown Friday. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

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