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Kearns trades factory job for retail ownership

HAGER CITY--Walk a mile in Tim Kearns' shoes to learn how he ended up owning a liquor store.

The Hager City resident never intended to be in business for himself. And although his first retail venture has proven challenging, it's also been rewarding, Kearns said Wednesday.

"There are a lot of good people out there," he said about his appreciation for his customers at Hager City Liquor.

The CTH K native finally feels somewhat comfortable in the management role after having taken over the store from former owner Doug Dodge last year. Besides Kearns having worked part-time at the outlet previously for his friend (a buddy since high school), Dodge's wife, Lori, is his cousin.

Just as his new enterprise is a family deal, so was his old job. The 25-and-a-half year veteran of Red Wing Shoe Company said he followed in his parents' shoes when it comes to employment. His father, Norbert, had been a leather buyer for the company and his mother, Caroline, spent 26 years working there, too.

The 1979 Ellsworth High School graduate began with "The Shoe" right after graduation, he said. He worked "all over," doing elasting, the process of building a boot around a sole, and cutting. Despite it being a good career in his early years, additional pressures during his last five convinced him to make a change.

"Doug and I started talking that I should buy this place," he said, aware the ex-owner was tiring of the responsibility after a half-decade-or-so tenure.

His friend helped familiarize him with the operation, from bookkeeping (which he'd never done before) to tracking inventory to ordering to marketing and more, he said. He's assisted at the seven-day-a-week stand by mother-in-law Donna Barr, wife Nan, a former Diamond Bluff local who's also been an employee of Smead Manufacturing in Hastings, Minn., for the last 30 years, and her daughter, Jessica Rother, also a nurse at The Lutheran Home in River Falls. Her brother, Chris, runs a siding business in Hastings.

The liquor shop sells lots of beer, but wine is "coming on strong," Kearns said. Import beers and wine coolers are among the mix, a variety of alcohol and related products. He deals with suppliers and distributors including Saratoga, Badger West, GB Sales, Lehman and Larson, Bill's Distributing and Beer Central.

"If we don't have it, we'll try to get it in," he said.

The establishment, originally built as a restaurant, is along Hwy. 63 near its intersection with Hwy. 35. He said it's in good overall condition, features a full basement and recently got a new concrete apron out front for parking. Inside, several sets of coolers line the walls, shelves of bottles fill the sales floor and there are displays from suppliers, who also sometimes sponsor special promotions and give-aways.

Kearns emphasizes the store's convenience for its patrons. It tends to get busier as the weekend gets closer and more traffic comes through in summer than winter, though the holiday season brings many people. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays and Mondays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Living with a birth defect affecting his right eye that's led to many surgeries and suffering from shoulder trouble, the owner said he's glad he switched occupations.

"There is life after Red Wing Shoe," he said.