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Board honors Vieth's Bar for 100 years

Vieth's Bar occupies a prominent place in Hager City’s business district.1 / 2
Pierce County Board Chairman Jeff Holst presented a commendation certificate to John Vieths of Hager City in honor of 100 years for Vieths’ General Store and Bar. (Herald photos by Sean Scallon)2 / 2

HAGER CITY--John Vieths of Vieths’ General Store and Bar in Hager City was honored by the Pierce County Board last month.

Vieths was given a certificate of commendation for 100 years of service to the community. He represents the third generation of a family to have operated the business over the past century.

His grandfather, Fred, assumed management of the establishment in 1914, John Vieths said Thursday. But there was a building there as a general store earlier.

“It went up in the 1890s,” he said.

The grandson said he understands the premises at that time were similar to rural retail outlets in Lawton, Martell, Svea, Moeville and elsewhere.

“It had not a whole lot of anything, but a little of everything,” he said.

His granddad had been working for the Goodhue County (Minn.) Cooperative Company in Red Wing, handling its inventory, he said. That enterprise consisted of a main store (where the Farmers Store and L and K Hobbs would later locate) plus two smaller ones in its home community, along with the store in Hager City.

When the manager at Hager City died, he said Fred Vieths was told the company needed someone there and was asked if he could do the job.

“I think I can” was his grandparent’s reply, he said, having taken a business class while in the eighth grade, so being familiar with doing bookwork.

Fred Vieths and wife Lydia eventually took ownership of the place, John Vieths said. Goodhue County Co-op Company had fallen on hard times and a bid to have the operators of its individual stores contribute toward erasing its debt failed. It ended up being dissolved. In Hager City, Goodhue County National Bank of Red Wing (now Associated Bank) agreed to back the manager as owner on not much more than “a handshake and an honest face” when he got the option to buy.

“Because it had been good about helping my grandfather, he never left that bank,” John Vieths said.

He said his father, Robert, was a month old around the time this occurred. His dad would ultimately become involved in the business, but first another milestone was realized when prohibition was repealed. The store got one of eight liquor licenses to be issued and the cash flow got better.

“Grandpa had never been into bootlegging,” he said, yet it wasn’t uncommon for him to keep a bottle of spirits nearby.

His family lived in the small apartment above the store/bar, John Vieths said. His dad, who married Red Wing native Maxine in 1938, had studied toward a degree at River Falls and was going to be a teacher. But in 1940, Lydia Vieths suffered a heart attack.

“Gramps told dad he couldn’t handle the place alone,” the grandson said, so his father agreed to join him.

After a while, Bob and Maxine Vieths rented the store and bar from his granddad, their son said. His dad continued the generosity of Fred Vieths; there are still 80-year-olds around today who remember entering the store as kids during the Great Depression and, despite some having a penny and others not, all leaving with candy.

John Vieths said he was born in 1952, recalling a childhood when he and his late older sister, Mary, never experienced being cold in the winter or hunger.

“If we were poor, we never knew it,” he said.

He started his 38-year management of the store in 1976, buying the inventory and renting the property, he said. He went to college for one year in River Falls, but has made the business his career. In 1992, he quit selling groceries; he has no present plans to quit the bar.

“People have been good to us,” he said on the Hager City fixture’s 100th anniversary.

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

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