Herberger's first opened its doors in Alexandria in 1963. But the company got its start in 1890 when George F. Herberger and his brother, Frank, opened the original Herberger's in downtown Osakis.
Through information acquired at the Douglas County Historical Society, George was 19 years old when he founded Herberger's. He bought out Frank's interest in the store shortly after it opened when Frank moved to Seattle.
George's store expanded into what was known as the Herberger-Cruse Company department store, according to George's obituary that was printed in the Park Region Echo July 5, 1956. George Herberger reportedly remained as head of the company until his death at the age of 85 from a heart attack.
Besides being the founder of Herberger's in Osakis, George originated the Herberger's stores in Alexandria, St. Cloud and Grand Forks. At the time of his death, the St. Cloud store was owned and operated by H.B. Wussaw, George's son-in-law.
George and his brothers were also owners of a barrel head factory in Osakis, a potato warehouse and other retail stores throughout Minnesota in Waseca, Barnesville, Deer Creek, Wadena, Sauk Centre, Farwell and Nelson, and a Wisconsin store in Ripon.
Although George's obituary stated that his son-in-law owned and operated the Herberger's store in St. Cloud, information at the historical society indicates that it was his son, George Robert "Bob" Herberger, who founded the St. Cloud location.
Bob founded the Herberger-Hart Company in 1927, according to his obituary that was printed Feb. 9, 1999 in the Osakis Review, and opened the first Herberger's store in St. Cloud. In 1942, he founded G.R. Herberger's Inc. department stores where he was president, general manager and chairman of the board. In 1972, he sold the stores to his key employees. The stores, known just as Herberger's, continued to operate but as a division of Saks Incorporated.
Bob Herberger and his wife, Katherine, spent winters in Arizona and summers in Alexandria, and according to his obituary, he was one of the founders of the Fiesta Bowl.
The Herberger Rose
According to an excerpt from "This Was Our Livelihood, Volume 2," compiled by Mayme Hanson, Bob Herberger said that he was often asked about how the Herberger's signature rose came to be.
He explained that most stores had signatures, but they were often bland, dull and uninteresting. "I decided in the early '40s that I was going to get a signature that would stand out and people would look at it, remember it and retain a mental picture of it," Bob Herberger wrote.
He is said to have contacted artist Dale Olson and after many meetings, the two decided on the "Herberger Rose." It was tested on approximately 150 billboards and the public liked it so Bob told the artist, "Okay Dale, that's going to fly. I want that."
In the excerpt, Bob Herberger said that in a few years, the Herberger Rose was implanted in the minds and eyes of people who saw it.
"I've met people all over the U.S. and they remember the Herberger Rose.' The media did an excellent job and it will never be changed," Bob said in the excerpt.
Over the years, Herberger's has seen many different expansions and moves. Prior to moving to its current location at the Viking Plaza Mall in Alexandria, the store was located in downtown Alexandria. It was once housed in the building where Jennifer Guenther Photography is now located, at 104 6th Avenue East.
Expansions then saw the store move into what was once the former First National Bank building on the corner of Sixth Avenue East and Broadway that is now the Now and Then antique store.
In August 1977, the store made its final move - to the Viking Plaza Mall. When it first opened in the mall, the size of the store was roughly 38,000 square feet.
Over the years, there were a couple more expansions - one in 1988 and another in 1993. The 1988 expansion added an additional 6,500 square feet while the 1993 expansion added 28,000 square feet.
From the time the store first moved into the mall, it nearly doubled in size, going from 38,000 square feet to 70,000 square feet.
By 1990, there were Herberger's stores in 35 cities and nine states.
The stores, which are now owned by Bon-Ton, are set to close in the next few months. (See related story on A1.)
Kathryn LeBrasseur of Alexandria knew the Herberger family and remembers when Herberger's was downtown. She said the cash registers were in the balcony so when customers would pay the cashier, the money would "shoot up" to the balcony through a tube.
"That was so fascinating," she said.
LeBrasseur also recalled her son, James, who worked for Herbergers and was a driver for Bob Herberger. She said after Bob moved to Arizona and would come back to Minnesota to visit, he would hire a driver to take him around to visit the stores.
"My son would drive him around and Bob wanted to take him back to Phoenix with him," she said. "But that didn't happen."
She said the Herberger family was always a strong promoter of the community and that they were major supporters of Theatre L'Homme Dieu.
"To us, it's our hometown store and it always will be," said LeBrasseur.
Michael Tisserand, formerly of Alexandria, worked at Herberger's in the early 1980s. It was his first job. He mostly worked in the men's department, but would pitch in wherever he was needed.
"It was in every way an education," he said. "I learned to measure inseams, to put shirts and pants together in attractive, or at least inoffensive, combinations. And I first heard of the retail maxim, 'If there's time to lean, there's time to clean.' "
Tisserand has many fond memories of working at Herberger's, including a time when the overhead music got stuck on the theme to the Muppet Show, a time when he paged a male manager to the lingerie department, stating, "Alan, I'd like to see you in ladies lingerie," and when he would space the hanging racks by measuring two fingers between each hanger.
"Looking back, I think the primary feeling I get from my time at Herberger's is that of gratitude," said Tisserand. "In my first foray in the adult world, I was treated with respect and found myself in a collegial, respectful work environment. There were mostly good times, except of course, the night of the damn Muppet Show song!"
1890 - George F. Herberger, at the age of 19, along with his brother, Frank, opens the original Herberger's store in downtown Osakis. Shortly after, George F. purchased Frank's interest because Frank moved to Seattle.
1927 - The Herberger-Hart Company is founded by G. Robert "Bob" Herberger, son of George F. Herberger. Bob Herberger then opens his first Herberger's store in St. Cloud.
1942 - Bob Herberger opens more stores, under the name of G.R. Herberger's Inc.
July 1956 - George F. Herberger dies.
October 1963 - G.R. Herberger's Inc. acquires ownership of "The Herberger Company" and opens the first store in Alexandria. It was located at 522 Broadway. He bought the company from H.B. Wussaw, who owned it for 31 years.
Oct. 16, 1963 - The signature Herberger's rose was designed and became the symbol of the store.
February 1970 - Herberger's expands its retail space in Alexandria with the addition of the former 1st National Bank building at 601 Broadway, which was at the corner of 6th Avenue and Broadway.
November 1972 - Employees purchase all Herberger's stock holdings and the stores become employee-owned. There are now 17 stores that have an annual sales volume of about $22 million.
June 1975 - Another expansion occurs and is located at 603 Broadway. This expansion allowed the store's home sewing fabric department more space and allowed the linens, domestics and draperies department additional space.
August 1977 - Herberger's expands and moves to the Viking Plaza Mall. The new store featured more than 38,000 square feet of space and allowed all the departments of the store to be located under one roof.
March 1988 - Another expansion to the Viking Plaza Mall Herberger's location adds an additional 6,500 square feet. There are now 30 Herberger's stores in seven states in the Midwest.
1993 - Herberger's expands again and adds an additional 28,000 square feet. The store now boasts a total of 70,000 square feet and includes a Clinique counter.
November 1996 - Herberger's mergers with Proffitt's Inc., a fast-growing regional department store company based in Tennessee. Proffitt's Inc. operated stores under the names Younker's, McRae's and Parisian. Proffitt's changed its corporate name to Saks Inc. after acquiring Saks Holdings.
Feb. 2, 1999 - George Robert "Bob" Herberger dies. He was 94.
2005 - Saks sells most of its stores, including Herberger's, Carson Pirie Scott, Bergner's, Boston Store and Younkers to Bon-Ton, Inc.
2018 - Bon-Ton Inc., announces it is going out of business two months after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.