Archived Story

Progress: The Clerks of Clarks Grove

Published 4:00pm Thursday, March 10, 2011

By the Numbers

1 The number of gas stations in the town of Clarks Grove, which has a population of 734, according to the 2000 US Census. Just east of the town, the Go-Pher Stop gas station and convenience store has been a fixture, with its mammoth walleye statue easily visible from Interstate 35.

Like Charlie’s Angels, the clerks at the Go-Pher Stop come to the rescue, only it is for many wary travelers on Interstate 35. They also lighten the day for many usual customers from the Clarks Grove area. Clarks Grove Go-Pher Stop clerks from left are Debra Moe, Sandi Schmidt, manager, and Christi Dawson. Schmidt said the group enjoys a laid-back work environment that includes sometimes pulling pranks on their usual customers. -- Adam Harringa/Albert Lea Tribune

5.7 The number of miles from the intersection of Interstate 90 and Interstate 35 to the Go-Pher Stop. The gas station is located just west of exit 18 on Interstate 35.

2001 The year Bruce and Jennie Nielsen purchased the Go-Pher Stop. Prior to that, it was called Boyer’s Gopher Stop. The building was originally The Fisherman Stop, which had an archery range and fishing supplies while also serving as a gas station. The giant walleye statue that still stands outside the station originally marked The Fisherman Stop.

3 The number of gas stations owned by the Nielsen’s. They also own a Cenex gas station in Hartland and the Gopher Stop North in Ellendale.
“But of course, our store is the best,” Schmidt said jokingly.

7 The number of employees at the Go-Pher Stop, which includes manager Sandi Schmidt of Albert Lea, Debra Moe of Alden, Christi Dawson of Hartland, André Converse and Terra Miller of Freeborn, and Levi Waltz, Sara Jo Luna and Brady Ebert, all of Clarks Grove.

11 The number of combined years experience for Go-Pher Stop employees. Schmidt, who is Bruce Nielsen’s sibling, has worked for him on and off for five years. Jennie Nielsen said the Go-Pher has a good atmosphere for a small town.

Heroes:

Debra Moe, Sandi Schmidt, Christi Dawson, Levi Waltz, Sara Jo Luna, André Converse, Terra Miller and Brady Ebert
Secret identities: Gas station clerks
Base of operations: Go-Pher Stop, Clarks Grove
Superpowers: The clerks make the Go-Pher Stop the place to go in Clarks Grove by offering a friendly, small-town atmosphere and they’re always up for sharing a laugh with customers.
Kryptonite: Some of the clerks take having fun seriously, by playing pranks on the regulars. However, Schmidt, the manager, says customers are quick to return the favor.
Affiliations: The Clarks Grove Go-Pher Stop is owned by Jennie and Bruce Nielsen of Hartland. The Nielsens own two other gas stations.
Origin: The Go-Pher Stop was originally The Fisherman Stop, and the Nielsens purchased the station in 2001.

About the Go-Pher Stop:

“It is a small business, and we’re a small corporation, and because it’s a small group of people, it’s a good location,” Jennie said.

“It’s homey,” Schmidt added. “A lot of [the atmosphere] is based on the customers we have come in here, but it’s also because of our personalities.”

Once every few weeks, the Go-Pher Stop employees pull a prank on a customer or coworker. Schmidt is the first to admit the employees are known around Clarks Grove for their practical jokes. Everything from greasing door handles to wrapping a vehicle in plastic wrap; Schmidt said they are always up for a little fun. A lot of times, Schmidt said customers will get them back, too.

“We come into work, and it’s a spur-of-the-moment thing,” Schmidt said. “We decide who we’re going to pick on, and that’s our victim.

“It’s a laid-back environment. All I care is that we get our work done, but you also have to have time to play around.”