Residents mourn the loss of the Rapidan Dam Store

Published 5:44 am Monday, July 1, 2024

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People are mourning the loss of the Dam Store in Rapidan, Minnesota.

The beloved store was demolished Friday before it could be claimed by the rushing Blue Earth River. On Saturday, local residents Eric and Louise Henderson visited the rubble of the former store.

“I watched one of my best friends lose everything,” Louise said. Her great-grandfather, Jorgen Nelson, started the Dam Store in 1910 by selling sandwiches to the workers building the dam.

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Jim Hruska bought the store in 1972, and he and his family have run it ever since.

“It’s not about us, it’s about this family that built a business for 50 years,” Louise added.

The Blue Earth River consumed the Hruska home in Rapidan, Minn. on Tuesday when rain-swollen waters eroded the earth underneath. It had built force with heavy rains last week, skirted the dam when debris build-up prevented its flow, and quickly worn away at the riverbank.

Anticipating the building’s collapse into the river, Blue Earth County took possession of and demolished The Dam Store. In a Facebook post, county officials said significant erosion had accelerated along the riverbank, so they presented a purchase agreement to the Hruska family in “an effort to protect other properties downstream and lessen environmental impact.”

David Hruska, 44, first spoke with MPR News on Thursday. At the time, he was hopeful the store’s building could be moved. A contractor later determined it was too late. The ground was too saturated and the river was getting too close, chunks of dirt disappearing at a time.

Google Maps shows The Dam Store was around 300 feet away from the river’s edge about a week ago. On Thursday morning, that distance was down to about 10 to 15 feet, according to Hruska. “The store is right on the edge like the house was,” he had said.

By Friday, Hruska said removing the building was the only option they had. He estimates nearly all of the family’s two acres of property now lie in the river.

“Never imagined this would happen in a million years.”

The Dam Store had been operating for as long as the Rapidan Dam — since 1910. The Hruska family took over in 1972, and also moved into the house next door.

David Hruska spent his whole life between the two buildings. He said he accepted the house would collapse after the basement flooded and fell out earlier this week. His bigger concern had always been the store.

“You can replace houses, but our business is an old, old building. Old business. And it’s grandfathered in, a lot of it. And that’s hard to replace, something like that,” said Hruska.

Five people stand for a photo

Left to Right: Alayna Mann, Sophie Wyman, Jim Hruska, David Hruska and Jenny Barnes, stand for a portrait inside the Rapidan Dam Store in 2022. Jim Hruska bought the store in 1972, which is only several yards away from its namesake.
Hannah Yang | MPR News

Hruska said its charm was as “an old-fashioned place.” The Dam Store had retained its old booths, payphone, Wurlitzer jukebox and Hamilton Beach milkshake mixers over the years, transporting customers to the 50s and 60s.

“Nothing has hardly been changed in there in the about 50 years that we’ve owned it. We’ve done very little things to change it and improve it. We keep it the same and that’s why people love it and enjoy it,” said Hruska, who co-owns the diner with his father Jim Hruska and sister Jenny Barnes. He did most of the cooking and waiting. Barnes baked pies loved by the surrounding community.

In an interview on Friday evening, Hruska said The Dam Store will revive in some form. Family, friends and county employees removed everything before demolition, including appliances, memorabilia, furniture. He said those will be included when the family opens a new place.

”The Dam Store has not sold its last burger or sold its last slice of pie,” read a June 26 Facebook post to supporters. “When it is safe for all, We Will Be Open in some way or shape.”