Memories Of An 80 Year Old Creating the very 1st retail lost-leader

By Lee Meyer

After graduating from Benson High School in 1955, I was a freshman at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN.

In the early 1950’s there was a grocery store in Benson, MN named Hornbacher’s, owned by Ted Hornbacher.

Ted Hornbacher was a great promoter and idea guy, with the ambition of developing a large supermarket grocery store, however Ted needed a partner who had the money to develop Ted’s goal.

He located his money partner named Custer from the Howard Lake, MN area.

Together Ted and his new found money partner developed large supermarket grocery stores in Moorhead, MN and Fargo, ND.

It was reported that the large Hornbacher’s in Moorhead and Fargo were the largest grocery stores between Chicago, IL and California.

The good news regarding Ted Hornbacher owning his large retail grocery store in Moorhead, was the fact all college students attending Moorhead State or Concordia College had a part-time job at his store if they were looking for work.

Ted wanted news of his success in Moorhead, to find its way back to Benson, MN!

Since I was from Benson, and definitely needed a part-time job, I soon went to work as a stock and carry-out guy at Hornbacher’s.

The size of Hornbacher’s was amazing. We had six or seven check-out lanes, and were open until 9:00 p.m. every night.

I mentioned earlier that Ted Hornbacher was a great promoter and idea man. In the 1960’s the farmers in the Red River Valley surrounding Moorhead, MN were large producers of sugar beets. In those years sugar beets were kept weeded and clean by Mexican families working daily in the sugar beet fields.

Ted Hornbacher realized the purchasing power of these Mexican families. Ted went to every farmer growing sugar beets and said he would allow every Mexican family to charge their groceries at Hornbacher’s Grocery, if each farmer would make sure the full bill was paid at the end of the season when they paid the Mexican families.

Every single Mexican family purchased all of their groceries at Hornbacher’s Grocery every year.

I remember when Mexican families would drive into the parking lot at Hornbacher’s Grocery in large trucks to purchase groceries.

When a local family would purchase their groceries at Hornbacher’s, their bill would be between $40.00 and $50.00. When a Mexican family loaded up their groceries, the bill would be $200.00 to $300.00!

Ted Hornbacher also began to stock grocery items no other store in Moorhead was stocking. Maseca Instant Corn Mesa flour, Tortillas, and other Mexican items were in a large section in our store.

The size of Hornbacher’s Grocery was so large that many high school and college students were employed. The high school students were mainly responsible for carrying out customer’s groceries, however from time to time college students would have to help out when we were really busy.

The primary job for college students was to keep shelves stocked with merchandise, especially on Friday and Saturday when the weekend specials were printed in the newspaper.

Business stores were not open for business on Sundays.

A student named Wayne Mosey who attended Moorhead State and myself were usually teamed together, and assigned certain isles to keep clean and filled with groceries.

One Saturday around 2:00 p.m. an announcement came over the store intercom, Meyer and Mosey to the lunchroom. We both realized we had done something wrong, however had no idea.

When we walked into the store employees lunchroom, there sat the Hornbacher’s store manager named Harry Booth, drinking coffee.

Harry said, “You guys are selling the hell out of Pork & Beans”.

Both Wayne & I said, “Yes, we can hardly keep the “end display” filled”.

Harry Booth said, “Well that’s not too surprising, we have them advertised in our weekend special at 2 for $0.39. You guys have them displayed at 3 for $0.29!”

We had knocked off a dime and threw in one extra can.

We asked Harry if we should change the display, and Harry said, “No, but it is sure bringing the ladies in”.

Since then Wayne and I both said we began the retail store campaign to advertise and sell items at cost, or even below cost, since called, LOST-LEADERS.

Lee Meyer currently lives in DeGraff, Minnesota but has ties to the Morgan area. Some of his columns are based on his memories of Morgan and time spent there when he was young. You may contact Lee by email at:


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