Bruers mark a quarter century of Good Times

Diane and Dale Bruers have done business in NYA for 25 years as the owners of Good Time Liquors. Photo by Paul Downer

Dale and Diane Bruers never exactly planned on owning their own liquor store, but 25 years after purchasing Good Time Liquors in Norwood Young America, they don’t intend to give up the business any time soon.

The couple recently celebrated that quarter century milestone with food, prizes, special deals and a tasting session at the store located on the south side of Highway 212 near the intersection with Faxon Road.

“We opened up a little more expensive bottle of champagne than we normally do. I thought, 25 years, why not?” said Dale.

The couple took over Good Time Liquors, which had previously been owned by Roy and Phyllis Eder, on April 1 of 1987. Dale had previously been employed by Tonka Toys, but after that company closed an area facility and moved away, he found himself searching the newspaper for new job opportunities.

“I said to Diane, ‘There’s a liquor store for sale in Norwood.’ Thirty days later, we owned it,” Dale remembered.

At the time, the store was located across Highway 212 between the grocery store and the hardware store.

“It was just a little hole in the wall,” said Dale.

As might be expected, the couple has seen a fair number of changes in prices, industry practices and customer behavior over the years. In the early days, a 12-pack of beer was $5.37 and the popular brands were Stroh’s, Old Milwaukee and Schlitz. Some of the Stroh’s 30-packs were only $11.99.

Today, the store doesn’t carry any of those three brands, prices are higher and the popular new beers are Coors Light, Miller Lite, Michelob Golden Light and Budweiser.

“The prices have really changed over the last 25 years. So has the industry. Either you have to go bigger or get out of it,” said Dale. “That’s one of the reasons we built this store, so we could expand and compete with some of the bigger stores. It’s just really hard now to be a mom and pop store because they’re few and far between.”

While Good Time relocated to its larger present location 11 years ago, it still maintains its “mom and pop” credentials. Those include a neighborly manner of interacting with customers and the incredible absence of a computer.

“Our computer system is six recipe card boxes that we’ve used for 25 years and still use today,” said Dale. “We laugh about it. I’ll say to a salesman, ‘Just a minute, I have to get my computer up.’ They know I have to get my cards out. They say, ‘You’re not alone. There are some people out there that still do it that way.’ We’re not the last in the world, but people say they can’t believe we’re not computerized. I just tell them that the next owner can do that.”

In his defense, Dale did take a computer class once.

“When you’re from the old school, change is hard to accept and do. You need to take time to learn, and I think we just never took a few weeks to have someone help us set that up,” he said. “I did take a computer class. I couldn’t keep the mouse on the pad!”

While the ordering and pricing is done the old-fashioned way, the Bruers have been able to keep competitive prices that are necessary to survive in Norwood Young America’s unique location between the metro area and the rural areas to the west.

“Shopping local can be a hard thing here because we’re close to the big stores right down the highway. So we’ve tried to stay competitive. We are real aggressive on some of the big players and that has helped us to get people coming back,” said Dale.

On the other hand, the highway, coupled with Good Time’s highly visible location, have brought opportunity as well. The couple estimated that up to half of its customers are from out of town, passing through on the way to or from the Twin Cities.

“We have people that come in here from the Dakotas for Vikings games that I’ve known for seven or eight years now,” said Dale. “They’ll come right in behind the counter. We’ve met a lot of nice people from out of state and out of town.”

“We’re actually at the first stop light on the way out of the cities, so they know where the store is now,” said Diane.

Those mobile customers also help the Bruers keep competitive prices.

“We do know that our prices are in line because we hear it on a weekly basis. So we know we’re doing the right thing that way to keep people local,” said Dale.

In general, however, interaction with customers has changed over the years as well. The Bruers remembered the early years when farmers would come to town once a week, stop in to chat, and sometimes leave trails of manure and corn behind from their boots.

“We used to get mad about that back in the old days. Sometimes I actually miss that now, because it was a more fun time,” said Dale. “People stopped in and there was time to talk and they wanted to know the latest news or what was news. Now when some of our customers come in on the weekends they’re in such a hurry. They’re on the headset talking or on a cell phone. They don’t even acknowledge us. That’s my biggest pet peeve, how people have changed and everybody’s in a hurry.”

While the business now includes six part-time employees, the Bruers understand from experience the cost of owning a business, in terms of both taxes and time. Dale said he sometimes feels “more like a tax collector than a businessman,” and finding time away has been difficult. In 25 years, the couple has had a grand total of four weeklong vacations, and for the first dozen years or so, Dale estimated that he worked 65 to 72 hours per week.

Perhaps due in part to that dedication, business has remained mostly steady through the tumultuous economic changes over the last few years.

“Knock on wood, with the tough times and the economy there have been some lows, but we’re basically holding like we have been. So we’re thankful for that,” said Dale.

While the addition of employees has helped, owning a business remains a time consuming job and the couple occasionally find their thoughts drifting to retirement.

“Sometimes you think about it, but it would be hard to let it go. A lot of our customers are like family,” said Diane. “I think we’d be lost. It would be a hollow feeling.”

“Our plans our to be here as long as our health permits,” said Dale. “It’s been very, very good to us for the last 25 years. I hope it’s not another 25 years, but we’re not ready to throw in the towel yet. All in all, we’re very thankful and grateful to all the people who have stopped here and supported us.”