A family of grocers

A postcard for the Yerxa grocery store
A postcard for the Yerxa grocery store, where the most expensive item advertised was a 30-cent jar of olives. Image courtesy of Karen Cooper

The Yerxa family of New Brunswick arrived in Minnesota in the 1800s. Their name is a version of the Dutch “Jurcksen.” Over the generations, Southwest Minneapolis has been home to many members of the prosperous family.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Yerxa brothers were grocers. Thomas E. Yerxa had a grocery in Pembina, while his brother Woodford had a store in Fargo, where he was elected mayor. By the 1880s, they and brother Fred Yerxa had a store in St. Paul and another at 5th & Nicollet in Minneapolis.

Yerxa grocery stores were a wonder of their age. At a time before self-service groceries, this was a paradise of beautifully organized counters and wonderful bargains. The most expensive thing they advertised was a large jar of olives for 30 cents. They roasted and ground their own brand of coffee called “Hoffman House.” They butchered their own meat and made their own sausage.

As industrial food was becoming prevalent, the Yerxas promoted Minnesota fish and local eggs and produce. They also ran a wholesale operation that reached at least as far as Montana.

1917 Irving Ave. S.
Herbert R. Yerxa lived at 1917 Irving Ave. S. Photo courtesy of Hennepin History Museum

Their family’s success is apparent in their addresses. Thomas E. Yerxa lived on Summit Avenue in St. Paul until he moved to run a Yerxa Bros. outpost in Los Angeles. His son Thomas F. Yerxa lived on Lake of the Isles. His second son, Herbert R. Yerxa, lived at 1917 Irving Ave. S. in a substantial house among wealthy neighbors.

Herbert and Minnie and their three children lived on Irving between 1908 and 1917.  Before that, they’d lived in southern California and Arizona while Herbert considered building a railroad in Mexico. They returned to Minneapolis to run the grocery. In San Bernardino County they invested in land, citrus and other schemes, from oil-holding companies to egg production.

Tremendous success eluded them, however. Around 1899, Thomas E. Yerxa persuaded another investor to buy into a bankrupt creamery in Washington state. The place lost a fortune in its first year, so Thomas sold out.  The other investor held on, creating the Carnation canned milk brand that eventually sold for billions to Nestle.  Before 1920, two of the three founding Yerxa brothers had died, and Herbert Yerxa moved to California to look after his family’s business interests. Their Minneapolis store became a “public market” and then the building was sold and the place quietly faded away.

If your house is among the Hennepin History Museum photo collection, you can ask Karen Cooper for a house history by emailing her at [email protected] Look for your Southwest Minneapolis house at tinyurl.com/hhm-houses.