By Robert Lucke
There might not be any gold mines in the center of Havre, but if customers are any indication of how convenience stores do, then McLean's Grocery is a mighty popular place.
Margie Morse and her husband, Rodger, are the owners of McLean's. They have been owners since 1989. The store is a family affair. Margie's mom and dad were in the store for years and years as were her grandmother and grandfather.
Interviewing Morse at the store on a Wednesday morning is not an easy thing to do as there is just a steady stream of customers coming in and buying everything from hot dogs to chewing tobacco.
And most interesting of all is that nothing much has changed in the store in the last 20 or so years.
"We did get a new door two weeks ago," said Morse, laughing. "But nothing more changes. A lot of my customers were mom and dad's customers. We do have a lot of very loyal customers."
The store started out on the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street some 55 years ago. Emma and Duncan McLean established it and were on that corner until in 1949 when Mrs. Buttrey sold the building and they moved east on Second Street right next to where they are today. The McLeans lived in the back of that store and when a tire store next door moved, that looked like a great time to enlarge the store. They have been on that corner, Second Street and Fifth Avenue, since then.
Changes have moved slowly at McLean's through the years, said Morse.
"I think the biggest change was changing from a grocery store to more of a convenience store," said Morse. "And that happened many years ago when my mom and dad still ran the store."
Morse's mother and father were Al and Marge McLean, who ran the store for many years as well. Morse said she thinks that her mother who, took over the store in 1972 when Al died, worked much harder than she does these days. Marge McLean worked year after year, 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., seven days a week.
And even working less hours, the hours are one of the downsides of the business.
"I don't just work 9 to 5," said Morse. "We don't leave town very often. Well, I do leave when the kids are in activities, but not for any length of time. And even at home, there is book work or something to do with the store."
Some of McLean's biggest sellers never change. Pop and munchies, and surprisingly, folks are munching on much the same things they were 20 years ago.
And then there are those lunches. Two hotdogs and a drink for a $1.50. That attracts droves of high school and college students daily through the doors, says Morse.
"And don't forget our ice cream cones," said Morse. "They have been here forever and we give the biggest scoop in town. Eight flavors and still maple nut is the biggest seller."
If the downside is the hours, there is a strong upside to the business too.
"It makes me feel good that it is a part of history," said Morse, smiling. "People remember mom and dad. The loyalty, that is what I like a lot and that we are in Havre. It is the best you know. It is safe here and you can wave at people you know driving down the street."
Still, though, ten years after taking over, those nine to five jobs look pretty good to Morse.
"When we bought the store we did it because I needed a job. Farming was bad. Sometimes I think that a real job is best and I know that now in my forties, I wouldn't have started in the store."
Husband, Rodger, opens during the week and works until it is time for him to go to the farm. Margie Morse does not know if a fourth generation will ever take over the store. Boys, J. R. and Josh are 16 and 12.
One of the biggest business decisions McLeans have made in the past few years is to close on Christmas Day. That is the only day during the year that they do close.
Maybe it is the location. Maybe it is the friendliness. Or maybe it is the old fashioned look about the place, but the people that come in that steady stream, day after day, they are what make it all worthwhile.
"You know there are people who come here as kids and there are college kids and I think that people whoever come here just still keep coming back. That is good," said Morse, laughing, as she zipped to the hot dog rack for lunch for a hungry worker.