by Nan Royce
HOWARD LAKE Myra Hirsch Laway and Howard Lake’s historic city hall building have something in common: they’re both well-known fixtures in the community.
Laway, who manages the Howard Lake Municipal Liquor Store located on the first floor of the old city hall building, has marvelous memories of growing up in town.
Laway is the fifth of six girls born to Dale and Noreen Hirsch. Dale worked at the muni when his daughters were young. He passed away when Laway was 8 years old.
Her mother, Noreen, worked at Nelson’s Bakery while her girls were growing up.
A mission from her heart
Growing up among the businesses of downtown Howard Lake and attending St. James Lutheran School, made big impressions on the little girl.
Laway fondly remembers visiting liquor store manager Clayton Perry
Perry had a unique, seemingly magical talent of spotting Eisenhower silver dollars hidden around his store, which Laway retrieved and got to keep. She still treasures some of those old coins. Perry was also known to subtly hand out Snickers bars and other treats to young visitors.
Laway also remembers loving to bake with her mom, something she does to this day.
Laway graduated from Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School. She bought the house in which she grew up. She spent time chasing her artistic spirit, by participating in local theater productions, and singing in St. James Lutheran Church’s choir.
Fifteen years ago, she applied for and landed a job working at the same muni where her father had worked. “This is really more of a mission for my heart,” Laway said.
Of course, she cherishes the memories she has of her father there, but also the memories of customers who frequented the bar side of the business. The bar eventually closed for good Christmas Eve in 2014.
“This was a working man’s bar for 70 years,” Laway said. “I wanted to live the legacy those good guys left. It was like a social family here.”
When Laway became the muni’s manager six years ago, it didn’t take long for her creative “retail nut” side to come to the foreground.
The building begins to breathe again
Not long after Laway became manager, city staff started thinking about restoring and remodeling the muni’s historic building. Laway believes the muni building may be the second-oldest operating building in Wright County.
Plans for restoration have been in the works for six years. The project relies heavily on grants, as well as funding from the Minnesota Historical Society.
The MHS has very exact criteria regarding restorations, and city staff and planners have put countless hours into making sure they are in compliance with these standards.
Big picture: the old, closed bar sitting dusty and unused behind the liquor store will be turned into additional retail space.
The thought of increasing the current store’s cramped space is exciting for Laway and her employees.
“We’ll have more room to run around,” she enthused. “It’ll be great.”
Laway and Howard Lake City Administrator Nick Haggenmiller have been tossing store setup ideas around for quite some time. Laway envisions being able to run aisles down the full length of the current store and the old bar, easily doubling the current amount of inventory area.
Laway estimates that the muni currently stocks 2,500 to 3,000 different beverages, and can’t wait to have space to bring in more.
She envisions expanding the muni’s already “classy” wine section, and turning her small office into a “cool zone,” or a “beer cave,” where people can grab cold ones to go.
Laway also anticipates she may change the staff schedule from its typical solo-staffing model, and add an additional cash register.
She has already acquired shopping baskets and carts, which will come in even more handy after the planned expansion.
“We are so supported as a staff by the city council,” she said. “We’re very grateful for that.”
The city council has committed to a complete remodel of the building’s second floor.
They intend to turn the space into a historically appropriate gathering space for up to several hundred people.
The freshened up quarters will offer area residents a large area in which to host bigger events, such as wedding or graduation receptions, big family reunions, and a wide number of other populous events.
An elevator to the second floor will be installed, making access available to everyone.
Laway figures it is only natural that the muni would provide beverages needed for celebrations booked upstairs.
“We’re gaining and we’re winning,” Laway maintains. “And we’ll never stop trying to do better.”
Pro-local, know local
Laway declared that she is a life-long “pro-local” shopper, and hopes others will follow that example, by keeping their business in town.
She indicated there are new and exciting things happening at the muni all the time, and invites people to stop in and say “hi.”
She enjoys the fact that she and her staff know many of their customers, and can either anticipate their favorite beverages, or help them find new ones.
“We have a friendly and knowledgeable staff,” she said. “We’re here to walk you through options, and to help with your spirit events.”
Laway keeps a large, varied inventory on hand, and will order whatever a customer wants if she doesn’t have it in stock.
“I remember who I’m selling to,” she said, “and I do cater to those who come in here.”
She loves to use her creative nature when planning new decorations or displays, but remembers the importance of stocking standard favorites.
She said Fireball is popular right now, noting it has all but replaced the formerly popular Jägermeister.
Laway said beer currently accounts for approximately 60 percent of the municipal’s sales.
Wine is also gaining in popularity, and she makes sure to have something for everyone by stocking organic wines and gluten free varieties, too.
“Box wine is crazy,” she laughed, noting Naked Grape is a local favorite.
Craft brews continue to multiply rapidly, and she stocks a sizable and ever-changing variety. Laway makes a point of bringing in a couple of new craft beers each week, and has an entire shelving space dedicated to them.
She takes pride in offering prices competitive to any other liquor store in the region, and frequently reminds people that the profits made by the muni go directly back into the Howard Lake community.
Laway ensures the Howard Lake Municipal is participating in, or the driving force behind many city business events.
Upcoming events include:
• Trunk or Treat at St. James Lutheran Church parking lot Sunday, Oct. 29 from 4 to 7 pm. This event allows businesses and groups to bring a trunk load of candy to share with trick-or-treaters all in one safe spot. All businesses are welcome to participate, and all families are encouraged to attend. If the day is inclement, the event will be moved into the St. James Fellowship Hall.
• Third annual Taste of Minnesota at the Howard Lake Municipal Friday, Nov. 17 from 7 to 9 pm. Wine, beer and liquor from more than a dozen local vendors will be available to try after paying a $5 charge at the door. Meat and cheese trays featuring samples from Grandpa Ittel’s Meats are also on the menu. Laway said the first 25 people through the entryway will win door prizes. Last year, 91 guests came to the event, and she’s aiming for more than 100 this year.
• Small business Saturday takes place Saturday, Nov. 25, and the muni will host a celebration of some type.
• Holiday season means sample time. Laway often pops open holiday-themed beverages for shoppers to try.
Contests and collections for charitable causes
One of Laway’s sisters once told her Laway was “a giving soul. It’s how you’re made.” It’s hard to dispute that, given the number of charitable events the Howard Lake Municipal hosts.
Just a few examples include a coat drive each February, a pet food drive in April, Support a Solider in July, and currently, in October, a food drive.
The Howard Lake Municipal staff asks people to bring in non-perishable food items to benefit the local food shelf Wright County Community Action in Waverly.
“Let’s do this,” Laway said, pointing out the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association (MMBA) and MillerCoors will donate an additional $1,000 to the food shelf, with compliments to the muni, if the store brings in the highest number of pounds of donations.
The Howard Lake Municipal is competing against nine other city municipals, and the staff wants to win. Laway is offering a $25 muni gift certificate to whomever brings in the most pounds of food. She notes that cash donations are also being accepted, and every dollar given equates to 3 pounds of food in the contest total.
All the work, fun, and activity makes Laway happy, and challenges her to do even more. “It’s like karma,” she said. “Doing good begets good.”
The Howard Lake Municipal Liquor Store can be found at 733 6th Street. Normal store hours are: Monday through Thursday, 10 am to 9 pm; and Friday and Saturday, 10 am to 10 pm.
Anyone interested in assisting with any of the business events listed, or in helping with charity drives mentioned, is welcome to call Laway at (320) 543-2038.