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The "changing of the guards" at J&B Foods will take place in late December with, from left, Dan Zimmerman named store director and founders Jeff Hensel and Bob Hensel assuring "a seamless transition." Hugo's chief executive officer is Kristi Magnuson-Nelson, chief operating officer is Curtis Zahrt and Scott Van Camp is the senior director of perishables. Hugo's stores are located in Grand Forks (four), Jamestown and Grafton, N.D. Minnesota sites are Crookston, East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls and - n...

Hello, Hugo's; farewell, Jeff and Bob

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Hugo's is about to become a household name in Park Rapids and the smiling blond mascot, Seemore Savings, an icon.

Longtime local grocers Jeff and Bob Hensel have sold J&B Foods to a family-owned chain of supermarket grocery stores, Hugo's.

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Headquartered in Grand Forks, this is the family's 10th store, four in Minnesota and six in North Dakota. Third generation grocer Kristi Magnuson-Nelson is CEO.

There will be no changes in staff or operation, she said of the store opening in 2009 on Highway 71 south. "We will maintain the same standards in the deli, produce, bakery, meats and groceries."

Nash Finch will remain the main wholesaler, with the same private label, Our Family. Angus Pride beef, Natural Choice pork and Golden Plump chickens will also continue to be available to shoppers.

Discussion on the sale began months ago, Bob Hensel said. "We have nothing but praise for the way they do business."

"And vice versa," Magnuson-Nelson added of "motivating factors on both sides."

The Hensels' "last day" will be Dec. 29, when the store will be closed for inventory. The 54,000-square-foot store employing 134 will reopen Dec. 30 as Hugo's Family Marketplace. Dan Zimmerman has been named store director.

Hugo's will continue to operate on a 24-hour basis.

"The only changes will be the sign outside and ad format," Magnuson-Nelson said.

Founder Hugo Magnuson and former mayor of Grand Forks opened the Pure Food Market with wife Dorothy in 1939. The stores carried the Piggly Wiggly name for some years before switching to the current Hugo's.

Magnuson's son, Curtis Magnuson, became president of the chain in 1967, store numbers growing from three to eight in the ensuing years. Curtis Magnuson died in 2007 at 66.

The stores' owners include Magnuson-Nelson's mother, Judy, who served as CEO for three years, and siblings Diane and David, all members of the board of directors.

Employees number about 1,500.

Magnuson-Nelson's career as a grocer began at about 10. After considerable begging, her father "broke down" and allowed her to stock shelves and carry out groceries. She "went to work" at 12.

She remembers trudging over to her grandfather's during a Grand Fork's blizzard to borrow a snowmobile to get to the stores.

"He was hardworking community oriented and active in his church," she recalled of her grandfather who died in 2003 at the age of 102.

Magnuson-Nelson intends to continue the tradition of "offering quality products at great value and satisfying customers each and every time they are in the store.

"The associates should love coming to work every day," she said, "to be passionate about what they do. And from what I see, they are."

"She surrounds herself with capable people," Bob Hensel said. Several managers and directors have been with Hugo's 30-plus years.

Hugo's, Magnuson-Nelson said, has traditionally been very supportive of the community. "I expect that to be the same here."

A grand opening celebration is in the planning stages.

Meanwhile, Bob Hensel predicts, "the most seamless transition there ever was."

The brothers Hensel opened Jeff and Bob's Warehouse on Pleasant (in the current DAC building) in 1982. Four years later they moved operations to the Highway 71 South site, also home a gas station for four years.

In 2001, they opened a second store on Highway 34, now home to Park Ace Hardware. They "consolidated operations" in 2009, opening the state-of-the-art market in March 2009.

Plans for their future, Bob Hensel said, "are undecided."

"We will assist for as long as it takes for an orderly transition," he said.

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