In Georgetown, one of the oldest family-owned groceries operating in the Rocky Mountains began as Kneisel & Anderson in 1883.
Original bins, shelving and tea canisters were installed in the new brick building a decade later. Relatives of the family have continued to operate the store under the same name for more than 130 years. Today, it’s part museum, part delicatessen and part hardware store. To enter the double wooden doors at 511 Sixth St. is to literally step back in time. Even the dust is historic.
A National Historic Landmark, Georgetown was platted in 1874 two years before statehood. Of the thriving restaurant and retail stores in this tourist town, which is an uphill drive west of Denver, Kneisel & Anderson is one of the few ongoing businesses in its original 19th-century high-ceilinged Victorian building. Family members still run the cash register. “We’ve all been gone, but we’ve all come back to help,” Wendy Anderson says.
In an age of big-box stores, mega-grocery and liquor stores, and miles of florescent-lit aisles of pre-packaged food, Kneisel & Anderson holds its own because of the dedicated Anderson family. Generations of Clear Creek County residents patronize the store, and now, weekend tourists flock to buy Scandinavian and other European cheeses and foods as well as Colorado-made jellies, jams, syrups, sauces and gift packages. As they have for decades, children flock to the wooden counter to purchase striped candy, which once was a penny a stick, but no longer.
HHHThe family grocery business began in the rough and tumble days of 1870s mining camps. While prospectors sought to make their fortune in gold and silver mines, Kneisel & Anderson settled down to the routine business of selling groceries to miners and mining camps by wagon.
Henry Kneisel immigrated as a baker from Germany, and the family still has his ovens. Emil Anderson, another immigrant to Colorado, chose work away from the dark and dangerous hard rock mines. A Swedish immigrant, he married, at 19, the boss’s daughter, Cora Kneisel, and came into the wholesale and retail business in Georgetown at 8,400 feet in elevation. Later, his grandson joked, “The dogs in town knew more Swedish than any other language.”
Once one of seven grocery stores in town that carried Haviland and Limoges china, Kneisel & Anderson is the only one that remains. Plates stamped with their business name show up in antique shops. After two competitors folded, in 1912 the family entered the hardware business. The high shelves of the adjacent hardware store are stocked with every item imaginable, and throughout the store, signs and placards advertise products not manufactured in decades.
Their father ran the store. Coralue Anderson and her brother, nicknamed “Smoky,” worked there through high school. They made no promises to return. Sister Wendy skipped the high school hours but learned the business from scratch later in life. “My dad didn’t know if anybody would take it over, but we did,” says Wendy, who taught Swedish at the University of Washington and then “came back to help out.”
Coralue taught elementary school, continues to downhill ski almost every week, and explains, “It’s just the way life is. You end up doing what you never thought you’d do. My father gave me a broom when it was taller than me and said sweep the floor. I’ve been doing it ever since, and running the counter, too. We worked for our dad 60 years ago, and now, we run the store.”
HHHKneisel & Anderson is open seven days a week. The sisters clerk from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sunday from noon until they feel like closing. Hours aren’t really fixed. If someone comes in to talk, as hundreds of people do, the store stays open as an informal meeting place for Georgetown residents and as an historic welcome center for tourists.
The Anderson sisters are now the fifth generation of their family in town and the fourth generation in the grocery business. They intimately know local history and are proud of the little green triangle known as Anderson Park. “We all went sledding on the same hill our grandfather and dad did,” smiles Coralue. “I live in a house where my dad was born. The original part was a cabin from the 1860s. The family bought it in 1907 near the road to Guanella Pass,” Wendy says.
Many items that came into the store over the last century have never left, including tools of the trade for a tinsmith and glass-cutter’s shop. As for cleaning it out, Coralue shrugs, “I look in the room and say where do you start? What do you do?”
Their father delivered groceries twice a day in a panel truck to Silver Plume and Empire. He delivered milk in the morning and at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. He took groceries to families deep in the mountains, and when the Depression came and people couldn’t pay their bills, Kneisel & Anderson never cut off credit.
“Dad ended up throwing away a whole drawer of receipts from unpaid bills that my grandfather saved. Most were from the Great Depression,” Coralue says.
Maintaining the historic character of Georgetown did not happen without a fight and serious community involvement. As plans solidified in the 1960s for Colorado’s major east-west interstate, I-70, one route had it running through town. “I remember my dad going to a lot of meetings. They wanted the business from the interstate but on their own terms,” Wendy recalls.
Having successfully fended off the freeway, the next development threat came with the possibility of Colorado hosting the Winter Olympics in 1976 and plans to build condominiums in the historic district. Residents won that fight, too, and where the condos would have been is now public green space. The condo development was ultimately defeated by the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to allow Historic Georgetown the right to uphold its preservation and design ordinance.
HHHBy 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning, things quiet down. There’s a lull between the arrival of local residents and tourists. I look at the packages of Swedish herring, fresh lingonberries, Olathe sweet corn and mouth-watering imported cheeses. I find licorice from Finland, Australia and Sweden. There’s whipped and regular honey from Honeyville, San Juan mustard, O’Hara’s jellies, a Wassail Christmas mix from Silverton, mountain meats and elk sausage from Montrose and Fire Mountain jellies and syrups from Hotchkiss. I especially like the Anasazi beans from Dove Creek. Kneisel & Anderson has found its niche.
Each year, the town of 1,100 hosts a Christmas market the first two weeks in December. There’s a Santa Lucia Festival with schoolchildren in white robes and red sashes replicating a festival of light from Sweden. Georgetown residents are proud of their buildings as well as their ancestors. “This store and our business represent people coming to this country and making something of themselves,” Coralue Anderson tells me.
I look around the store and everywhere there is history. Photos in the store include great-grandfather Henry Kneisel, grandfather Emil Anderson and father Henry Anderson. I find a few items to take to the cash register and give them to Coralue. She looks at them and rings me up. There’s no scanner. Every item in the store is hand-labeled with a price tag. Why not? That’s a system that’s worked for the last 130 years.
Andrew Gulliford is a professor of history and environmental studies at Fort Lewis College. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.