Then & Now: Jahnke Agri-Home Center

Then: In 1990, two couples comprising one family made the tough decision to close Jahnke Agri-Home Center at 950 S. Burlington Ave. after more than 40 years of business in the community.

Jahnke’s was known for having a wide variety of merchandise, from farm supplies to work clothes, housewares to toys and everything in between.

The decision to close the business came after George Jahnke and his wife, Lee, expressed interest in retiring while their son, Greg, and his wife, Brenda, wanted to spend more time with their young family.

Now: Twenty-four years later, Greg Jahnke remembers those last days when the decision came to close the family business.

“It was very difficult on my folks,” he said. “It was something they started from nothing and built up to something. I was just fortunate to walk into this.”

George Jahnke started the business in 1947 as a warehouse distribution business to supply auto repair shops, implement dealers and gas stations with automotive parts.

Over the years, the business expanded and in August 1957, George decided to go from being a wholesaler to a retailer. That’s when he opened the retail business at 827 W. First St. in a 9,000-square-foot building.

“He had everything,” Greg said. “Our idea was to supply the customer with what they wanted. If they said, ‘You need to stock this,’ we really made every effort to stock stuff for anybody and everybody.”

Greg said his parents started the store with primarily ag- and farm-related items. As years went on, the business carried everything from nuts and bolts to clothes, housewares and toys.

Housewares and toys were things that Greg and George depended on Lee to order in giving the woman’s touch to the business.

“We had Paltzgraff stoneware, a really nice selection of kitchen appliances,” Greg said “They were hand-picked, not inexpensive cheap things.”

George was also a huge supporter of 4-H so he added a horse and tack department, carrying saddles, blankets, leads and other items.

By the early 1970s, branch stores had been opened in McCook and Holdrege.

Eventually the Hastings store outgrew the space and in the fall of 1977, the business was moved to 950 S. Burlington Ave.

The stores in McCook and Holdrege were closed so the family could put all their focus into the new 27,000-square-foot space.

“We really expanded our inventory at that time,” Greg said.

There was an expanded farm supply area, a new paint department, more automotive and even field spraying equipment.

Then they added more work clothing and western wear, which became popular in the 1970s and 1980s.

Greg started working in the business when he was in junior high stocking shelves, sweeping floors and unloading trucks.

After graduating from Hastings College in 1974, he went into the management and purchasing side of things, placing a lot of the orders for the store.

Lee did the bookkeeping and also helped with some of the ordering while George was in charge of customer service and building relationships.

“He loved to talked to people,” Greg said. “People would come in with a need or a question and he was ultimate salesman. He was very honest in his dealings and he made a lot of friends.”

Greg said people would come in looking for himself or his dad on the sales floor. And if they needed something but couldn’t find anyone, they would wander back to the office to ask a question.

“We built a lot of personal relationships with our customers that went on for 30 to 40 years,” Greg said. “Moms and dads came in and we got to know the kids who would grow up and go into farm business and shop in our store.”

Some of Greg’s favorite memories of the business were the promotions that they would run, including the peanut sale, the overall sale and the silver dollar or Susan B. Anthony dollar sale.

Greg said Jahnke’s was one of the first businesses in the area to have a peanut sale. They would have huge tubs of peanuts scattered around the store. People could shell their peanuts and leave the shells on the floor.

“We wouldn’t sweep them up for a couple days. (It was) dusty and dirty but it was kind of neat,” he said.

With the overall sale, all the employees in the store wore colorful bib overalls in solid and even rainbow colors. The idea of the overall sale was that everything in the store was on sale.

Probably the most popular promotion, though, was the silver dollar or Susan B. Anthony dollar sale.

The sale was always held at the end of the year between Christmas and New Year’s when farmers were stocking up on supplies for the next year.

For every $10 a customer would spend, he or she would receive a silver dollar, or in later years the Susan B. Anthony dollar.

“If you purchased $100, you got 10 coins,” Greg said. “It was like an instant rebate. People just ate that up.”

In early to mid-December each year, Greg said people would come in asking if they would be having the promotion that year. It was such a popular event, he said they did it each year until the end of the business.

George was 73 years old when the family closed the business in December 1990.

“I hope I have left the public with a feeling of satisfaction,” George said in a Dec. 24, 1990, Tribune article. “The public’s loyalty carried from beginning to end. There was very little (inventory) left (after liquidation). It’s not enough to hold an auction.”

For Greg, the business’ closure gave him a chance to get into a different line of work. In fact, he’s still doing the same thing today.

Greg became a registered representative for Financial Network Investment Corp. where he does retirement and estate planning, investments and insurance.

Much of the time he is able to work out of his home in Sutton. He also has an office in Lincoln.

Greg’s wife Brenda worked at Jahnke’s in the later years starting as a cashier and moving into a management position where she helped with ordering merchandise.

Brenda grew up on a farm so she knew many of the customers who came into the store.

“That was fun to get to see people who I already knew and just to I just loved so many aspects of it,” Brenda said. “I loved running the registers and being a cashier. Then when I got to learn more about the business part and buying, I really enjoyed that, too.”

After the business closed, Brenda worked part time as Greg’s secretary and stayed at home to homeschool their two children.

George Jahnke died Aug. 9, 2012, at 94 years old. His wife died in 2004. Survivors include Greg and Brenda in addition to George and Lee’s daughter, Colleen, and her husband, Gary Welch of Ankeny, Iowa.

It has been nearly 25 years since they closed the door on Jahnke’s but Greg and Brenda still have those “what if” moments, asking themselves what it would be like if they had carried on with the business.

“We don’t wish we were still there, but it was very enjoyable work,” Brenda said. “Sometimes we wonder what it would be like to be there.”

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