Everett and Dorothy Nygren opened Nygrens in 1962 at the Lake in Excelsior. The business would carry on until it closed in 1990.
“Dad came to Excelsior and the bank was boarded up and he said, ‘That’s where we are going to have our new business’,” said Jon Nygren, their son. “She looked at him and said, ‘are you nuts?’ So, that’s the way it started.”
The Nygren family grew as the store grew. Former employees joined Everett and Dorothy’s two children, Jan and Jon, at the Hazellewood Grill and Tap Room in Shorewood on June 25 to share memories of their time at the store and what it meant to them.
“We all worked so well together and to have that was very special,” said Shirley Livingston, who was a manager and buyer at Nygrens from 1965 to 1980.
“I basically grew up in the store and all the salespeople were basically my aunts,” Jan Nygren said. “Our employees ended up to be like family.”
Heartfelt stories were shared by longtime employees about what Nygrens at the Lake had meant to them and others. Everyone attending the reunion was asked to bring a story to share. Jon Nygren shared a story of a husband who would purchase a gift from Nygrens for his wife every year during the Christmas season. When the husband died, the wife stopped in to purchase a gift to remember him and have it gift wrapped the Nygrens’ way. Livingston was happy to do so.
“We had a signature wrapping, and the men of the day typically did not know what the women wanted to wear. Shirley and the staff would find just the perfect thing and then take it in the back and wrap it. ” Jon Nygren said. “One of the husbands passed away and his wife came in. She comes in and says, ‘my husband died, it’s Christmas, and I want a memory of him. I always knew that you picked out our gifts, and I want you to do that again, wrap it so I can take it home as a memory of my husband.’”
“She didn’t give us any budget, just whatever we wanted to put together,” Livingston said. “We had very special people there as our customers.”
All who were present at the gathering had their own unique connection to the business and the Nygren family. Some of the oldest are in their 90s and worked there not long after the business opened. Marianne Apenitis is 93 years old and did the alterations to clothing at Nygrens and is still putting her skills to work.
“I had a lot a good times there, they were very nice people to work with,” Apenitis said.
“I ride motorcycle and I bought a jacket that was too big and she, just in the last two months, tailored it down for me,” Jon Nygren said.
Nygrens at the Lake had meant a lot to so many people. That is especially true for Jan and Jon, who grew up with the store.
“I remember when I was a little girl, every time my mom would go on a buying trip I would get a stomachache, and my dad would say, ‘oh gosh, I guess I’m going to have to take you to work today.’ So, then I would go to work and hang out with the sales help and then he’d take me to lunch, we’d go get ice cream,” Jan said. “I spent my whole life in the store.”