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Photo provided A fleet of Mason Brothers trucks stands by at the Wadena facility, ready to serve more than 200 grocery stores in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.

Mason Brothers has 91-year history of growth

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Before food finds its way onto the shelves and into the coolers of your local grocery store, where does it come from?

Many people think immediately of a cow on a farm or a wheat field. But there's an intermediate step, and if that grocery store is in the upper Midwest, there's a good chance it has passed through the doors of grocery wholesaler Mason Brothers.

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It's a fourth-generation, family owned company that services more than 200 grocery stores in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.

But before it became the grocery powerhouse it is today, Mason Brothers was the proverbial acorn that grew into an oak tree. It all started 91 years ago.

The origins of Mason Brothers: 1920

Harold W. Mason and his brother, Victor Mason (serving as a silent partner), established Mason Brothers in 1920. Harold was a traveling coffee salesman at the time. He and his wife, Ally, had no children of their own. Harold hired his nephew, Chuck Harrison, an only child who lost his father at the age of 3, in the early 1930s. Harold became like a father to Chuck.

Harold Mason retired for health reasons in 1952 and subsequently died in 1960. The management of the company was taken over by Chuck Harrison. Chuck passed away in March 1962. Upon his death, Chuck's son, Harry Harrison, became the president and CEO of Mason Brothers Company at the age of 28.

Continued growth and expansion

Under Harry Harrison's leadership, the company saw tremendous growth, including:

• A milestone year for Mason Brothers was in 1958, as it was the first time since its inception (or in 38 years) to do $1 million in sales.

• Mason Brothers burned to the ground on the night of June 18, 1968. It was Tuesday night and Harry received a call at about 6:30 p.m., as his family was about to sit down to a spaghetti dinner. The call said Mason Brothers was on fire.

Two days after the fire it was back in business in a temporary location. Harry has said he would not wish a fire on his worst enemy. But he also stated that going through the next six months after the fire in 1968, with the outstanding performance of the loyal employees "who gave 150 percent," made Mason Brothers a better company. Until the mid-70s, Mason Brothers was basically a candy and tobacco jobber along with dry groceries.

• Mason Brothers built a new 40,000 square foot warehouse that was completed by the end of 1968. The expansions led to another surge in growth through the 1990s.

• From Jan. 1, 1969 to Jan. 1, 1979, Mason Brothers grew 400 percent. The company then grew 100 percent in the next five years. This growth rate was enhanced by early computerization in 1971 along with the closing of other small wholesalers during the 1970s.

• In 1974, Mason Brothers purchased its first tractor trailer rig. It had been using only straight trucks up unto this point.

• Mason Brothers took on an extensive dairy program in 1977 with Land O' Lakes dairy. Since then they have added Cass Clay, Kemps and Schroeder dairy lines.

• In 1979, fresh meat was added followed in 1986 by frozen foods.

• In 1995, Mason Brothers went into the bakery business known as Abby's Bakery, named after Harry Harrison's granddaughter. The 12,600 square foot facility, with 30 employees, bakes fresh product daily.

• In January 2000, Harry retired as president and CEO of Mason Brothers. Harry and Rosemary sold the company to their sons, Jeff and Ric Harrison.

• 2003 saw the addition of an exclusive all-natural, locally raised beef product with the Heartland Farms label.

• The original facility has gone through seven additions. It is now more than 185,000 square feet, housing more than 18,000 items and 18 dock doors for shipping and receiving. There is also a USDA-inspected meat packing area where meat is further processed in case-ready packages.

Ric and Jeff Harrison said the success of this now fourth-generation company is mainly due to the dedication and support of its 185 full-time equivalent employees.

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