'Gung-ho about her store': Carol Nelson owned Bemidji second-hand business for 50 years

Carol Nelson, longtime owner of the Economy Shop in downtown Bemidji, is being remembered by friends and business neighbors as a kind, giving person. She died last week at age 82. Submitted photo.

BEMIDJI -- For the last 50 years, Carol Nelson’s routine was precise. Go to rummage sales, find some bargains and bring them to her second-hand store in downtown Bemidji.

Nelson, who owned the Economy Shop at 305 Third St. NW, died last week at the age of 82. She is being remembered by friends and business neighbors as a hard-working businesswoman with a kind heart.

“The people just loved to come into her store,” said Marlyce Trepanier, Carol’s cousin. “And a lot of them didn’t even look around. They just came in to say 'hi' to Carol and visit with her.”

Chrissy Doris and Sandy Girtz, agents at Northway Insurance next door, said Nelson was frustrated not being able to have the store open during the recent coronavirus pandemic.

“She was gung ho about her store,” Doris said. “She didn’t like not being able to do it. She definitely enjoyed being here and seeing people.”


Nelson also enjoyed planting flowers in the downtown area and in front of the Economy Shop.

“We’ve done the planters through the years,” Doris said. “Over the last few years she’s let Sandy and I really take over. But still those first couple of years she would tell us what we needed to get, and how many we needed to get, make sure we did it right. She loved to plant, loved her gardening. She has a couple barrels out front that she normally fills us with plants. Sandy made sure to put flowers in there this year, because Carol wasn’t there.”

For many years, Carol and her husband, Walter, teamed up to stock the store. Walter died in 2004.

“When the rummage sales came out in the paper every week, Carol would mark down the ones she wanted (Walter) to go to, and then she’d go to the other ones,” Trepanier said.

Girtz said that although Nelson could be direct with people, she also had a softer side.

“She just was really spunky,” Girtz said with a chuckle. “She would give you advice, even if you didn’t want to hear it. But whenever I wanted to buy something from her it was never full price. One time a guy brought in a picture from his car. I saw him, because we’re right next door. After he left I went in there and asked, ‘Where’s that picture?’ She goes, ‘Isn’t it ugly? It’s so ugly.’ It was modern art, and I ended up buying it from her. She couldn’t believe I wanted it. I got the Sandy discount.”

A memorial service was held on Tuesday, June 23. Nelson is survived by one son, Ricky; three brothers, Clair, Bruce and Dennis; five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“She just had a full heart,” Girtz said. “She would bring things over here all the time for our kids. She knew Chrissy and I both had kids.”

Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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