Sam Rutman, an immigrant from Eastern Europe had a job driving a fruit truck from Minnesota to the Dakotas. He got to know the fruit business, eventually starting his own fruit stand in Richfield. Thanks to the countless hours of hard work that he, his wife, and his two children would take on, that fruit stand would grow into Lyndale Garden Center, a business that would come to earn the highest revenue of any single-unit garden store in the country. It would stay in the family for forty-five years and become the backbone of the surrounding community.
I am sitting at McCormick’s and Schmick’s on Nicollet Mall enjoying grilled salmon and green beans. Across the table sits Dan Rutman, the grandson of Sam, whose father, Burt, and aunt, Sandra, inherited Lyndale Garden Center from their dad. Burt, who may have been thought of as a mama’s boy, worked 7 days a week at the garden store, usually to ten o’clock at night beside his mom, Belle Rutman, the beloved “ma” who sat at the end of cash registers and remembered everyone’s names. Dan tells me she knew people loved her Russian accent so she “played it up”. In a hilarious departure from most of us, pretended to be older than she was because she cleverly knew that everyone loves a little old lady. In addition to Belle and Burt, Sandra’s husband Palmer Siegel also ran the garden store until his death in 1984. A true family business.
Dan tells me that while the store sold pumpkins, Christmas trees, lawn furniture, and other tools, it was really the flowers that made the store profitable and helped finance him, his sisters and cousins through some of the best colleges in our country. Dan admits that if he wanted to see his dad, he had to go to the store. At age 10, his dad gave him the job of counting the money at the peak of the season. Burt knew that he could only trust his family with the brown paper bags full of cash. In an interesting evolution from these childhood late nights, Dan is now a Financial Planner, still helping businesses count their money.
At the peak season in the spring and summer months, policemen directed traffic in and out of Lyndale Garden Center’s parking lot. There were 15 cash registers going at a time. This business was Dan’s dad’s life. He sold the store but stayed connected. Strangely and one might say poetically, Burt passed away within a day of when Lyndale Garden Center locked its doors permanently.
In a recent talk given by Laura Zabel, the Executive Director of Springboard for the Arts, she cited a finding from a Knight Foundation Soul of the Community study that determined aesthetics, social offerings, and openness drive attachment to community. During our lunch, Dan remembered that his grandma used to regularly stay open a little later if a customer came just past closing. In this literal sense, Lyndale Garden Center embodied all three of these things the study found.
Now, it is our job as The Cornerstone Group to find the right partners to animate the new Lyndale Gardens we are building. We are also keeping these three elements at the forefront of our visioning. We are looking for people like Sam, Burt, Palmer and Belle. Whether they are business owners with collectively held values like our friends and Lakewinds Co-op, the women of Ecological Gardens who are helping us plan our farm with principles of permaculture guiding their designs, or artists that believe art is a catalyst for connection, we feel the influence of what once sat on the land. Lyndale Garden Center was a passion, not just a business that successfully strengthened communities and families for generations. We are grateful to people like Dan for reaching out and finding us. His stories help us collectively hold the rich history and contribute to the soul of this community.