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Menards Red Owl grocery store

An O gauge structure of a beloved grocery store chain

Price: $99.99 (no. 279-3472) Features: Wood, cardstock, and plastic construction. Illumination for sides, interior, signage, and security lamps.

This jumbo O gauge structure from Menards will probably be a hit with those who live, or lived, in the Upper Midwest: A Red Owl grocery store. Red Owl was a chain of stores with much in common with IGA and Piggly Wiggly. Founded in 1922, the firm had at one time 441 stores scattered between Michigan and the Dakotas.

Red Owl stores were basic grocery stores trying to advance beyond the traditional notion of the neighborhood corner store, while still being a member of the family. In short, this was how America got its groceries before the supermarket transformed food shopping.

In 1988 SuperValu Inc. acquired the name and warehouse and distribution system and proceeded to phase out the Red Owl brand name.I never got the pure Red Owl experience, but in Grand Forks, N.Dak. I did my shopping at a Red Owl Country Food Store.

This was a retail outlet more like a warehouse with the advantage that it was open 24/7. Still, I continued to use my large two-handed Red Owl grocery tote box for many years after leaving that state!

This model salutes Red Owl’s store in Eau Claire, Wis. If you look at the bottom of the plastic base the store comes in, you’ll find reproductions of advertising from December 1955 for the grand opening of the store in Eau Claire!

You could get plenty of free stuff there: A Red Owl needle kit, 2,000 loaves of bread, and 1,000 boxes of cake mix, and even cash your paycheck there! Those cavemen knew how to market!

Opening the box
Okay, this O gauge structure comes in a clear plastic shell, so there isn’t a great deal of drama here. If it is at your local Menards, you can see what you’re getting.

The dazzling red and white Owl head – the key element in popular affection for the brand – appears on the white fascia above the store entrance.

The front of the store is painted red with jumbo lettering “RED OWL” above the front canopy.

The front has texture suggesting a vertical wood façade, while the remaining three sides of the building have a brick exterior texture.

Beneath the canopy you’ll find a mechanical horse ride, a parent and child in hand, a happy shopper with a full grocery cart, what looks like jumbo tomatoes and corn for sale, and of course, Jack the German Shepherd can be seen chilling out by the trash can!

Bring your coupons
Looking inside the windows you can see three shoppers with carts (two dudes and a lady) and a checkout counter with a cashier eager to help. The printed cardstock interior is well done. The printing on the right half does a great job in creating perspective of long aisles chock-full of food (and a printed shopper with cart).

The left half is the fruit and vegetable department. The neatest interior detail is a three-dimensional cardstock counter for veggies in the center of the department. I had half a notion to look for a 1:48 scale kid playing underneath. When I was young, I’d have sure wanted to!

On the roof, you’ll find textured roof simulating (I suppose) tarpaper. There are two HVAC units that appear to be made of heavy cardstock. The neatest details are the three internally braced wind turbines. When power to the building is turned on, they rotate. There are red hash marks on several of the blades so you can confirm the turbines are rotating.

There is a little vintage signage on the structure. The wall on the right has a large advertisement for Ivory soap, while the right side wall has a big one for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

Both sides of the building feature two security lights, and the left wall has a water drainpipe running down from the roof. The power switch and power receptacle are on the right side.

The back of the store has loading doors complete with simulated weather shields so the crew unloading a truck won’t get wet in a storm. There are also warnings not to park in front of the dock doors and an office doorway with a warning that visitors must check in with the main office.

The brick texture is good. The walls and base appear to be made of a composite wood that looks like the material used for clipboards.

Ready for one in your town?
Although there were a few spots with rough edges from assembly, none of them was terribly obvious. Nor did they distract from the good looks of the grocery.

The structure is well illuminated. There is a strip of light-emitting diodes on the front canopy projecting light up to the store name and the owl icon. You may be able to see the reflection of the LEDs on the red paint in our lead photograph.

The interior is well lit due to the spacing of the LED strip. Each side of the store is illuminated with two LEDs.

With a footprint of 17½ by 8½ inches, the Red Owl store demands some real estate on a layout. Still, the interesting colors and graphics will make it stand out. Illuminate it in dim light, and the Red Owl will be a beacon for those who need to pick up some bacon or sauerkraut on the way home from work!


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