Tompkins to celebrate a century in business

When Ed Tompkins first opened his store in Emo in 1898, he probably wasn’t thinking if it would still be standing 100 years later.
But not only has Tompkins’ Hardware stayed in business for the past century, it’s grown over the decades to become a cornerstone in the Emo retail community.
Tompkins will celebrate its 100th anniversary July 2-4 with in-store sales and displays, and store staff dressing in turn-of-the-century clothing.
Service manager Tom Jackson said Saturday will be the big day for centennial celebrations, with a pancake breakfast in the morning and then a beef-on-a-bun barbecue in the afternoon run by the district 4-H association.
Saturday also will be the day when the prizes will be drawn, including a boat, motor, and trailer package and two airline tickets to anywhere Northwest Airlines flies in North America.
“Some of the people are excited for sure,” Jackson said. “It’s not every business that lasts 100 years, let alone through the same family generations.”
Ed Tompkins, who was born in 1877 in Listowel, Ont., first came to Emo in 1896 after working for a while in Rat Portage (now Kenora). In the winter of 1898, he trekked behind the mail sled across Lake of the Woods to set up shop in Emo with $3,000 he had borrowed from his mother.
The store has gone through a lot since it opened, Jackson said, including a fire in 1931. It’s changed in both size and the services it offers.
“In the old days, they were largely into tin work,” he recalled. “Then they progressed into recreation. Obviously that’s a big focus these days.”
One person who’s lived through a lot of these changes is Lois Caul, who worked at Tompkins from 1954-1996. She was hired by Russ Tompkins, who, along with his brother, Charlie, took over the store after their father’s death in 1951.
Caul said she still remembers that first day when her father brought her to the store looking for work.
“I didn’t know whether I was working one [or more],” she said, noting her job interview was done on-site. “I was coming out of school on a Friday night and going to work Saturday morning.”
Caul’s only leave of absence from the store was between 1957-1959 when she took time off to raise her family.
The store she first worked in was about one-third the size of the present-day store. And as the decades went by, things just continued to expand.
“In the 42 years I was there, I had never seen it backslide,” Caul said. “It was always a busy spot.”
Another thing Ed Tompkins was noted for was his dedication to his customers and his staff. And though the store has now passed down to current co-owner Tom Mosbeck, Caul said that dedication remains.
“Tom is always trying to be so generous to all his customers,” she remarked. “It’s a very family business–I don’t have one bad word to say about any of them I worked for.”