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Lantto's French Lake Store
Presentation to the Annandale History Club
March 7, 2016
Chris Lantto

CLICK HERE for a pictorial slide show of The History of Lantto's Store, narrated by Chris Lantto

Chris Lantto presented “Lantto’s French Lake Store” to the History Club in 1999.  For his 2016 presentation, Chris brought souvenir dishes and other historical items displayed on the walls at Lantto’s Store.  He also showed a French Lake slide presentation.  Chris purchased the store from his father, Ernie Lantto, in 1976 and built a new store which opened December 31, 1997.   It replaced the old store built in 1928, after a fire destroyed the original store at that location since at least 1900.  The 1928 store remains kiddie corner across County Road 37 and is a landmark at French Lake Corners.  A celebration of Lantto Store’s 100 years in business was held in 2008.

Chris Lantto is the third generation to own Lantto’s Store.   His grandfather, Abe, purchased the store in 1908.  His father, Ernie, managed the store since 1941 and bought it in 1950.  At present, three of Chris and Vicki Lantto’s sons work full time at the store, and another son works part time.   

Lantto’s is a full-service convenience store.  Red Wing shoes have been sold since the 1980s.  French Lake Meats were added in 1998.  Lantto’s has a copy machine; internet is available for store customers.  Table and chairs accommodate the many people who gather at Lantto’s for coffee and a variety of lunch and snack items.  KRWC-1360 AM radio broadcasts “Coffee at Lantto’s” from Lantto’s Store at 10:00 a.m. Thursdays.  “Coffee at Lantto’s Store” started in February 2014 and is sponsored by Lantto’s Store and French Lake Auto Parts.  Many local business people and residents have been interviewed by KRWC’s Joe Carlson.  

Lantto’s is on Facebook and there will soon be a web page.

Chris Lantto's 1999 Lantto's Store presentation is repeated below.

Annandale History Club- Lantto’s Store

By Chris Lantto

Abraham Lantto (1874-1941) came from Finland to French Lake Township circa 1883 with his parents, Johan Matti Lantto (1841-1889) and Mary Lantto, two brothers and two sisters.  The three Lantto brothers, Abraham, Alexander and Jacob, all became storekeepers.  Alex and Jake owned a store at West Albion and Abe had a store in Annandale at the northeast corner of present day Highways 55 and 24.  His wife brought him to Annandale Sunday night and picked him up again Saturday night.  Then Abe took over the West Albion store from Alex and Jake until Alex wanted to return.


Bergstrom’s Store in French Lake became available in November 1908.  Abe Lantto paid $800 for the business.  In those days, the interest was paid up front.  The store was on land originally owned by John Howard, son of Ernest Howard, who was the first person to settle in French Lake in 1856.  The store was started by Robert Rousseau.


Abe Lantto knew that a railroad could ensure the success of a town.  When the Luce Line Railroad was proposed to run north and south through French Lake, he invested over $1,000.  The plan proved to be bogus, and he lost his money.  He also went to St. Paul to lobby for a state highway from Glencoe to St. Cloud through French Lake, but it didn't work out.  County Road 3 was to be built just west of its current location until the route was changed.


French Lake was a busy town in 1908.  There were three stores (Lantto’s and Hillman’s general stores and a hardware store), a church, town hall, blacksmith, saloon, confectionary store, bank, barber shop, and a creamery, which merged with West Albion Creamery in the 1940s.  Farmers brought their product to the French Lake[C1]  Creamery, and it was transported to the West Albion Creamery. There was also a saw and flour mill at the Crow River from 1879 to 1924, when it was dismantled and rebuilt in Richmond, Minn.


In the early days, Winnebago Indians had a winter camp just west of French Lake by French Creek.  They also camped on the west side of French Lake when the Lantto family lived on the north side.  The north and west sides of French Lake were drained, making the lake a few hundred acres smaller.  Ginseng, an herbal root used for medicine, was a cash crop that allowed early pioneers to pay for their land. 


Abe Lantto decided to try farming, and the Ryti brothers ran the store for a year and a half during 1919 and 1920 before Abe came back to the store.  There was also a Ryti store in West Albion.


On Monday, July 30, 1928, an early morning fire destroyed two general stores, a bank and Lindala Brothers’ confectionary.  The fire started at A. W. Nelson’s store and quickly spread.  The Nelson family and the Lindalas narrowly escaped their living quarters at their stores.  Damage was estimated at $21,500.  A bucket brigade was the only way to fight the fire. Townspeople helped carry display cases and merchandise out of Lantto’s Store before the blaze destroyed the building.  Abe continued his business from the schoolhouse until school started and then moved to the town hall until the new store was built.  Some of the store’s glass merchandise cases were saved from the fire and are now at Wright County Historical Society.  The Lantto family donated other store antiques to the historical society including a medicine chest with an inscription in Finnish, a spool chest with a writing desk on top, coffee grinder, paper bag holder, wrapping paper dispenser, and an overhead string holder.


At the time of the 1928 fire, Ernie Lantto was working the threshing circuit in the Dakotas.  Abe asked him to come back to help rebuild the store, and Ernie returned to French Lake.  After the fire, when it became evident that the railroad wasn’t coming to French Lake, the other stores didn’t rebuild.  There were difficulties for Abe in starting the store, but times improved until the Great Depression began in October 1929.  Abe mortgaged some property he owned on the south side of the Crow River.  He almost lost the store before things got better. 


Abe Lantto took the train to the cities to pick up yard goods.  He had a one-ton truck and delivered coal to customers and picked up freight from the train depot.  Into the 1950s, customers charged their purchases, sometimes for a whole year.  Some customers paid their bills twice a year, once when their hogs were shipped and again when small grains were harvested.  Lantto’s Store suppliers could be paid three to six months after merchandise was received. 


Most everyone had cows for dairy products.  Lantto’s Store sold products that couldn’t be raised at home, such as sugar, coffee, spices, yard goods, kerosene, shoes, and clothing, including Lee’s overalls and suits.  Flour, sugar, crackers, etc. were stored in barrels and sold by the pound, and goods needed to be weighed and wrapped.  In the early days, health care items, hardware needs, horse collars and harnesses were sold   Customers could barter eggs or chickens for merchandise.  The chickens were kept in a pen and a shed behind the store until they were sold at a produce firm either in Annandale or Cokato.  This barter system was in use into the 1940s.  The store had a hand pump for gasoline, and there was an ice house behind the store.  Up to World War II the store was open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. six days a week and closed on Sundays.  Electricity was turned on for the first time in the store on March 24, 1938.


The store was a community center where customers exchanged news and socialized. 

Souvenirs such as plates with Lantto’s Store printed on them were given as Christmas gifts.  Two of these plates are on display at the new Lantto’s Store.  It was tradition for Abe and Ernie to give a box of apples to regular customers at Christmas.  When someone in the community died, Ernie put a fruit jar out on the counter for donations to the family.  He always attended all the funerals in the community.


Abraham Lantto died in 1941.  Abe’s son, Ernie Lantto (1909-1987), managed the store for the family from 1941 to 1950 before buying it.  Abe and Ernie extended credit and “staked” people to help them get a start.  Ernie invited all the bachelors in the area to a dinner at Thanksgiving and Easter.  Even after Ernie got an adding machine, he added the figures in his head to make sure they were correct.  Abe and Ernie were multi-lingual and spoke English, Finnish, and some Norwegian and Swedish, in order to serve their customers.


Ernie Lantto was associated with the store for over 70 years.  One of his first jobs as a child was counting and packing eggs.  Ernie Lantto sold the store to his son, Chris Lantto, in August of 1976, and continued to help out at the store.  Chris put a well at the store in 1976 and started selling minnows.  The three generations of Lantto Store owners (Abe, Ernie, and Chris) had 29 children between them, all of whom took their turns working at the store. On December 31, 1997, Chris opened the new Lantto's Store diagonally across the road from the old store.  The old store is still a landmark in French Lake and Wright County.



Information from an interview with Chris Lantto by Karen Christofferson.  This article also appears in the “ History of Lake Sylvia.”