Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

­Cows and Contentment: Farewell to local institution Tiny’s

<ica might die a little this summer. Tiny’s Hot Dogs, a staple of downtown Northfield, will likely close this summer after 63 years due to declining business.  For years, Tiny’s made for many memories to Northfielders of all ages. The establishment has taken many forms, serving as a restaurant, convenience store and headshop, as it attempted to fit the needs of the town.  For years, bumper sticks could be seen all across Northfield saying, “Save America – Eat at Tiny’s.” America might just go on, but a tiny, essential piece will be lost.

“It’s the economy, stupid.” Tim Sellers, owner of Tiny’s, quipped as his reason for closing.

While the ongoing recession is the primary reason for losing business, various other factors have been proposed as the cause of Tiny’s demise. Sellers placed blame upon Carleton’s limiting of the Northfield Option to 100 students at the start of this year. According to Sellers, since fewer students rent downtown and more eat in the campus dining halls, there has been less of a need for places like Tiny’s.

“They were a huge part of my business. They became customers but better yet they became friends.” Sellers said of Carls who frequented Tiny’s over the years. Sellers, who bought Tiny’s in 2002, has had and continues to have Carleton students and graduates work for him.  Tiny’s also has sold hot dogs at Spring Concert every year and will do so again at this year’s concert.

Sellers amended his point by saying that not as many of his customers are students, as people think. Most of the customers he believes he lost over the last few years have been Northfield residents who have had to cut back on spending. Many young and old have publicly lamented the end of Tiny’s. A Facebook group, “Save Tiny’s!!!” with nearly 600 members is petitioning to keep Tiny’s open.  Members of the group hope a new owner will be willing to continue Tiny’s but Sellers has not received any offers yet. A source wishing to remain anonymous says that there is a possibility that next-door neighbor First National Bank is looking to expand into Tiny’s. Sellers denied any bank enlargement.

Sellers also regrets not making some changes he thought could have increased business, like providing more menu options like smoothies, cheap beer or grilled items. He believes he could still done a few more things to stay in business but feels that he’s lost the energy to fight.

“I’m going through the stages. Today is the anger stage.” Sellers joked with one of his customers.

But Norm Larsen, a close friend of Sellers, feels that the closing of Tiny’s should be seen as both a tragedy and a comedy. That sentiment seems to fit with the unique sense of humor Sellers displays and could be seen in the weekly advertisements Sellers created for Tiny’s in The CLAP (Sellers stopped advertising in The CLAP this year due to declining sales).

Tiny’s has had a funny sort of history since its original owner, Stanley “Tiny” Johnson, opened it as a general store in 1947 across the street from its current location. While hot dogs have always been a major part of its business, Tiny’s has changed with the times. In those days, it was one of the few places open at night and sold magazines, tobacco and baseball cards. Steve MacKay bought Tiny’s in 1964 from Johnson. Around this time, Tiny’s turned into a pool hall and head shop.  It became known as the place to buy dirty magazines, smoking paraphernalia and condoms. Larsen recalled that back then it did not matter if you weren’t old enough, you could buy anything wanted at Tiny’s as long as you had the money. He feels that this gave Tiny’s a connotation within Northfield that he has hurt business to this day. Larsen said most parents would not let their kids go to Tiny’s back in those days and almost no women would be caught dead there.

“Churchgoing people saw it as this den of sin even though it wasn’t really that dirtyl,” Larsen said.

When Sellers bought the place eight years ago, he renovated it to its current configuration. He intended to give Tiny’s a more positive image. Sellers removed the pool tables and pinball machines and stopped selling tobacco to make it a more family establishment, which, according to Larsen, offended some longtime customers. Yet Larsen believes that Sellers’s changes were unable to make “a big enough splash” to attract the customers turned away by the restaurant’s previous connotations as a shady place. Sellers admits that some Northfielders still refuse to come.

Tiny’s storied history can be found all around the restaurant and in the memories of the hundreds of people who frequented it over the years. All sorts of memorabilia, from pictures of Northfield youth soccer teams to bubbleheads and sports pennants, cover the establishment’s walls. The wall of the “Save Tiny’s” Facebook group is covered with recollections of all the good times the faithful will miss.

“Tiny’s was where I always took my grandson for a bite to eat. It was ‘our spot.’ It was a personal place to go, Tim treated all customers like personal friends.” Jean Wakely recalled.

Now begins a long goodbye filled with Chicago-style Dogs.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *