A century-old business says goodbye to third generation of ownership
Published 10:29 am Friday, June 5, 2015
Pride in ownership
A landmark Austin business said goodbye to another generation last month.
Knauer’s Meat Market owner Robert Dean Knauer, the third generation to own the market, passed away at age 88 on May 26, 2015. The market has been in Austin for more than a century and continues to be owned by the Knauer family.
Robert’s family remembers him for his pride in his store and his commitment to his customers.
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“He was kind of a showman, in a sense,” Robert’s son Tony Knauer recalled. “I remember growing up, he really took pride in having a good-looking meat counter, and displays — the bigger the better.”
Robert was born April 29, 1927, to Joseph and Grace (Capretz) Knauer in Austin, Minnesota, received a diploma from Columbus High School — later known as Pacelli — and entered the United States Merchant Marine at age 16, returning in 1945. He also served in the Minnesota National Guard Company H, 135th Infantry Regiment until he was honorably discharged in 1949.
The next year, he married Dorothy Battey, and the couple later moved to Rochester. Robert returned to Austin and started working at the market after his father had health issues. He enjoyed working at the market and never left.
“The store has always been there for some people, so they come in, and in life a lot of things change all the time,” Tony said. “… The store was always there.”
Tony recalled people coming to the store to purchase items and talk with friends. He recalled one man joking that it was like going to the therapist.
Mark Knauer, Tony’s brother, said his dad enjoyed working with customers and knew almost everyone in Austin.
“And sometimes he knew their grandparents and their fathers and just everyone, a lot of people,” Mark said.
Mark remembered bringing his father to the store the last few years, just so he could sit and converse with the customers.
Tony said his father was sensitive to the customers, always trying to give them the best service but also knowing them personally. He also kept accounts — a more old fashioned thing stores used to do, according to Tony — to make sure people could get items they needed regardless of their financial situation.
“He’d come around the counter sometimes and give someone a hug,” Tony remembered. “He was sensitive to that.”
Robert was sentimental about many things, and Tony recalled his father was not big on change. He remembered Robert becoming upset when the smoke house — which dated to 1886 — needed to be torn down in back of the store.
“He had a sense of history,” Tony said. “He was very interested in the downtown and the older buildings and preservation.”
Mark said his father was a mentor to many people, some of whom went on to open their own stores or work in the meat industry.
“He was a mentor to a lot of people who worked for us and helped them with their first jobs,” Mark said. “So he got to know them as family.”
Robert was also known for his artistic side. His sons recalled the enjoyment he took from painting signs on the front window glass.
“He enjoyed making signs in our store for sales that he would have on things,” Mark said. “I think his whole approach to things was more on the artistic side.”
“I was told he wanted to go to art school when he was younger and be an artist, but it just didn’t work out,” Tony said. “And he had an excellent eye for drawing and painting, and he was known to do that.”
Robert’s care for presentation also went to the meat, as Tony remembered his father taking special care to make sure the meat looked good in the counter.
The store will continue in Robert’s and the Knauer legacy, and Mark plans to continue working at the store. He doesn’t plan to change much, either.
“Dad would always say that this is the last of the independent meat markets in Mower County,” Mark said.
Robert also owned Discount Car Sales in Austin for about 50 years.
Robert found faith later in life, and Tony said it was important to his father that he made peace with the Lord.
He explained in his father’s later years, Robert made that commitment and realized it was one of the most important things for him.
Knauer’s mass of Christian burial was May 29, 2015, at St. Augustine Catholic Church, and he was laid to rest at Calvary Cemetery in Austin.