Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Mahtowa mourns loss of its best and "wurst" advocate for the community


February 14, 2019

Provided Photo

Tom Bislow, owner of TJ's in Mahtowa, recently passed away.

For more than 40 years, Tom Bislow's smiling face could be seen behind the counter at TJ's Country Corner store in Mahtowa, a tiny town of 100 people located between Barnum and Carlton on Old Highway 61.

Bislow's passing on Jan. 31 has left a community in mourning for a unique man who was kind and loving and gave from his heart.

Comments in his obituaries told how Bislow remembered your name whether you visited the store daily or annually. One person said that he had moved away from Mahtowa 38 years before but Tom still knew him when he stopped in one day.

TJ's Country Corner in Mahtowa was a store that hearkened back to the days of the old-time general store. Tom and Joanne bought the old co-op store in Mahtowa back in 1977 and turned it into something special, despite its country location.

People traveled for miles to buy TJ's brats for large gatherings, such as reunions. Several times, the crew at TJ's sent the frozen brats to far-off locations, such as Iraq and Nicaragua, according to the comments. Billboards on I-35 proclaimed "Our wurst is best!"

Tom was a promoter. Over the years, he would come up with ideas for a new event that would bring crowds flocking to that tiny town.

The Mahtowa Shoot-out was one of them in 2006 and 2007.

"We were dressed as desperadoes," said Mike Sway in a telephone interview. "We came charging out of the store with our rifles and sacks of money."

Tom came out of the store and yelled, "I've been robbed!"

In the shoot-out with the sheriff and deputies, the sacks would fall and the coins would scatter.

People could bring the wooden coins into the store for discounts on certain items.

Sway also participated in another shoot-out one year, reenacting the gunfight at the OK Corral on a grassy area across the street from TJ's store.

The Beard and Moustache Contest and Vintage Snowmobile Rally in February and Swap brought crowds. Chicken swaps were expanded into Carlton County's Largest Spring Chicken, Goat and Horse Tack Swap Meet each spring. Another would be held in the fall.

Flea markets were held on weekends throughout the summer.

TJ's 40th anniversary celebration was held in August 2017.

Rat rods were on display near TJs on Saturday during the first September weekend, and crowds would come to stare in amazement at the ingenuity of each vehicle. Classic cars were displayed on Sunday.

TJ's Wurst Dome was converted to a Haunted House for Halloween.

The ChristKindl Market wrapped up the year in early December. The event featured a German Christmas Outside Market with music, German food, TJ's homemade holiday food samples, vendors, bonfire, roasted chestnuts and Santa Claus.

Many people spoke of working at TJ's and Tom being a kind boss. Others mentioned that it was great to hear Tom speak of his family. Later, a grandchild or two would be working behind the counter.

"I think Tom was known more for the events than the store," said Joanne in a telephone interview. "He loved it, absolutely loved it!"

"He did more to bring Mahtowa back to life than anyone that I know," said Mike Sway, who played one of the desperados.

Tom was still managing the store and planning events when he died unexpectedly but peacefully at home early in the morning on January 31, Joanne said. He had celebrated his 74th birthday on Dec. 18.

The family had requested that donations be given in Tom's memory to the Moose Lake Food Shelf. The Mahtowa Fire Department coordinated the donations.

"People were so generous," said Joanne. "People have been absolutely phenomenal. They have supported me with text messages, emails, cards and phone calls.

When asked about the future of the store, Joanne said that it will be sold.

"One daughter, Sarah and her husband (David Jurek) of Carlton has four children and the other daughter, Amy and her husband and family, live in Pennsylvania. We can't manage the store," said Joanne.

The Vintage Snowmobile Ride was held on Feb. 9 as planned.


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