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

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

TJ's new owners will carry on the store's traditions


Lois Johnson

The Gaffney family are the new owners of TJ's Country Corner in Mahtowa. Back row, from left are Glenn, Renee and Olivia. In front are Clara, Henry and Samuel.

The fate of TJ's Country Corner in Mahtowa spurred Glenn and Renee Gaffney to action after the sudden death of Tom Bislow late in January. The couple bought the store and took possession on April 17.

"We couldn't see this place closing," said Renee in an interview at the store last week. "The fear of it closing overtook our trepidation of us buying it. We just couldn't let it close."

People in the community are happy that local people took over the store.

"We have had a warm welcome from people," said Renee. "The response has been overwhelming!"

The Gaffneys live on Park Lake, not far from Mahtowa, and they were many of the thousands that stopped at the store to pick up grocery items or bought gas there over the years.

TJ's was also known for meats and sausages. "Our Wurst is Best" was one of Bislow's tag lines.

"We aren't changing anything," Renee said. "We will still have all of the items that have been available, and we plan on adding more."

And the staff will remain. "Sue, Sally, who has been here for years and works her magic in the kitchen, Steve, the butcher and Gail will still be here greeting the customers," Renee said. "Amber Riley has returned. She worked here before."

Bislow was also known for promoting the small community with various events throughout the year. That has left the Gaffneys in a dilemma.

"We didn't come to some of the events, like the Long Dog Races, and Tom didn't write anything down," Renee explained. "We need help. We are relying on the community to help us to keep the events going."

An upcoming event is the Wurst Days on Memorial Day weekend.

"Tom knew everything," said Renee. "He didn't write down a thing. I wish he wrote down how much potato salad he had for the event and who played in the Wurst Band."

The Chicken Swap and Flea Market on the second and fourth Saturday of the month through Labor Day are other events that will continue, with the community's help.

"Tom was inventing events all of the time, polishing the jewel," said Renee.

The couple is taking on a full-time challenge, while continuing their full-time occupations. Renee works for Carlton County Public Health and Human Services, and Glenn has a business on Park Lake maintaining the property for the lakeshore residents and storing boats.

The couple also has a family of four children: Olivia, 20; Clara, 11; Henry, 8; and Samuel, 7.

"Renee is president of the lake association," he said.

Glenn had the Armor station in Mahtowa for a few years but, Renee explained, they needed to upgrade the technology of the station. It was less expensive to close it down.

Now Glenn has a huge building on that property for boat storage.

"Glenn went into business in 1993 doing lawncare and landscaping, and he takes care of docks and boat lifts for people as well as storing their boats," said Renee.

Glenn will keep an eye on the store during his day.

"He comes here every morning to bring his equipment here and gas up," said Renee. "He will also stop in the afternoon in case there are any questions that the employees have or something that needs attention."

Renee and Glenn also raise honeybees and helped Tom set up hives for honeybees on the roof of the store. They all belong to the Northeast Minnesota Beekeepers Association and have a bee building at the Carlton County Fair.

There are plans to sell locally-produced honey at TJ's from the members when it is available.

Twelve flavors of hand-scooped ice cream are going to be added before Memorial Day weekend, said Renee.

"This is a good stopping place," she added. "People can stop in for a treat. We want to keep the old-fashioned feel here."

TJ's Country Corner is open from 7 am to 8 pm seven days a week. Visit the website at or call 218-389-6257.

"A lot of people loved the activities that Tom would have here," said Renee. "They supported them because they were fun. We are planning at keeping all of that going, including something fun for the kids. We are going to make sure to keep the tradition that has been here for a long time."


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