Gloria, Lee and Pam Murdie pose in front of their Murdie’s General Store in Minerva. They are selling the building and business and will be closing the store at the end of business Nov. 30.
Lee and Gloria Murdie are two of the lucky ones who got to stay in the Adirondacks most of their lives, earn a living and retire here.
Actually, Lee is already retired. He only works a few hours a day, Tuesday through Sunday, but not for long. After more than 43 years, he’s retiring for good, closing Murdie’s General Store on Route 28N in Minerva at the end of November. Monday, Dec. 1 will be the first day of the rest of his life. He’ll be 73 years old.
“We had a good life,” Lee said. “We enjoyed meeting all the people and knowing all the people in Minerva. It’s a great little town. The people are friendly. It was a good life, like being a farmer.”
The Murdies are selling the general store building and business, a local landmark with plenty of history, if anyone’s interested in running a mom-and-pop shop in downtown Minerva. Otherwise, Murdie’s will go by the way of the history book, leaving only one store open in town, Sullivan’s Store at the Four Corners in Olmstedville.
“It was just a challenge in the sense of being able to keep things going and make a comfortable living and raise a family, like everybody else goes through,” Lee said.
Economic success for this Adirondack entrepreneur didn’t come easy, especially after the local logging and mining industries faded away in the 1980s. Still, as a family, the Murdies stuck together and persevered.
The story of Murdie’s General Store began in the mid-1890s, when the building was constructed for Mr. and Mrs. Lyman Hall. David Jones, who had been operating a store farther north in the village, bought the building in 1898 — during the William McKinley Administration — and it stayed in the Jones family for 67 years, until the Lyndon Johnson Administration. It was in operation when McKinley’s vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, made his famous night ride to the presidency from Tahawus to North Creek on Sept. 14, 1901. TR passed right by the store, which had at one point in its history been the location for the local post office. In 1936, Clarence Jones took over the business and gradually modernized the building, selling it to Walter Seeley in 1965.
Seeley had worked for the National Lead mine at Tahawus, where Lee Murdie moved in 1945 with his family when he was 5 years old. Lee graduated from Newcomb Central School in 1959 and studied business administration at Canton ATC before moving back to the area. He married Gloria Shamney in 1962. Her family was originally from Rochester, Vt., and her father operated a sawmill in the town of Newcomb. When Seeley purchased the store from Clarence Jones in 1965, Lee Murdie was working at the Tahawus mine as an accounts payable clerk in the accounting office. Operating the Jones store was not on his radar; it was Walt Seeley’s dream at the time.
“Walt decided he was looking for an easier life, and so he bought the store,” Lee said. “And he said, ‘I never thought about people stocking the shelves or ordering. When I came home at night from the mines, Clarence would be sitting on this stool behind the counter just bringing in the money.’ He said, ‘When I realized how much work it was, I decided I didn’t want it.’ So he closed her down within a couple of years, and we bought it from him.”
During the Seeley years, the second floor of the Minerva General Store was turned into an apartment. That’s where Lee and Gloria Murdie would live for many years, raising three children and running what became Murdie’s General Store. News of the purchase was published in the Feb. 18, 1970 issue of the North Creek News Enterprise, which reported that the store had been closed for several months and would soon reopen with new owners.
“While Mr. Murdie will stock about ninety percent groceries, he will also handle some hardware in the spring,” the newspaper reported. “He hopes to put in a line of good fishing tackle and possibly sell bait. Mr. Murdie, an amateur sportsman himself, is very interested in this aspect of his business.”
Working at the Tahawus mine was not an appealing career choice for Lee Murdie. In his heart, he was an entrepreneur, and he had the business education to back up his dreams. He only needed an opportunity to make those dreams come true, an opportunity that would not come from his job in the National Lead accounting office.
“I got bored with that and I took off with another guy, and we went to Peekskill, New York and decided we’d make a living painting,” Lee said.
After selling his home in Minerva to Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Halloran, Lee moved near Peekskill, where he painted houses. But that didn’t feel right, either. During weekend trips back to Newcomb, he’d scope out potential opportunities to run a small business in the Adirondacks. The painting business was clearly not for him.
“We did that for about a year, and I decided to see if Walt Seeley had the store for sale, and I came back and bought the store,” Lee said.
The Murdie years
The Murdies opened their general store in March 1970. Lee was 29 years old.
“I just wanted to come back in this area,” Lee said. “And I’ve always had kind of an inkling to own my own business. I took up business administration at Canton, and I had a pretty good idea how to run things. The potential was here, and we developed the potential.”
In 1970, the National Lead mine was in full operation. The logging industry still required teams of loggers, and there was plenty of work in the woods. Plus, there were simple ways to bring in more money at the general store. The potential for success was there.
“The mine had a lot to do with it, as far as the people in the area,” Lee said. “Also, back in Clarence Jones’s day, he kept banker’s hours. He closed every night at 5 o’clock ... He didn’t sell beer and cigarettes. He was a very strict Baptist ... That made a big difference.”
Seeley acquired a license to sell beer after he bought the store from Jones, and the Murdies used the opportunity to increase their profits.
“I added LP gas and a pumping station, gasoline,” Lee said. “None of those things were there at that time. There was a 60-amp service in the store and one cooler, and I built a walk-in cooler. Those were the kind of challenges when we were young and had new ideas. As you get older, you don’t have quite that same zip.”
In the 1970s, residents relied on local stores for their needs, but as society changed its transportation habits, the Murdies slowly saw their customers go elsewhere for some of their goods.
“Society wasn’t quite as mobile as it is today,” Lee said. “Today people don’t think anything of jumping in the car and running to Glens Falls.”
The bigger stores, such as Grand Union in North Creek, had an effect on business; however, the Murdies began relying more on seasonal residents for their customer base — second home owners and summer campers at the town-owned Minerva Lake Campground. Today, they rely on tourism to make ends meet, but tourist traffic is unpredictable and depends heavily on the weather. And it’s not easy going in the winter.
“If you have a good winter where you’ve got good winter sports, then you get a pretty good play from your snowmobilers and cross-country skiers,” Lee said. “There are a lot of second homes in the town with skiers. They ski at Gore.”
One key to the Murdies’ success was staying away from banker’s hours. When they first opened, it was reported that the general store would be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. most days of the week, including weekends. Today, they are still open six days a week — Tuesday through Sunday, but the work days aren’t as long, only eight to 11 hours. Murdie’s General Store is currently open Tuesday-Thursday, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 8 a.m. - 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. They are closed on Monday.
“We had a good living,” Lee said. “We just had to put a lot of hours in, 80-some hours a week.”
Even with the long days, Lee found time to volunteer in town and become a civic leader. He had been a member of the Minerva Rescue Squad, president of the Minerva Volunteer Fire Department, president of the Minerva Civic League, and town councilman. All this was possible by living in Minerva, close to the business — in the three-bedroom apartment above the store.
“By living upstairs, we didn’t have any traveling time,” Lee said. “Most people have to travel today to their job … All we had to do was run up and down stairs. My wife took care of the kids upstairs, and if I needed her, she’d come downstairs and help in the store. First thing I know, 44 years later, we’re still here.”
Lee and Gloria’s daughter, Pam, still works for the general store and will be out of a job once the Murdies close for good at the end of November.
“She’s by herself; she’s not married. And there’s no way that one person can take care of this store,” Lee said, adding that the main reason the store survived in this economic climate is because it was operated by a family that shared responsibilities. “It would be too many hours for her, for one thing. And this day and age, you couldn’t afford to hire somebody and pay them today’s wages … She’ll find something, I’m sure.”
As for shopping, the Murdies will have to travel once December comes around. Where will they go?
“Probably Sullivan’s and Glens Falls, just like everybody else, I guess. North Creek,” Lee said. “North Creek’s only about 10 minutes from here, but still it’s an inconvenience.”
As for full retirement — with dozens of hours in a week to fill — Lee Murdie isn’t sure how he’ll cope with all that free time. His only plan is to keep his options open.
“I’m leaving the option open in the sense that I still have all my licenses,” Lee said. “Who knows? Maybe my wife and I are going to be totally bored after this winter, and maybe we’ll open up in the spring.”